“We today can do everything, so long as we do not imitate Europe, so long as we are not obsessed by the desire to catch up with Europe.”
These are the chilling and controversial words of Frantz Fanon on the latent Eurocentrism implicit to the ethos and order of our past and present society. These are also the themes explored in Decolonial Desire, the new exhibition on show at London’s Autograph ABP from multimedia artist Vasco Araújo, under the auspices of gallery director Mark Sealy.
Araújo’s multidisciplinary works – encompassing photography, video, sculpture and archive imagery – explore how the trauma of the colonial encounter continues to haunt the modern world.
Originally at the forefront of colonialisation, the country played a leading role in the discovery of the Americas, and consolidated its holdings as part of the ‘Scramble for Africa’ during the 19th Century.
“It’s really important for us to discuss how history has done its work, how the past has unfolded and how we take responsibility for that history” explains Sealy. “One of the things we are interested in at Autograph is artists who are particularly interested in helping us unpack those complicated and difficult narratives.”
Alongside a visual exegesis which confronts the horrific colonial afflictions of enslavement, extermination and human zoos, Araújo interrogates and illuminates both the mechanisms of decolonisation and the structures of neocolonialism still fervent today.
Recurring messages in Araújo’s work are the fluidity and the performative nature of sexual identity and gender, the reconstitution of erased voices, and the exercise and establishment of power and control, often through the prism of sexual desire.
In Botanica, a forest of images seem to equate natural and human species in the same systematic, hierarchical way, subordinated to the colonial gaze. These are places upon wooden tables which along with their domestic, private significance, are also where negotiations take place, where treaties are drawn up and the destinies of entire nations decided.
Araújo’s sculpture Ethos has photographs of European heads of state slicing through a table, suggesting a parallel with the way the colonial powers sliced up Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1884-5, which marked the climax of the European competition for territory in Africa.
By tapping into the primary violence of the coloniser rather than the colonised, Araújo’s process reinterprets and reinvents to comment on current or historical social norms and values, ingrained cultural stereotypes and the marginalisation of various minorities. The resulting work is often a subversion of the original message of the archive imagery he reclaims, querying issues of race, class and gender.
“I want people to react with emotion” says Araújo. “I hope that they not only get passionate, but also feel like they’ve been punched in the stomach. Discomfort, that is what I want, because discomfort provokes internal questioning.”
“We cannot forget,” Araújo says. “If we forget, I think we really have a problem.”
Decolonial Desire is on show at Autograph ABP from 7 October – 3 December 2016. For more information, go here.