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Message in a container – António Ole

By Syma Tariq in Lisbon
Posted on Friday, 13 January 2012 12:16

The acclaimed Angolan artist uses a variety of media to explore African natural and urban environments, highlighting what links and separates the people who live in them

António Ole likes to recycle objects into ideas. The Angolan artist’s recent solo exhibition, outside Portugal’s Centro Cultural de Belém, was an installation of a film projection on water inside two shipping containers. Other similar projects have been more controversial.

In Berlin last year, Ole turned 16 shipping containers into a wall that took up the entire west wing of a gallery, evoking the shanty-towns on the fringes of cities in the developing world.

Ole is known for his photography, documentary and large-scale multimedia installations which have been shown in galleries and institutions including The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Centre Pompidou in Paris and at various international biennales.

“I am interested by the idea of cities and townships – the idea of people in big African countries living on the peripheries,” Ole explains.

“My work follows an instinct to provoke people who visit museums of contemporary art. The museum in Berlin specifically asked for the whole wall of junk – windows, old doors, steel – like the [similar] work I created in South Africa, and it was very popular.

“My friend Sokari Douglas Camp [a London-based Nigerian artist], however, was shocked with what I did and thought maybe I was exploiting this theme of poverty. You can call it arte povera or whatever you want, but either way, this energy is important to me.”

Ole is now preparing to embark on an artistic journey that will take in nine “islands” of Africa in the space of three years.

Insula will entail a trip to Robben Island, where South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela was held prisoner, as well as to a Cape Verdean community living in the mouth of a volcano and the mineral drilling haven of Gora, Senegal.

“I want to know what links these people – where they come from – and come out with an eclectic and multidisciplinary artistic survey, taking in everything from naval construction to pottery. But I do not want to do this as an anthropologist or historian – I want to do it as an artist,” Ole says.

“Though I am interested in cities, I am tired of talking about them: urbanity, habitat, social issues and so on. I live in Luanda, a chaotic city, which is now apparently the most expensive in the world. Now, I want to talk about other places: nature, trouble, all of which of course is still man-made.”

This story was first published in the November edition of The Africa Report, on sale at newsstands, via our print subscription or our digital edition.

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