You need to forgive yourself. It is not always necessary to be the bravest woman alive. It is important to recognize that there are bigger matters than yourself. It is ok to say “I cannot take this challenge at the moment”. Not having done something doesn’t mean that you are a perpetual coward or that you are uncapable of realizing projects or challenge yourself. You need to forgive yourself for being afraid. Of course that you shouldn’t let fear dictate your life, but being afraid from time to time is also not the worse thing in the world. You need to let go and stop thinking of all the mistakes you’ve made out of fear in the course of your life. We all make mistakes and its from mistakes that we learn. I understand that it is hard to forgive after having made a decision because you will never know what would have happened if you had done otherwise. Be certain that thinking obsesivelly on the “what if?” can turn anyone crazy. There are paths in life, there are decisions and those decisions carve the life we live afterwards, but it is not only decisions that shape our lives but ourselves, our way of living, of breathing those decisions. One of the most valuable lessons is to let go. To understand that nothing is forever and that nothing belongs to you. The world is a fugitive on its own. It is ours for a moment and then it flees away. Nothing is forever, you need to repeat that to yourself. Above all, nothing is ever ours. Life is a fugitive gift. I know that you frequently say that you came to this world to learn, that sounds really beautiful, but you sometimes forget that learning is not always easy and that lessons are many times unexpected. It doesn’t help to fight against a lesson, to evade it, not to see it. A lesson that needs to be learned will come back in a different form, with a different face. Now I was expecting to learn about positioning myself, to express ideas, but I have come to realice that once more the lesson is that of self discovery, of self acceptance. I share this with you because I intuit that you are going through a similar experience. It seems that the time has come to stand infront of the mirror, to see ourselves as we truly are, to accept our mistakes, to like our talents, to understand our fears. Time has come to stop being a fugitive to ourselves, to life, to experiences, to forgiveness. Time has come for us to accept that life is a gift, I repeat, a fugitive gift.
Q: Why did you start this project?
A: It happened all of a sudden, I was living in this house for one year already with a group of people and unexpectedly my flatmate told me that she was moving out also the rest of the inhabitants. I realized that I was alone in the house and I had to either move out or that I had to find new flatmates. So, this idea came to my mind: what if I don’t look for a regular flatmate but instead I look for artists who want to create something here? Initially it was going to last just for one month but then I received so many applications and so many interesting people that I couldn’t stop. It was like when you go from a hill with a bike or with something else that has wheels, and you go on a flat surface and when the sloping part begins you cannot stop, you start going down till the end or further.
Q: What does Porto mean to you?
A: Firstly, it is a refuge place in a way, because it is at the very end of Europe and it is like a place where you cannot go any further. I first came here to study, I could choose any place in Europe that my university had an alliance with and Porto was the furthest place possible, so I came here. Then I got addicted. In a way I feel safe here because it is so far away from everything. I love Europe but I prefer to be on the edges of Europe, before I was in Georgia and it was also just on the border with Asia. From this perspective it’s easier to observe things happening without getting too involved, it allows you to be free.
Q: And that is what is addictive for you in Porto?
A: Not only that, of course. But it is a good feeling to be on the edge, I like that there are so many possibilities because relatively there is still a lot to do, and it is also not a capital city so it is an alternative place. The relationships between people here are closer; and because the city is so dense there are many things squeezed together. For example, this phenomena that someone can just ring your door and come wouldn’t happen in other cities because things are too far away from each other. Also this house is located in the middle of everything, it starts to be a place where people just pass nearby and they enter because they are here. I love these kind of possibilities that Porto gives.
Q: Do you think this residency can distinguish itself from others? If yes, in which way?
A: The funny thing is that I have never done an official residency, so I don’t know very well how other residencies are. I have stayed in places that had residencies so I have observed a bit. I think “De Liceiras 18” is different because it is very experimental, because it is not institutional. Obviously the most characteristic thing is that people live and create in the same space. There is no division between bedrooms and ateliers and exhibition spaces; this gives a lot of limitations, it provides a big challenge. It is more difficult and it can be more stressful also, but at the same time I see this challenge as a chance because creating in difficult conditions can create new solutions, and solutions for these problems can be something really innovative that could not happen in “white box” perfect places. The idea is to challenge this concept. It is not a statement, I don’t say that it is possible to live and create in the same space, I put a question: Is it possible to do so? At least once per week I think it is impossible but then I see things happening and it is truly incredible.
Q: Before you were saying that you are not giving a statement but rather opening a question mark, do you have a statement or do you want to make a statement with this house?
