Lusotropicalism, discontented

“God made blacks because they had to be...He made it so that the palms of their hands would be like the palms of other men… what men do is done by hands that are the same - hands of people who, if they had any sense, would know that before everything else they are men.”

Luís Bernardo Honwana, 1969

Ethereal yet grounded, mythological but personal, intimate and distanced: Cassi Namoda’s artwork exists in parallels that intoxicate the viewer, drawing them into the rich history of Africa. Hailing from Maputo in Mozambique, Namoda is a painter and performance artist whose work forefronts life in postcolonial Africa, exploring social dynamics through scenes of everyday life. Fusing together archival imagery, personal experiences and folklore, Namoda visualises the collective memories of Mozambique and breathes life into a beautiful and often unseen culture. This mix of real and mythological inspiration blankets her work in dream-like qualities, at once appearing familiar and entirely new to the viewer.

Namoda’s culture-rich childhood growing up between Mozambique, Haiti and the United States is evident throughout her work. Stating to Bomb Magazine earlier this month that her travels made her intimately aware of the African diaspora and the importance of “magical spiritualisms and rituals as part of daily life”, her time in Haiti was particularly influential: “I was only in Haiti a short time but something resonated with my development… certain places have powerful, magical landscapes and Haiti has always been a place of mysticism and rich folklore.”

Central to her work are complex portrayals of Lusotropicalism. A term coined by sociologist Gilberto Freyre in the early twentieth century, it pertains to the ‘unique’ manifestation of Portuguese colonialism in Africa, Mozambique being one of Portugal’s former colonies. This theory of Portugal as the ‘good’ coloniser in comparison to other colonial powers is much contested in modern discourses, and dynamically alive in Namoda’s creations.

The relative obscurity of the Lusotropical history in Europe and America is something Namoda wishes to redress. Speaking to Juxtapoz Magazine last year, she warns of “the danger of the single story. Stories of Nigeria and Ghana are widely told, but we need to be inclusive in terms of our narrative… there is a spirit from each place.” Her aforementioned interview with Bomb magazine mentions her inspiration from Lusophone authors such as Luís Bernardo Honwana: in carving her own postcolonial identity, Namoda looked to the oft-overlooked authors from former Portuguese colonies. By bringing attention to these figures, she wishes to “introduce a global audience to the Lusophone story.”

Her most recent exhibition To Live Long is To See Much - which ran in Johannesburg’s Goodman Gallery November-January 2021 - explores in-depth the complex Lusotropical history of Mozambique. Born amidst the global coronavirus lockdown over summer 2020, this exhibition deftly weaves mythology, everyday experiences and magic realism amidst a viridescent Mozambique landscape. Speaking again with Bomb Magazine, Namoda states she “always thinks about landscapes. We’re looking at so much figurative painting right now, and in that excess, I feel there’s almost a duty to step outside of that.” Her artistic process views the painting as “novellas'', and for this show, she “created specific dramaturgical titles...usually the title is birthed first and then I come up with what i