Ana Paula Tavares’ Presentation on Lisbon Revisited 2019

The shine on someone’s eyes when they talk about Angola, different times, and circumstances, has always astonished me. And then I started to understand that shine in their eyes: it was the shine of someone who has dived deep into their water, of Bengo’s, Kwanza’s or Luena’s. It’s just that Angola, in its excessive intensity, always imposes unfathomable questions on us. The fact that the shine on Ana Paula’s eyes hasn’t faded throughout the years shows her immense resistance and curiosity. 

Belonging is also being a foreigner and recognize our ignorance. 

There are works that could be read as a program, as if an invisible line ran through them, strengthening them, even if only perceptible in the unfinished tessitura. If destiny wasn’t made of what we wanted and knew how to do. No matter how many turns we take, our place awaits us, or we have been there for a long time and the place could be that of a childhood. And Ana Paula returns a lot to her inaugural period. Born in Lubango, Huíla province, southern Angola, sub-Saharan Africa. There was still an air of an appropriating colonial society, in which little Ana Paula watched with charm the Nyaneka shepherds from whom she learned the music, smells and mysteries that would remain for her to later decipher or accept their reason for being. On one hand, the family in the process of assimilation — European society in Lubango, an exceptional green and cold plateau, abundant fruit, and Portuguese grocery stores. On the other, those of the bualas, the African society ignored by the European city. But the imprint of the interdict only increased the desire to know who these people were and who they all were in a territory made up of different nations adrift in the idea of ​​a nation-state, of a new man and a new time. There she gained her life’s orientation: the South, the salt, the sun. The South that opposes and resists when it unites and that, even when crushed, raises its head.

Marta Lança and Ana Paula Tavares, photography by Vitorino Coragem.Marta Lança and Ana Paula Tavares, photography by Vitorino Coragem.The awakening to the Word then occurred through orality, the attractive and unintelligible music of languages. Bringing here some of her biographical wanderings, I remember the fear she said she felt in Huambo (an area heavily martyred in the chessboard of the cold, civil, fratricidal war - all of this together), where she tested the limits of physical courage. There she taught the elderly and the children to read. In Kwanza-Sul, she noticed the various rhythms and grandiosity of a country that cultivates laughter and a short memory to defend itself from the dramas that dehumanize it: slavery, colonialism, domination, small and large powers, opportunism, and ignorance. How dizzying the scheme of history in everyday life is. The generation to which she belongs worried about recovering the lost cultural memory in these violences and others, also with a vivid and intriguing look of the naivety and militancy of independence. In between, escapes across rivers and mountains, persecutions, and ambushes, “malembas” of the civil war. It was necessary to relearn the reconfigurations imposed by the war and discover some beauty in its crazy noise. Because life goes on. Her daughter was born, a new sense of her, but also amplified fears and devils. She went down to Benguela, continuing to learn the poetics of space. And then the tentacular dance of Luanda, which coexists well and not so well with its ghosts. And in every corner of the country, she recognized the strength of women, breadwinners often in despair, supporting the children of the world, taking so little care of themselves. 

Ana Paula has always written but decides to publish in her early thirties. The maturity wanting to make itself heard. The book of poetry: Ritos de Passagem, in 1995, her book of initiation and coincidentally about initiation rituals, was received in Angola with adjectives such as “troubled” and “pornographer”. Old and new misconceptions, explains the author: women’s sensuality still only seems to function as an object of desire, never as a desiring voice. And feminism in Angola is now beginning to rise as a movement, but all the subversive gestures of countless women, who took a lot of risks, precede it. This was one of them. Followed poetry books like: O Lago da Lua (1999), Dizes-me Coisas Amargas como os Frutos (2001), Ex-votos (2003), Manual para Amantes Desesperados (2006). In prose: Sangue da Bunganvília (1998), Como Veias Finas na Terra (2010) and a partnership with Manuel Jorge Marmelo Os Olhos do Homem que Chorava no Rio (2005) and Verbetes para um Dicionário Afetivo (also with Ondjaki and Paulinho Assunção (2016). The titles of Ana Paula Tavares’ work already reveal a little of her poetry, which is fond of the act of naming: fruits, people, places, cycles, and invisible gestures. 

There are hundreds of chronicles, but I name the collection A Cabeça de Salomé (2004) and the chronicles illustrated by the plastic-poetic hand of Ivone Ralha, chronicles that I had the pleasure of receiving weekly in Rede Angola, a newspaper with great freedom of speech and language where I worked. 

Her life was also made up of professional experiences in the cultural sector in Angola, where she worked at the Ministry of Culture in Kwanza-Sul; at the National Archeology Museum, in Benguela; in Cultural Heritage in Luanda; at the State Secretariat for Culture, in Luanda.

We can find her texts scattered throughout international anthologies. In Portugal, she has been a professor at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and a researcher for many years. With a degree in History, she received her PhD in Anthropology (Ethnography), focusing on the Lunda and Tchokwé societies, rich in social and artistic practices. Border societies, we would say, intertwining the Lunda empire and the corridor of 3 or 4 colonial empires, Belgian, British, Portuguese. Therefore, a zone that appeals to extractive addictions. Of these people, she became interested precisely in confronting a unique model of exploitation in the colonial history of Angola, which had its ex-libris in the Diamang company. Paula Tavares’ academic research, whether historical, linguistic, or anthropological, has echoes in her poetic voice, from the cultural identity process of Angola. Translated into the detail of traditional elements, the influences of modernity, rituals, times in juxtaposition (the circular mythical time and an urban time, associated with a certain idea of ​​progress), the local and global look, and a special interest for those who are left out of the power equation, those who maintain ways of being and thinking with whom we would have everything learn, but which are neither had nor found for the abstract idea of ​​a citizen. 

In literature, in addition to being an author, she participates in several literary prize juries, keeping an eye on younger generations, such as the epistolary dialogue she had with the writer Ondjaki in the pages of the Jornal de Letras. Among the awards and distinctions, we highlight the Mário António Literary Prize, from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (2004), the National Culture and Art Prize, in Literature (Luanda, 2007) and the Internazionalle Ceppo/Pistoia Prize, Firenze (2013). 

Of Angolan literary influences, mention should be made of David Mestre, Arlindo Barbeitos and the eternal love shared by Ruy Duarte de Carvalho, but also the Brazilians Jorge Amado, Manuel Bandeira, Carlos Drummond, Murilo Mendes, Clarice Lispector, the Mexican Octávio Paz and the Nigerian Wole Soyinka.

And now I asked him to comment on this excerpt from the chronicle Utopias of 98, “poets have, over the ordinary mortals, the great advantage of being able to cultivate, in their large collection of words, intact pasts which they visit and treat to later distribute through small works that return us to a more-than-perfect and yet lost world.”

Lisbon Revisited, 29/6/2019.

Translation:  Mariana Borges

by Marta Lança
Cara a cara | 13 April 2024 | Ana Paula Tavares