A: No, it is a question. It is a very big question mark. Because it is a personal project and I personally don’t feel myself ready to make any statement yet, I rather want to make this project as an open experiment. Instead of giving a sentence and put the dot, I start the sentence and see what people will write further and maybe at some point this becomes a statement or a little statement everyday or a group of statements. Sometimes they are contradictory, one statement to another, but I think all of them are true and this is the most interesting.
Q: Is there a story behind the name “De Liceiras 18”? Why did you choose that name?
A: Yes, I didn’t wanted to add any additional meaning, so this house is located in Travessa de Liceiras and the house number is 18 (dezoito in Portuguese). To put Travessa in the logo was too long, just graphically it would not work, so I left “De Liceiras 18”. It is closely connected to this place, it is not an organization that could be anywhere. Maybe the only thing it means or emphasizes is the relationship with the house itself as a place and with the location.
Q: And especially the neighborhood no? I see that it could be interesting for you to connect to the neighborhood surrounding.
A: We do actually. It is very tricky because we have to gain the trust of the people and they are not used to art so much, because in this area there are not so many cultural initiatives. For now we started just by inviting people from the bar downstairs because it is a place where all the men from the neighborhood gather to eat, to drink, to discuss, sometimes to play cards; they spend there their free time. I want to bring these people here and invite them to come. In our last exhibition already four men came, the owner of the bar and three guests that he had. They came and they seemed to like it, they have a lot to contribute as well because they know a lot of the history of this place that me as a foreigner and as a person that has lived here only for one year have no access to. They create a bridge between the residents of this house, who are relatively new to this place, and the past, what happened here before. To all the surroundings, to the changes that it went through. And I hope that gradually we will connect to more and more people.
Q: Do you think there is a social value to art?
A: Depends on which art, I think that not all art has to be socially involved, it is just one of the reasons for art. But some art can of course change people’s lives or at least make them reflect upon some problem or emphasize some change that is happening or some issue that needs to be resolved.
Q: Why did you decide to be an artist?
A: It was never a decision. Since I can remember I knew that I was an artist somehow. First I thought that I would be selling paintings on the street because that was the only art I observed, in my family everyone is an engineer, there were no artists, so I didn’t have this experience at home. I just saw people selling paintings on the street, so I decided when I was very very little that this would be my future job. And then, gradually I started discovering on my own other disciplines of art, other techniques and I have changed them many times. I have interests in different media and I still haven’t decided. I don’t know if there is a need to decide, maybe for some, but I think I won’t be able, capable of choosing just one path.
Q: What is art for you?
A: It is transformation. Everything that we perceive we take it, it can be either an object, a word, a melody or a concept, and we change it or we just put it in the right place. For me personally, it is more about putting things in the right place. When I see that something is missing somewhere I put it there. Sometimes it is difficult to see the border between what is art and what is not. For example, when I was walking to Santiago de Compostela I had by accident the seeds of Tropaeolum with me, it is a plant that you can actually eat entirely and it has medical properties, it is a anti inflammatory. It is the plant that people who walk long distances really need. Many of the people that were on the road that time were taking medicines, like aspirin, which would just avoid the inflammation or the infection, but I think that we have so many medical opportunities coming from nature that we don’t need to bring medicine to the forest, we should take medicine from the forest. This plant grows very well in the climate conditions in Portugal, but for some reason this plant was not growing at the time. So I just put the seeds on the road in different places and I hope they have grown, if there was enough rain they should be quite big by now. For me in a way it is art because it is bringing something that was missing there. But I still question what art is. Art for me is also freedom. Anything that in society is considered outside of the rules you can say that you are working on your art and people will accept it. Art is a means to justify my madness in front of me.
De Liceiras 18 Temporary Art Community http://cargocollective.com/deliceiras18/
Kirsten Heuschen http://kirsten-heuschen.de/
Q: What is Africa for you?
A: Africa means everything to me, I was raised and born in Africa. Because I know the struggle that Africa has been through, in history, through slavery. I feel that Africa can be better, will be better with us. I really want to live in Africa, and I am proud to be an African because there I have so many ideas that I can relate into my work; also the space and the culture is what builds me up as an artist, but also as a human, as a black person. Africa means everything to me.
Q: For you what does dependency and interdependency mean? Do you find a connection between the two of them?
A: Maybe I talk about myself generally, you know, independency is for me a challenge. Because growing up with your parents and family, you are brought up to go according to their wishes and sometimes you experience different situations in life where you think that you have to be independent, that you have to have your freedom. But you have to rely on your family and on people as well, so it also has advantages and disadvantages. It is very important to experience both, so you can learn how you can live better with these two, so that you can develop yourself in between. You are always kind of unbalanced. It is also important to see who you are in your own space or with people.
