Jota Mombaça investigates imbalanced water cycles in Germany and the Amazon

Jota Mombaça’s exhibition at Berlin’s CCA explores the city’s topography, built atop drained wetlands, while connecting Berlin to Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, via their shared planetary conditions. The artist employs elemental engagement by submerging ceramic vessels in a local lake and inviting the water and mud to take hold of the gallery space.

Mombaça also presents a video piece titled until the last morning (2023), commissioned especially for this show. In it, the camera follows different views of the sky as witnessed in the state of Pará, in the Brazilian Amazon. The lens reveals “a choreography of clouds that respond to a local regime discontinuous to Berlin’s locality,” she says. “Yet mutually implicated by a shared planetary condition: the imbalance in water cycles and their unpredictable effects on human modes of dwelling.”

The artist’s practice has continuously dealt with the effects and aftermaths of colonial modernism(s) and the brutal realities it imposes on racialized and marginalized bodies to this day. In the past, she has submerged sculptures made of cotton or linen fabric in the Venetian Lagoon, an Amsterdam canal, as well as commissions produced in the San Francisco Bay Area’s San Pablo Bay, and the Pacific Ocean. Jota Mombaça provokes questions and longing for (an-)other world(s) that imply the capacity to hold and create space for a plenitude of bodies and beings. Therefore, physicality and physical relationships with various materials play crucial roles in Mombaça’s practice, which always considers her body as integral to the work, either through its presence or absence. ”There is some form of attunement that manifests as spiritual practice,” Mombaça says, “and I don’t sense body and spirit as separate entities.”

This ongoing search for equilibrium and ways out of a Western headlock further characterizes the spirit of A CERTAIN DEATH / THE SWAMP that uses water as a central motif, recurring throughout the exhibition by perceiving its violent and destructive potential. “The motif of the flood has been present since my project in Venice last year (mostly in relation to rising sea levels),” she explains. “But with this project it gained new meanings—namely, it opened a path to consider the ways imbalanced water cycles produce planetary images of cities turned into post-apocalyptic swamps through flash flooding.” Here, Mombaça also alludes to the massive flooding that hit parts of west Germany following storms in 2021, with over 17,000 individuals losing their homes.

A CERTAIN DEATH / THE SWAMP looks at the disastrous environmental conditions in which our planet currently finds itself, without disregarding local and regional specificities. By repeatedly gesturing towards the cause—colonial modernism—and the way it has also begun to haunt its main agent, the West, the exhibition is a testament to the ultimate impossibility: to continuously exterritorialize disaster, catastrophe and tragedy.

Jota Mombaça is an interdisciplinary artist whose work evolves from poetry, critical theory, queer studies, political intersectionality, anti-colonial justice and the redistribution of violence. Mombaça defines herself as a trans, racialized bicha, born and raised in Natal in the northeast of Brazil. In recent years, Mombaça has explored the relationship between monstrosity and humanity and the tensions between ethics, aesthetics, art and politics in the knowledge productions of the global South.

Magnus Elias Rosengarten is a writer and curator currently based in Paris.