The four-meter-high by nine-meter-wide installation—partially constructed with materials collected from around the museum and botanical garden, such as earth, straw, and sand—features elements from various religious practices of African and Indigenous American ancestral origins.
Monica Ventura, A noite suspensa ou o que posso aprender com o silêncio, 2023. Photo: Ícaro Moreno
C&AL: Tell us about how you came up with this project and the importance of lending visibility to these ancestral religious practices.
Monica Ventura: A noite suspensa ou o que posso aprender com o silêncio (“The suspended night or what I can learn from silence”) is an installation whose conception involves the idea of beginnings. It is composed of a central sculpture, standing 4.70 meters tall that is resting on a bed of earth formed in a female shape, the yoni. Together, the two pieces communicate feminine and masculine, or the power that creates life. That was my starting point while designing the project. Then came the concept of the hanging sheets of soil which, in addition to being communication devices for vibrating symbols, the soil has the tone of melanin, thus being a way of occupying the space as a whole.
My work is permeated by the theme of African spirituality—I don’t use any specific religion in my discourse, but it’s in the aesthetics and poetics. I believe that the exhibition space plays a role of mediator with the public when it presents this ancestral visuality, which is so engaging, inviting, and friendly.
C&AL: Can you tell us about the spheres contained in the layers of your installation and how elements of African practices and beliefs, as well as those of Pankararu cosmology, are represented in it?
MV: My descendants come from Southwest Africa, Costa da Mina, or the Gold Coast. As I know nothing about my ancestors, I have to do an exercise in imagination, where I look for my own connections as a tool. I’m particularly looking to ancestral worship services that happen in the region of Togo and Benin. The joy of festivities, celebrations, the colors and shapes of the devices made to receive the spirits of the ancestors inspire me, especially the Zangbetos.
Reflecting on these traditions of ancestral worship, we can extend this thinking and look to Indigenous American cultures, where another part of my ancestry comes from. There we have the Praiás, who dance the Toré, and the Umbu Race, a religious practice of the Pankararu people of Pernambuco. My attention, in this case, is directed on the aesthetics and the constructive ways of creating a mask that covers the whole body of the person who wears it and dances. But I can’t say here that my work is capable of conveying the Pankararu cosmology, something to which my work makes, in fact, only one very specific allusion.
C&AL: And what was the process of choosing the materials and assembling the installation like?
MV: My choice of materials is a continuation of what I’ve already been investigating and elaborating, constructive processes of architecture, craftsmanship and ancestral design. With that, I look to organic materials that can respond to my ecological awareness.
For the installation at Galeria Praça, the key choice was the use of local soil as a constructive element. Twelve tons of earth were collected from the surrounding area, hung and modeled to bring the installation to life, in addition to 30 kilos of buriti straw, a material I’d already been using in other productions. The sand we used to make the mixture comes from the Paraopeba river, the Brumadinho river.
The installation is alive and breathing. If it gets disposed of one day, nature will take back these materials.
Assembling it was a moment that involved a great deal of participation by the team at Instituto Inhotim Institute, as well as the materials, which have their own texture, smell, and temperature.
The architect Rodrigo Goya engineered the earth architecture project, who, together with the Inhotim production team, made the magic of art happen and took on the challenge of making the earth suspended in air.
Detail of Monica Ventura, A noite suspensa ou o que posso aprender com o silêncio, 2023. Photo: Ícaro Moreno
C&AL: How can we understand Noite suspensa and what do you as an artist learn, and what have you learned, from silence?
MV: Noite suspensa is the mystery, the moon, the feminine, and embodies the idea of movement and vibration. We don’t know if the sculpture is coming or going. I like to think of an object that is landing, almost hovering, in a gentle dance. The choice of symbols and the hanging sheets of earth, made using the rammed earth technique, reinforce this idea of lightness and floating.
There is also a proposition of movement, where the viewer is invited to walk through the installation and unveil its layers. Everything is alive in this composition: soil, straw, sand, natural pigments and vibrating symbols.
The central sculpture stands 4.70 meters tall and confronts all those who look at it. Its shape resembles a being that’s looking back at us. Who is observing whom?
I love silence, but that doesn’t mean silence doesn’t make sounds. I believe I’m referring here to the act of calming thoughts and surrendering to the gaze. What can I learn from the sound of looking?
In the rat race of everyday life, on social media, the news and the noise of the city, it’s difficult to access silence. We always have something to say, but here the proposition is about listening. Listening to the silence.
C&AL: Could we understand your work as a counterpoint to the restrictions/persecutions by which both peoples of African origin and their beliefs and indigenous peoples of Brazil suffer and continue to suffer in this country?
MV: For me, the purpose of the exhibition is to give continuity to my position, as an artist and a Black woman, of accessing spaces that are forbidden for racialized bodies. When I enter Galeria Praça at Inhotim, I’m not only taking my art, but also my body and my life story, which is similar to the lives of thousands of Black women.
Mônica Ventura (São Paulo) researches philosophies and constructive processes of pre-colonial architecture and handicrafts, and combines the results of this investigation with personal experiences to develop her artistic practices. Her works talk about the feminine and raciality, in narratives that seek to understand the psychosocial complexity of women of African descent inserted in different contexts.
Fábia Prates is a journalist and writer.
Translation: Zoë Perry