Q: You express in your art the tense relationships between Africa and Europe, or between Africa and the world and viceversa. What does these relations affect or are presented in your work?
A: I think that Europe has influenced Africa in so many ways because of the historical relationship, and for me, personally, I was born in Ghana, I studied art in Ghana and in Brazil. Brazil was actually a part of realization in my work, as an African artist to go to South America and study art. But in Ghana we have a strong influence by Europeans in terms of culture, especially in customing. Africans now try to look like Europeans because of the huge influence in the media, or what they see about Europe, even people that have never been to Europe have a perception on how Europe looks like. So, it influences my work in several ways because I have travelled to Europe for several projects and I have learned so much how people recognize my work in Europe but not in Ghana, you know? Because my work was actually recognized in Europe first, so I see how my work has a reflection in Europe more than in Africa, but actually the idea was from Africa, but it has different recognition in Europe and that is a kind of an influence. Every time I travel I try to learn different techniques, in Ghana I easily develop my work because I have the materials around, in Europe is not so easy to find these materials around. So you have to be very conceptual with things that you approach, so Europe has a strong influence in my work right now because I also look at the relationship between Africa and Europe, what kind of elements I adapt to my work and I also deal with history and archival materials in my work. In general I think that Europe has a strong influence in the arts and culture in Africa.
Q: What do you think is the role of art now? For you as an artist, what do you think is important for art to do?
A: Art for me is development, art has developed the world in so many ways. When it comes to architecture it is art, fashion is art and so on. Art is changing the world into a better place because people have to make a social change, to criticize a situation and create awareness. I think that it has a huge message in global development. I am also finding ways to play a middle role through my art to speak out issues that are affecting my country and which are affecting the world. Art can do a strong global change.
Q: Following the thought of the notions of in- and dependency, what is the notion of the puppet for you? Especially thinking of your performance entitled “Whose puppet are you?”
A: It is always a struggle for a person to be established, it is even harder if you are from Africa, it is a challenge to find the way of working in what you really want. You have to work hard, you have to know what you want, you have to be focused. When thinking about all these structures you then need a support and that is where dependency comes, you need a support and maybe it is not coming from anyone of your family but it comes from somewhere else, they put conditions that you need to obey to get what you want so that is where the puppet starts. The puppet is something that affects everyone, because you need a support, you need someone to do what you want to do. You go through different situations before you can achieve your goals. So, the puppet is something that gives you a glimpse of how hard you need to work. To achieve you need to go through these challenges, these seasons of life, these difficulties, the puppet is something that you have to go through to achieve your dream. You can’t get away from it. There is someone that will tell you what to do.
Q: In your sculpture and performance work you frequently use the element of the mask, could you tell me a bit more about that? What is your relationship with the notion of face and facelessness?
A: I came about the mask when I look at the consumption of these plastic gallons in Africa, they were all oil containers and now, when they come to Ghana, they are used as water storage. So, it has become kind of a symbolic use, because we have struggled with water crisis and this aspect has a very strong relationship with humans. Everybody uses this plastic gallons. I am also thinking about the futuristic development, if there were so much water in Africa, what would these gallons be useful for? As an artist I play the role of transforming them to become the masks that will symbolize our struggle. People smile but they are suffering, the mask covers the face of your suffering. They become a mask of our time, a symbol to cover up your suffering, to block those kind of relationships. I am also transforming these to have a traditional mask that represents African development, these masks define our times. We have different African masks but this is our contemporary mask.
Q: Another topic presented in your work is the one of travel and migration. Could you tell me if you see a difference between travel and migration? And how does this affect your work, especially since you travel to work?
A: I think when you talk about travelling, travelling from one continent to another it is always a disaster. Even the processes of your travel become really structured, you have to get certain requirements before you can move outside. Migration is something that is always a nightmare because you always think about somewhere you have never been but with the belief that life is better there than where you are. You have all those visions and you try everything you can to go there. You have sadness, suffering. Before your journey you are in a desperate situation and you go through different boundaries before you end up going or seeing what you are thinking about. For me, African migration is something very difficult because people travel on the desert, on the sea, because of hope and somehow we don’t fulfill that hope. Because of what we think about our own space, the negative things that we see in our own space. This is how African migration becomes a disaster. Because there are certain qualities you need before you can travel, like the passport, the visa, the bank statement, the invitation letter. You know? Those are things that people don’t get, they cannot get them, so they find their own way to what is so called “promise land”. Travelling and migration is a struggle. And when it comes to continents, it is always a disaster. I remember the first time I came to Europe, even before the preparation I had so many things running up in my mind, expectations and all that, but I couldn’t fulfill all of these expectations.
