In Conversation with Rose Mara Kielela

“The Margin of the Margin”

In her performances, Brazilian Rose Mara Kielela, who now lives in Angola, addresses the issue of nonbelonging: “something very profound in the psychological structure of Afro-descendants throughout the world.” Theresa Sigmund interviewed the artist for Contemporary And (C&) América Latina.

C&AL: How does your performing body help you to move through histories of Blackness and of your Womaness?

RMK: I understand artistic creation as an autobiographical act, which connects the artist’s personal experience to the experiences of his/her community, and that it’s in that relationship between the self and the world that art happens. I started my creative work very young, and I feel that I matured as my work progressed. In the Brazil I was born into, issues of race were not discussed openly like they are today, nor were feminist theories discussed as they are today. When I got to university, racial quotas were still being debated. 15 years later, things have changed a lot. And it was that change in the country as a whole and the access I had to the art world that allowed me to become critically aware of my position in Brazilian society. And the same thing has happened with my creative work, which, initially, was based on the themes of feelings of “nonbelonging”, “the need to preserve memory for the construction of self” – themes that integrated understanding the situation of the Afro-descendant in Brazil – and which ended up being a direct, conscious and critical discourse about the situation of the Black woman in the world as on The Margin of the Margin.

My university experience was shaped by references from Europe and the United States. During the development process of my work, I was researching thinkers who are closer to me and, now, I include those visions of the world in my work. The poem “The Margin of the Margin,” for example, is closely related to the “zone of nonbeing” defined by Franz Fanon as a psychic zone where the black person who becomes conscious of their social condition, sees themselves closed off from normative whiteness. Regarding the black woman, this ends up being doubly violent when the issue of race is added to the issue of gender and, as Bell Hooks puts it, being a black woman, the dual opposite of a patriarchal and racist society, becomes the cruelest and most violent social insecurity.

C&AL: You told me earlier, that you often dealt with a feeling of nonbelonging to Brazil. Now you are living in Angola. Can you talk about how both spaces have influenced your artistic work and if there are differences in your own being-in-the-world in those two places? 

RMK: The issue of “nonbelonging” is something very deep in the psychological structure of Afro-descendants all over the world. And in the Americas this relates directly to the historical process of slavery. Because, as Neusa Santos Sousa explains, Blacks in the Diaspora are violated daily by the double injunction of trying to achieve the ego’s ideal of the white subject and to refuse, annul, and deny the presence of their black body. Blacks in the Diaspora do not belong to their own body, not belonging, therefore, to the very form that makes their existence possible, while at the same time realizing that their rights as citizens are constantly being violated in the territory where they were born (like, for example, the children of Africans who were born in Portugal, but don’t have Portuguese nationality). Therefore, the nonbelonging of Afro-descendants occurs in existential and territorial scope.

My particular case is very curious, because in Brazil there are many cultural manifestations that reference several aspects of a possible pre-colonial Angolan culture, but which in Angola are nearly all extinct. Angola is a country that recently came out of a bitter civil war, where little remained of the immaterial cultural heritage of daily Angolan life, and today, the cultural and identity processes, which are dynamic, are being reconstructed. On the other hand, the local culture, almost completely buried by the war, has only left the colonial cultural structure as a reference. In other words, in Angola, colonialism remains very present socially and culturally.

There are African countries like Senegal, Benin or Ghana, where the intrinsic relationship between Africa and the Diaspora is recognized, where Afro-descendants in the Americas are seen as brothers, however, this is not the case in Angola. Here I’m just another foreigner like anyone else. And, for sure, these issues will be addressed in my work to come, because right now I’m being bombarded by information that’s coming from all sides and makes me rethink the racial issues I’ve experienced in my wanderings. For sure, having lived in this triangle – Brazil, Portugal (before coming here, I lived in Portugal for a year and a half) and Angola – is a life experience that will inspire many works.

Rose Mara Kielela holds a degree in Dance from the Universidade Estadual do Paraná, has participated in various projects, in and outside of Brazil, involving Afro-Brazilian cultural manifestations. After living in Lisbon, she moved to Angola, where she follows research on the relationship between image and movement. She is co-founder of the performance group “Agô Performances Negras” (Agô Black Performances), to which she still belongs.

Theresa Sigmund, author of the interview, is a freelance researcher in the field of culture. She is editor/coordinator of the magazine Contemporary And (C&). She lives and works in Berlin.