Rather than the familiar wooded savanna or a Museum of Natural History, the image of a stuffed sable antelope inhabits a different landscape: through static museum displays, staged re-enactments and a street parade, the animal navigates contemporary Angola, sharing the complicated histories of its colonial past and potential future along the way.
HD video, stereo sound, 17 minutes
Havemos de Voltar approaches the subject of post-colonial history from the perspective of the bodies that were frozen in its service, breathing new life into lingering desires. Kiluanji Kia Henda’s work is part of a trilogy that approaches contemporary Angola and its violent past, which the country has attempted to brush over in the rush to join the ranks of “successful” global nations. The video takes its title from a poem by Agostinho Neto, the country’s first president and one of its most prolific poets. Written in exile in a Lisbon prison, Neto’s text appeals to Angolans to find true independence and freedom by returning to their African traditions. A time-hopping travelogue between colonized, militarized and representational environments, Havemos de Voltar explores the seductive relationships between art, history and nostalgia.
To our rivers, our lakes
our mountains, our forests
we will return
To the marimba and the quissange
to our carnival
we shall return
We shall return
to liberated Angola
(Agostinho Neto, Havemos de Voltar, 1960)
The main character of Havemos de Voltar is Amélia Capomba, a giant sable antelope. Not merely the national symbol of Angola, nor a stuffed corpse preserved as a historical artefact, Amélia has recently regained consciousness and is plotting her escape from the Archive Center in Luanda, where she is kept. While Neto’s poem is a political manifesto, Amélia speaks in terms of passionate and personal desire to return to her natural state, with blood to replace the embalming fluid in her veins. She wants to return to the past in order to have her revenge on history, which took away her life in order to represent a certain narrative of reality.
Although fond of Mr. Baltazar, the curatorial guardian of the Archive Center, Amélia is happy to embrace the opportunity offered by the appearance of Chinese businessman Daniel Jianping, who wants to purchase the antelope for his new nightclub. Amélia’s high spirits are infectious, even if the memories of the forest she hopes to return to are accompanied by images of museum dioramas and stuffed animals. The time machine she is sure she will find appears to be in fact the flashing spectacle of a nightclub, complete with disco dancers in fluorescent tribal attire.
Amélia’s eloquent narration flows swiftly between lyrical insights into the nature of history, reflections on the status of the object and her memories of freedom. Is it possible to long for something that we have never fully experienced? It is hard not to feel sympathetic for the antelope’s desire to reverse the violent tide of history. After all, the monuments to the past, the taxidermies in the natural history museum, the colonial tiles telling the story of conquest and missionary zeal, all of these were built and preserved for a foreign gaze. Passed into history, they have become representations, objects of nostalgia and forgetting.
The purpose of the recording is also to certify the death of the event you want to tell
Amélia can see these problems, can feel where her movement has been stilled. Now that the filmmaker has given her a voice and a taste of freedom, there is no time to waste. Unfortunately, the violence of history is not one that can be undone by simply returning to its origins or retracing its steps. The romantic view of nature that inspired Western nations to take guardianship of the African Eden is not all that different from Neto’s paradise of rivers, lakes, mountains and forests. Both fail to acknowledge the history of conflict and oppression that has marked this landscape. Is it possible to locate a moment of purity in the ways we have lived together in the past?
Amélia ends up in the wrong part of history, during the South African invasion of Angola, another time of militarized invasion. Her voyage has followed the representations of others; she has been misguided within the world of illusions that tells us there is something “essential,” “real” and “natural” to be found in images and records. You can’t escape your past, but our origins are not reducible to a single moment. Cycles of violence and trauma cannot be skipped over: they call for acknowledgement and repair. Otherwise we may not recognize the world we return to, nor the future we wish for.
As such, Havemos de Voltar takes up a question that is broader than the Angolan context: what to do with the remains, memories and frozen bodies of the past, currently contained and erased in our museums and archives? All these objects are prevented from serving the purpose for which they are created. Amélia is a prosthetic of sorts, a fiberglass placeholder for an idea of life, a ghostly memory and phantom pain. But in the oral tradition of storytelling, she becomes an animal with a voice, a creature of the present, and the film itself becomes a time machine.
A film by Kiluanji Kia Henda
Producer: Jorge Cohen
Associate producer: Tchiloia Lara
Script: Kiluanji Kia Henda
Production assistant: Kamy Lara
Director of photography: Ery Calver
First camera assistant: Kamy Lara
Second camera assistant: Clemente Basílio
Production assistants: Clemente Basílio, Bruno Gonga, Pedro Cunha
Produced by Geração 80 and Jahmek Contemporary Art
Courtesy the artist and Goodman Gallery, Cape Town