KIXIMBI: meditations on the middle passage and other Atlantic phantoms.

Kiximbi is an expression in kimbundu that refers to water spirits, here used to evoque both the power of the waters and of the ancestors who lost their life in the sea. Kimbundu is a bantu language spoken in Angola and by using it we embrace language as culture, as a part of culture that still lives today and through history has spread its elements in the diaspora similar to other culture elements such as music, dance or religion.

The South Atlantic is a space of movement and circulation that carries the burden of the history of forced removal of bodies across continents. This movement of people had a particular impact in both the African continent and the new world or diasporas. The impact is however distinct, looking from the shores of the continent populated with slavery forts what remains is loss, loss of people and of culture, loss of narratives and strength, loss of languages and of cultural practices. In terms of material culture the African continent didn’t even keep the records of the people leaving. How to think today and through contemporary art this movement while reflecting on the loss and the emptiness that was left behind? In fact, the South as a discursive position allows us to engage differently with both geography and history and reminds us that narratives carry the weight of who informs them. At the same time it allows us to deconstruct the Western gaze, the gaze that forges the other into difference, into a rigid difference that seems adamant despite the centuries that past, assigning fixed spaces for African art, African knowledge production in general, removing it of modernity and post-modernity. 

Starting at the shore in Luanda, about 40 kilometers from the city centre, at the Slavery Museum still to day the experience is striking as the architecture guides us through the spaces as they were used: the yard where enslaved bodies would wait until being baptized before boarding the ship; the incarceration objects such as shackles and chains, the baptismal font.The building of the museum is an old chapel facing the sea to which the men and women would enter in a transit towards the ship, the last moment of African soil. Behind them, families and memories and emptiness and the ones that survived recreated traditions, religion and language producing a materiality that still today lacks in the continent.

In this exhibition through the movement of the sea we want to engage both shores and how the experience impacts realities until today in countries that were directly and indirectly part of this violent circulation. Hidden Pages, Stollen Bodies by the Angolan artist Antonio Ole recovers the few archives existent in Angola with a registry of slaves before departure, objects that might have been used during the wait and driftwood. This imaginary materiality that remains in the land dialogues with the Nelson’s Ship of Yinka Shonibare, where the ship carries culture elements here translated into wax textiles themselves a symbol of culture colonization. The imposition of slavery into bodies happens alongside the imposition of culture. In a distinct process Dalton Paula and René Tavares work on the cultures that result from this circulation of bodies and culture. Tavares through the Tchiloli festival discusses processes of culture appropriation and acculturation. According to Ana Nolasco, Tchiloli is the osmosis of African and European cultures, both a translocation of the African metaphorical rite of the dead and theatrical drama of European heritage. Dalton Paula’s visual universe also evokes the black experiences where myths and memory are reproduced and reframed.  In Reisado and Comunhão the figures wear western type costumes with the crowns of the Kongo heritage. It is very common to find visual traces of the Kongo heritage in Brazil, in the Kongo festivals, even more than in the places that were part of the Kingdom of Kongo (Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of the Congo and Gabon). In Bananeira Facão e Rede, the artist highlights the labour in the plantations and that were crucial for the economic development of Brazil. In Africa, slavery was disguised of work in many ways, in Angola was forced labor destined for the natives in place until 1961. In the Southern Africa region work for the natives became associated with brutality and dislocation, and part of this history are the mines in South Africa that James Webb depicts in The Black Passage.

Vasco Araújo on the other hand reflects on the remnants of the Portuguese Empire, in the work Andansonia we witness a conversation about migration and abandonment. Andansonia is the scientific name for the Baobab tree, plants such as human bodies and cultural artifacts were also part of the traffic and circulation through the Atlantic ocean. This circulation is also characterized in the work of Aline Motta through personal and family histories and in Francisco Vidal construction of the skin tones drawing series that simultaneously engages the history of the city of Lisbon and global contemporary history. Buhlebezwe closes this exchange revering the sea, it's cleansing powers, the ancestrals  and gods that inhabit that space establishing almost an umbilical connection to us today in the video Umntuntu. It has not passed unnoticed to us the links to afrofuturistic theories of life under water like the Drexciya myth of  an underwater country that feeds of the ancestrals lives lost to the sea during the slave trade. This umbilical relationship is again stressed by Martha Athienza in Atlantic, here the ocean comprises her family history but also human history in a reference to the sea as a migratory platform and as powerful reflect of the current climatic changes that impact severely poorer countries most of the times not responsible themselves by climate changes.

From the coast of Luanda, looking at the immense Atlantic Ocean Kiximbi is alive and watchful, further ahead Kianda, the mythical mermaid, demands homage year after year making noticeable her presence through the kalemas, the big destroying waves that let us know her discontent. We leave the museum with a sense of respect for the gods and for the links perpetuated by history and art.