C&AL: The idea to establish a Memorial to Enslaved People in Lisbon includes designing a work of art to be exhibited in the public space. Could you talk about the process involved in making this choice?
Beatriz Dias: The idea is for the Memorial, through its symbolism, to be a work created by an African or Afro-descendent artist, from a Portuguese-speaking country, whose profile matches the conceptual and contemporary nature of the project and whose work in some way serves as a vehicle for reflection and a position on questions of slavery, colonialism and post-colonialism. Similarly, in March of 2018, Djass created a Consulting Group made up of activists with links to the black and antiracist movement and researchers specializing in history, post-colonial studies, art and museology, to participate in defining the concept of the Memorial and in the selection process of the artists.
The Memorial should use a contemporary artistic language – conceptually and symbolically – that is capable of ensuring a meaningful urban presence and of representing slavery broadly, including the aspects of memory, resistance and the legacies and historical continuities, to establish a link between past and present. Based on these criteria, five African and Afro-descendent artists were invited, three of whom presented proposals: Grada Kilomba, Jaime Lauriano e Kiluanji Kia Henda, the latter of whom was selected, having received the most votes tallied over six public sessions that we organized across several locations around Lisbon where there is a strong presence of Africans and Afro-descendants. One of our objectives was to make this a participatory process from the beginning. We have to remember that this came from a proposal that Djass had proposed to the Participatory Budgeting of Lisbon and it was one of the winning proposals of this initiative of the Lisbon City Council.
C&AL: The selected work will be placed in a symbolic space in the city. Could you talk about the choice of this space?
BD: One of the aspects we thought was extremely important to ensure was that the work be placed in a privileged space, downtown, so as to break with the segregation that the African and Afro-descendent populations are subjected to in the city of Lisbon. We know that populations have a pendular movement; they come downtown to perform professional tasks, where they work, build, clean the city, and afterward are sent back to the periphery, through processes of clear territorial segregation, along with segregated housing.