Berlinale Bloggers 2020
NO “SCARRING-OVER” WITHOUT COMPENSATION
The visual artist Aline Motta works with video, photography and installation to reinterpret memory and thus give new meaning to the present. Her search for her family's genealogy has resulted in a trilogy that evokes Brazil's colonial and slavery-torn past.
By Camila Gonzatto
The video “(Outros) Fundamentos / (Other) Foundations”, shown in the Berlinale's forum Expanded; is the third part of a trilogy about the history of your family and the history of Brazil. Can you tell us something about the genesis of this project?
It all started with a secret, told by my grandmother. So I began to research more about the history of my family. I was impressed by the amount of information available, even about a black family, because we mistakenly believe that all archives have been burned or never existed in the first place. There is in fact extensive documentation, for example about slavery in the south-eastern Brazilian coffee region of the Paraíba Valley in the 19th century. What is missing is a more in-depth study of this material, especially from a different perspective that does not necessarily focus on the ruling elite of the “coffee barons”, as has often been the case in historiographical research on Brazil to date.
(Outros) Fundamentos is the follow-up to my 32-day artist residency in Nigeria in 2017. The video tells about connections I was able to establish between Lagos in Nigeria and Cachoeira in the Recôncavo of Bahia, Brazil, and Rio de Janeiro, more precisely Guanabara Bay. All three cities are surrounded by water. My presence in the Lagos community aroused more discomfiture than I had expected, and it’s this feeling of belonging neither to the African continent nor to Brazil on which this film is based.
The films of the trilogy speak of separation and encounter. How did you decide on the language of the videos and the installations? How can this story full of gaps, interactions and misunderstandings be presented?
Photo (detail): “(Outros) Fundamentos“. Director: Aline Motta. Berlinale Forum Expanded | ©: Aline Motta The videos of the trilogy were shown consecutively in a single room with six projections – watching all of the works in parallel on screens of almost five meters each is a unique and extremely impressive experience. The images actually gain weight, entering into dialogue with the space, with the scale of the body and with the dream-like dimension of the dark room, whereby the first video has three screens, the second two and the third only one. As if the story were even more fragmented at the beginning; and over the years the individual parts have merged into a single projection, (Outros) Fragmentos – the conclusion of a very intimate, personal journey, but one that is revealed to the audience through moving, large-format images.
What role does water play in your work? It is a recurring element in your videos.
Water is the element that connects us all, a mirror of the unconscious and our own inner self. Bathing the portraits of my ancestors in water brings them back to their places of origin, where everything begins and ends in constant cycles of renewal and transcendence. In Central African cultures, especially the Bakongo, kalunga is – among other, more profound meanings – the fine layer of water that separates the world of the living from that of the spirits. My work is certainly influenced by this cosmology and also by that of the Yoruba, where water is the primordial element of spiritual connection.
When you travelled to Nigeria, you returned to the continent of your ancestors, which many could not do. What impact has this return had on your life and work? Is reconciliation or a dialogue between past and present possible?
I think it’s the return of a person who never left, but who is no longer recognised by her people because she has been away too long. This dilemma pervades the work as a whole, this intermediate place of non-belonging. It is certainly not reconciliation, but to bring a past to mind through a return can assert that we are here, that we resist and never forget one another.
Photo (detail): “(Outros) Fundamentos“. Director: Aline Motta. Berlinale Forum Expanded | ©: Aline Motta The search for your roots shows us an open wound of Brazil, slavery, and points to the racism still strongly present in society. In “(Outros) Fundamentos”, the statement “to become white in order not to disappear” is shown as an essential survival strategy on the part of those who were enslaved and the generations that followed them. Do you still think it is possible that this wound will scar over and start to heal? What role can art play in this process?
The phrase "turn white or disappear?" refers directly to the book Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon. In the case of Brazil, this provocation has a sinister dimension, considering that this “turning white” of the Brazilian population was official policy in the period after the abolition of slavery at the end of the 19th, beginning of the 20th century with government incentives for immigration from Europe. A “scarring over” is not possible without a policy of compensation, which has never been pursued on a significant scale in Brazil. The few existing approaches are also being fought against tooth and nail. This is evidence of a deep-seated racism, including the unalterable continuation of white privileges and a deliberate ignorance or erasure of historical events.
Art may awaken some deeper associations in a particular audience, which may lead to some understanding of personal, family and collective trauma. But especially in Brazil, the visual arts are still a very limited, elitist terrain. So I have my doubts about the reach of a work like mine. I increasingly try to make the work truly cross-disciplinary, so that it brings together different artistic methods and knowledge. In this way, it can also be effective outside of institutional spaces and be used, for example, as didactic material for teachers of a wide range of subjects.