In Conversation with Fabrice Monteiro

“Get Rid Of The United Nations And Make Place For The United Cultures”

The Belgian-Beninese photographer and visual artist Fabrice Monteiro plays a game of lights and shadows that mixes concepts from African and Western modernities, discovering the realities beyond the superficial view of cultures often obscured. Ángel Perea Escobar talked with Monteiro for C&AL about images of Africa, Afrofuturism and his project The Prophecy, his experiences in Colombia and his deep aversion towards borders.

C&AL: You are a transient artist that makes the borders between photo-journalism and the most sophisticated fashion photography liquid. What is your motivation for crossing these borders and transforming them into an aesthetic statement and a style?

FM: I feel a deep aversion towards borders, boundaries, boxes. It is probably partly due to the fact that I am the product of mixed races, mixed educations and mixed experiences. I learned photography, posture and lighting through fashion, so I naturally use this graphically appealing type of images to address topics that I feel concerned about, such as environment, identity, religion or politics. I deeply feel the need of building bridges instead of walls because we are not having enough of one and we have too many of the other. Even in my work, I don’t have boundaries because for me the style or the medium are nothing but tools to serve a purpose. I can use black and white or color, digital or film, installation or street photography as long as it serves the subject I want to examine.

C&AL: Your work brings me closer to the concept of “Afrofuturism”, perhaps one of the most spirited currents of creative thinking among us, afrodescendants, today. Is it possible to link you with this aesthetic trend?

FM: I hear this comment about my work a lot. For me, it is just another box that people feel the necessity to put you into in order to “define” you. Afrofuturism won’t mean anything to me as long as we haven’t finished dealing with our present time. What is the point of projecting ourselves in an hypothetic future when we haven’t yet finished dealing with five centuries of colonial inhabiting of our planet. We are actually just starting to scratch the surface of that long-term toxic paradigm, so we have enough work to do with past and present before we can efficiently project ourselves.

C&AL: You developed a version of one of your most recognized projects, The Prophecy, in Colombia, in what we call “Afro-Colombian and indigenous ancestral lands”. Because of painful historical circumstances, we Afro-Americans (meaning the whole continent, not only USA citizens), while conserving a kind of archaic African traditions, also live in an imagined Africa. Afro-Americans actually know little about Africa, both about its past and its modernity. Through the inheritance left to us by our ancestors, as well as huge doses of our own anxieties, we have created for us an Africa which is product of a fantastic epic imagination. In this context, how do you link Africa with Afro-America?

FM: I won’t talk about Afro-Americans from Latin American countries, as I know too little about them to share an opinion. But US-African-Americans in general have a very narrow window to the rest of the world. It is either due to education or simply to the fact that they have been so brainwashed with the idea that the United States was the greatest country in the world that there is no point in “sitting and watching” other cultures with a virgin eye. In my opinion, that perspective is reinforced by movies such as “Black Panther”. But don’t misunderstand me: we have come a long way and I fully support any attempt to break boundaries between African-Americans and Africans, but I do believe we both still have a long way to go in the decolonization of our respective minds.

C&AL: What have you brought from Africa, or from your African experiences, to apply in one of the “Africas” of South America, in this case the one located in Colombia?

FM: If we are talking about the part of my project The Prophecy that I made in Colombia, I have to say: I did not come with the claim of bringing something from Africa. I was more interested in learning from the original and rich culture of indigenous people of Colombia. When I work in Africa, I naturally dig into the African culture and cosmogony, and when I work in Latin America I dig into Latin American culture and cosmogony. I deeply believe that in this time where we are slowly but globally realizing that our future won’t depend on our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) but on what I call our CTS (Capacity To Share), we need to praise and embrace all “original cultures” that kept the sacred link with our planet and our environment alive. We, the so-called “modern world”, should get inspired by their virtuous way of inhabiting the world. We should get rid of the “United Nations” and make place for the “United Cultures”.

Ángel Perea Escobar, who made the interview, is an expert in the history of Afro-American music and cultures, as well as an interdisciplinary artist, actor, director and playwright with experience working in radio, film, theater and television. He has written for different Colombian media.