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Aline Motta: memory, travel and water

Aline Motta: memory, travel and water
Opening: 03/21 | 14h

Water can destroy historical paper records, but even when wet, many of these can come back to life: they are carefully dried out and continue to perform their original function. On the seabed, lost among the remains of the Titanic, a notebook belonging to the young Edgardo Samuel Andrew (1895-1912), with his still-legible penciled entries, was found, despite some damage. The same is not true of fire, which, once alight, spreads, destroying everything it touches leaving only ashes behind. This is what happened to a large part of the collection of the Museu Nacional do Rio de Janeiro in 2018, closing off many roads to the past.

The archives and museums that store material memories should, as far as possible, avoid all contact with deteriorating agents, of which moisture and fire are just two examples, which are ready and primed for attack. But while they still exist, what use can we make of these memories that we keep? Memory, forgetfulness, patient excavation and discovery are among the subjects that appear in the work of Aline Motta, a 45-year-old artist from the suburbs of Rio, who lives and works in São Paulo.

Three years after performing her installation and releasing the book Escravos de Jó, (2016), the artist continues her interest in narratives related to black slavery, and how her family, on one side Portuguese, and on the other side African and African-Brazilian, is crossed by these unequal relationships that define the characteristics of Brazilian society.

Acting as a collector of oral, visual and written fragments from her own family’s hidden stories, Aline Motta makes a foray into distant places, approached, however, by the Atlantic Ocean, bringing the stories together into a work laden with water – salty, fresh, clear or polluted. This substance appears as a structural element in the video-installation trilogy – Bridges over chasms (2017), If the sea had balconies (2017) and Other fundamentals (2019). Its guiding thread is a small collection of family portrait photographs. They are people you had or have some physical proximity to, who you heard about or who exist through the documents that remain in public archives and circulate on the internet.

In these videos, the people portrayed return as substitutes of those once-living to accompany them on trips to places like Vassouras in Rio de Janeiro, Cachoeira in Bahia, Sierra Leone on the African coast, Lagos / Nigeria, and rural areas on the border between Portugal and Spain. The search for her genealogy and family roots has an important milestone – Doralice, a mixed race baby girl born in 1911 in Rio de Janeiro, and who one day would become her maternal grandmother. Delving into the past, without getting lost in it, Aline Motta encounters other figures, such as her great-grandmother, Mariana (1888-1960), and street names, trade products, old newspaper stories and historical events that she comes across. Such discoveries guide the artist in how she deals with the ethnic-racial truths in her family background, or rather, the taste for knowledge from the past, with a view to better understanding its effects on the present. This desire for knowledge engages her in trips in which she encounters people and places, raw material for the trilogy in which, as you can see, brings about an effect of going back and forth between places.

Somebody in Sierra Leone immerses the white fabric printed portraits in the water, a jangada-raft carries the faces of a couple. At a different moment, the fabric portrait of Wilma (1939-2011), the artist’s mother, is held by somebody in Lagos / Nigeria inside a small boat; at other times these weak images, since the fabrics are very delicate, are hung on clotheslines; the wind blows them under a once-inhabited ruin. Once enlarged in relation to the originals, the portraits take on a new life, they come out of the drawers, albums or shoeboxes, places in which they have silently lived, lying in wait for the person who, with curiosity and determination, questions them about who and where they came from, and what they have left to us, the living.

Alexandre Araújo Bispo