Q: What do distances mean to you?
A: Distance gives me disconnection. When I am far away from home I can have this disconnection from home because I don’t get to connect with people. Sometimes I don’t even think about my family anymore but finding ways to be secured in this new place. Starting new friendships, meeting new people, talking about different things than talking about home. We are always dealing with the space where we are in. After time you begin to forget home and if you find who you are in this part here then this space becomes your home but it is not it. Distance for me its a hard thing, it is hard to stay away from home because I feel always disconnected with people.
Q: Another important aspect of your career as an artist has been your ongoin collaboration with the performance group “GoLokal”. What is locality for you and in which sense should it be represented or protected?
A: As an artist I always follow the mantra “think global, act local”. I find the space in which I grew up as very important to me because it has so many reflection on my work, on my career, on being an artist and growing up in the arts. I always wanted to expand my experience with art with the people that I live around and I always find ways to give back to the community for bringing me this far. But I think that people need more than that, people need art, people need to realize who they are, their senses and how they can use creativity to make a change. I used to do solo performances and people were asking questions about my work and it was mostly focused about myself and I am not so comfortable with that; so I decided to work with a group of people from the community. There are so many talents in the community but you don’t have the structures to explore or to show that so I used my experience and my platform to bring together a group. “Go Lokal” actually started three years ago when I moved to Labadi, before I was living in a more residential area in Accra. In 2012 was the first group performance on the streets of Labadi about politics and it was really amazing how everyone worked. The show was covered by a TV station in Ghana and it was shown the whole week, the community saw the video and people thought we had been paid to do this performance, thinking that we were campaining for a particular party. The people kept calling, appreciating the work because it was just a performance and due to the fact that we didn’t spend so much money, it was just the energy and the idea. I think people in the community actually realized how art can play a social change. Now people are interested in being part of the group, even older people keep asking me. We even arranged a performance with old people about the illegal gold mining which is an issue that is affecting the country, it was made in February of this year. Recently we worked as a group on the Arts Festival Ghana in August. I think that people are realizing the social change through art and are willing to support, to spend their time, to be part of it.
Q: Community is an important factor then?
A: Yes, it is important to know the people in the community, to develop the community and establish something that can support it. Together with the performance group we are getting to know the people in the community and their abilities, what they are trying to achieve and what they want to do. We give everybody a role if he or she is interested in the performance, and we bring them together. What I want to do in Labadi is to get a place for performance workshops and also to invite people and collaborate with different cultures. Right now we are the only performance group in Ghana that is really active so I want to focus more on that.
Q: What does art gives to you?
A: Art gives me life, it gives me the living to survive, art can give me the possiblity to do whatever I want. I think I have experienced different things, I’ve learned so much by being an artist. Sometimes I struggle to understand art, because there are so many things that I want to do and time and energy sometimes is not there. I try to hold back and also try to focus on something else but this is not possible. I think that art is life and I can’t live without it. There are so many changes in my life with the arts, I don’t know how it is going to end but I have so many things that I want people to realize, but it is starting very small and I think is growing over time. Art keeps me wanting for more, encouraging me to focus and to move forward.
Q: What are the topics tht are burning in you right now? Which paths will you continue?
A: I am working more on the concept of recycling art and looking at art also as in materiality. How material travels and have different value, as objects. I am as well looking at the present day Africa, What has Africa achieved? I am also playing these themes to show how Africa has beeen influenced from Europe and how the history still exists in our present day Africa. I am putting attention on those things and I think it is something that creates a performative idea in my work and also in my photographs because I combine performance and photography.
Q: How has this experience in Vienna has been? Has it affected your work?
A: I think that is has been good so far, the work that I am creating here would be different if I were back home, in Ghana. Because it is also a different point of view, seeing migration from an African perspective. When you talk about migration here it is different, but from Africa people have more stories, more elements that can adapt to the work. It has not been easy but I am still trying to push myself, after experiencing both places I know how that is. Home is always home, where you feel more comfortable to express what you feel, and this is a project that needs to be fulfilled. I really want to take this project further, how back to it, to create ideas, to push it. I believe in travelling around and showing my work as an African artist, to know what Africa means to me.
Serge Attukwei: http://sergeoclottey.blogspot.pt/