Januário Jano on Body, Place and Memory
Januário Jano is an Angolan multidisciplinary artist who explores the opposing notions of modern pop culture and traditional practices through painting, installation, video, sculpture, and photography. Luanda (the capital of Angola) is central to Jano’s work. It is through the city that he dissects memory and identity against the backdrop of Angola’s recent history and Ambundu culture. He also uses his body to link this past and present while looking at the construction of personal and collective identity. In this interview with Omenka, he discusses his work, Angola’s recent history, and Ambundu culture.
Your practice encompasses painting, installation, video, and photography. Please elaborate on your relationship with each and what roles they play in your process.
Research is the central feature of my artistic practice. I am interested in exploring ideas around the body, place, and memory, reflecting on the globalised cultural space. I am seduced by the parallels in fiction and reality, which create the intersection to explore themes around the body and its materiality and allow me to engage with sculpture, textile, performance, sound, video, photography, and installations.
Luanda is central to your work. It is through the city that you dissect memory and identity against the backdrop of Angola’s recent history and Ambundu culture. Please take us through your creative process, taking care to mention what other cities you have lived and worked in and how you bring them to bear on your work.
By trying to understand the past and present, I critically plunge into aspects of Angola’s recent history that is linked to the past—and more particularly into elements of Ambundu culture, originally from the region around Luanda. This process of historical research sets the basis for and starting point of my work.
Each city feeds my practice in specific ways. They affect and influence it differently; for instance, Luanda, as the mother city, plays a central role as it is charged with the right energy that I need to develop the narratives and to explore the physical, emotional, and rational connection. London and Lisbon play a very important role, too; they give me the speed to get things done and feed me with other elements that are crucial for my practice.
What is the significance of your appearance as a prominent motif in many of your projects, such as in Senhô 1 (S01, 2017) and Musseke (2017)?
The body features as a prominent motif in many of my projects, plays a pivotal role as the main motif, and leads the way to link between the present and past to build up the narrative. In this case, it functions fundamentally to explore existing references that aid in defining the base and tone in order to construct a visual language. The result is a contextual aesthetic and iconographic vocabulary.
“In Ambundulando, Januário Jano appropriates literary references, personal memories, questions related to contemporary Angolan life, (re)creates rituals, producing a fragmented narrative—where the political character of collective memory and the personal character of individual memory intersect, clash and overlap at different times.” How would you explain this statement about your 2017 exhibition Ambundulando in light of the civil war in Angola (1975–2002) in which rebels, like the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MLPA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), fought for the political independence of the Angolan people?
The project Ambundulando happens to be in that time and space where those events took place in the past. Even though I tried to avoid the issues of the civil war, which has left a significant mark on the lives of almost all Angolans, it’s difficult for it not to have an effect on the work that I develop. The collective memory helps us to understand the past in relation to the present. Phonetically, Ambundulando suggests transitions—constant movement. With this in mind, I initiate a journey where I propose a reflection about memory and its transition and my role in the construction of personal and collective identity.
Today we are dealing with different issues, and Angola as a nation is building itself up slowly from the past heavy trauma of colonialism intertwined with a civil war and today’s challenges of a globalised world.
Considering the immense, far-reaching socio-economic costs of the war, including human causalities, displacement, and infrastructural damage, what personal experiences have informed your work?
As a member of that society at the time of hardship, I was affected directly. As a child, I did not have a clear idea of what was really happening at the time and how much that was in some way affecting me. Today as an adult, I have realised how much it has actually affected me. I remember not having a peaceful childhood, not being able to play freely and having to work twice as hard to help my grandparents with daily activities. I remember being confined to one place and not being able to move around the country. That was drastic. The stories and all the fictional characters created as war propaganda to make us believe that we were on the right side still act as a spectre today. It’s definitely shaped the way we are as a nation and as individuals.
In navigating the cross-pollination between collective, historical, and personal identity, you reference rituals from the Ambundu ethnic group, as well as family practices. Does your larger purpose include re-imagining history to suppress the negative impacts of the civil war on the collective psyche of the Angolan people, and why?
I would not say my major objective is to re-imagine history in order to suppress the negative impact of war. Of course, it would be ideal if we did not carry the trauma of the war, so that we could reflect on other issues. The traces of the war continue affecting the lives of many Angolans to this day; re-imagining history works as a way to understand where we came from and where we might be going—that is a fundamental element in order to understand ourselves.
In 2018, you presented your body of work ‘Mponda’ at the Investec Cape Town Art Fair, as well as a live performance and a photographic installation titled Senhô. Kindly tell us more about the experience.
The solo participation in the Tomorrows/Today section at Investec Cape Town Art Fair was without doubt a unique experience. At first, I was scheduled just to do a solo presentation, but I thought it might be very relevant to do a performance, too. The performance worked as a sort of activating device to the pieces on the booth. I created a special space where all the action would happen. I then filled it with energy that was transmitted to the viewers.
By doing so, I felt that I had enriched, to some extent, the experience of the fair’s visitors and its programme. At the same time, I fulfilled something that I’d had in mind for some time; releasing it was like being reborn.
In your artist statement you said, “As an artist, I have been regularly confronted with questions that make me rethink and take a different position in relation to the actual paradigm of the current art world and market.” Please elaborate on this statement.
As an artist, I am interested in exploring issues that are core to me and yet are relevant to a global audience. I’m interested in adding to the conversation the things left out of it by challenging the popular canons and the readability of art in a cross-cultural setting.
For instance, I am interested in the themes of the body and all the issues around it. This led me to question its subjectivity and representatives, emphasising body displacement in relation to the general theme of displacement. Using the body to address cultural and socio-political issues has been a hotbed for artists’ practices.
You received the 2016 Business for Art Award at Art Laguna in Venice, Italy. What impact has it had on your career as an artist?
The award has given me extra tools to diversify and take my practice to different grounds. From that point, I collaborated with a fashion brand to develop a special-edition (art centred) product. I also took an artistic residency, which provided access to a wide range of new audiences; enabled me to experience cultural exchange; gave me freedom to explore and experiment with new ways of generating ideas; expanded my networks and other relevant operators within the art and cultural sector; improved my artistic practice; and increased my confidence.
What future projects would you like to share with us?
Today I am completing an MFA at Goldsmiths, University of London, and that is my main project for the next two years. Besides that, I have been included in the book Atlantica: Contemporary Art from Angola and Its Diaspora (Hangar Books). It contains the work of 14 Angolan artists and 20 essays by theorists, curators, and art historians, and is available on Amazon. I also have a gallery solo exhibition on April 11 at the Primo Marella Gallery in Lugano (Switzerland), followed by a debut at Miart Milano. Then in May I will present a new performance, Homo Supper, for the first time at ARCO Lisbon.
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