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“Discourse on identities is devoid of history even if obsessed with it”
An interview with Odete
Artwork by Odete - winner grant RExFORM

Odete is the winner of the first edition of RExFORM – International Performance Project, that is born of the collaboration between maat and BoCA, with the intent to promote contemporary artistic creation, following the evolution of the concept of performance, understood as a collaborative practice with ramifications that involve new concepts of theatricality, choreography, and medium. The artist proposes to present at maat a performance which “breaks the performative exposure that transforms our bodies in merchandise, to lie about history so we can reshape the future”. It’s the culmination of a piece about shadows and politics that Odete has developed since she started creating. 

 

A multidisciplinary artist, Odete (b. 1995, Porto) develops a body of work that operates in the field of music, visual arts, performance, and theatre. Her work is explicitly autobiographical, making clear the connections between personal and political. In 2013, she graduated from ACE (Contemporary Drama Academy) in Porto, where she attended the performative arts course, in the field of Acting. Currently, Odete is researching secret societies, new ways of thinking archaeology, and science fiction. In this conversation, she speaks about manipulating history, identity, and the immateriality of music.

Elisabete Sá / maat

The project with which you won the first edition of RExFORM proposes lying about history, the past. Why that need?  

 

Odete 

The need to lie about the past comes from the idea that the past doesn’t include me. Doesn’t include a series of “types” of bodies, of positions, for which it is not beneficial to have history, to have ancestors. The past that I am speaking of is the one we have access to in the most basic way: the written past, the past of leftovers, the object-past. Therefore, History. And if this past is history it is necessarily strategic – not authentic, not complete, not real. I say this in the sense that there are truth production techniques that benefit certain versions of history, certain groups, certain movements. The so-called “Discoveries” are a clear form of history as political strategy: they want to compose a definition of colonial violence… as nonviolent. They want to transform the vision we have of non-European civilisations as “discovered” by us, as inferior. You know what I am talking about, I hope. It is this writing of history that I am denouncing, in a way, while also lying about it. If all history is lying, if all writing produces truths from the ruins of archaeology so… why can’t I apply those techniques and also lie, including my body in a history that has always stepped on it? And it’s not even just history but also archaeology. There are paradigm changes in archaeology that ended up permanently changing how we think about the Neolithic and the Paleolithic, like the discoveries in Çatalhöyük, where the constant representation of femininity lead to the hypothesis of a matrilineal and goddess focused society (until those discoveries, the ancient symbols of femininity were read as simple fertility props, and not as the centre of a society that tends to the feminine possibility of the body and life). And the fact that objects, the found ruins, don’t have a firm reading, and are not a truth in themselves, ends up also provoking in me, readings about them. Paranoid readings that try to see the past as a key to the present, that try to find justifications for my body in the stone corroded by time. 

 

maat  

Do you feel like that history is lacking? 

 

Odete 

If you are talking about a trans history, for instance, yes. I feel a certain solidity is lacking. Not necessarily the solidity of earth but of water. Of the ocean. The feeling that you are sailing a world inhabited with its own beings, that can’t always exist outside of that world. I miss that place: that ancient and utopian myth, an Atlantis. We are living horrible times and I feel that discourse on identities, namely trans, is devoid of history even if obsessed with it. We continuously try to look for in everything, in every fragment, in every crumb, evidences that we were here before this: that we are ancient and therefore valid. But we also want to justify ourselves as daughters of this macabre and cyborg society. There’s something spiritual in the idea of having ancestry, almost as if we were entitled to ghosts and therefore the right to a life after death… I don’t know if this is clear. But even if I miss that complex world of history, I know that it’s around. I have glimpses of those stories when reading Inquisition files, for instance. Almost as if we belong to the “gossip” of history. We were talked about and thought through in the interstices, between secrets and accusations. There are shadows in history that, in a way, bodies like mine inhabit.

 

maat 

Would you say that history is already being written?  

 

Odete 

That is a difficult question. I don’t know about everything going on in the world. I know what reaches me from several artists – that there is an awareness of the past, that there are artists working with their ancestry: real or fictional. That there are voices being created and that they echo in each other. That “history” will never be just one: there will be several, varying with the position of each artist, with the experience. The past is a malleable territory, which we can ritualise, transform, re-imagine. I feel that as long as you are looking for truth in the past you’ll never go anywhere, you have to lie about the past, manipulate it. Of course this can become a perverse political strategy, but maybe it is up to us to understand the non-truth of the past. Because there are those that hold on to, that buy into what has passed. Archaeological objects belong to people, states, institutions: nothing is truly ours. Our power over those things also seems minimal… so we should create our own objects, our inherited funeral rites, our own jewels eaten by time. For me, it is really important this manipulation of history, to never face it as truthful. After all, to lie is part of the writing of history. It is the so-called history of the winners. So what would the history of the losers be? What would history be if we could constantly rewrite it? But, I repeat, we must really be careful with this. There are those that can lie about history and those that cannot. There are those that have always lied about history – and maybe here a bit of identity understanding is missing. I also know well about the tense relations that my whiteness has always had with written history and I try hard to understand how to do the work without falling into blindness or abysmal flaws – it is delicate work and I hope that I never have to do it on my own. I am thankful for having with me Tita Maravilha, Herlander, Kahumbi, Aicy Ray, and DRVG. Even if each one of them does a specific job within this new project, I feel that there is a position of power that I could have, which is questioned. It is a project that has as starting point a paranoia of mine but that will never be just mine. That echoes other voices of other artists, which is also malleable to their positions.

Colour palette © Odete.

Untitled Artwork by Odete

Odete portrait

  • Scenography draft © Odete.

  • Odete portrait by Xipipa.

maat 

In what way do you materialise these questions in this new project? 

 

Odete 

My proposal is to create a fictional secret society that ponders about this. To speculate about a secret society that has endured through time with a series of characters like Joan of Arc, Elagabalus or Chevalier D’Éon, without any historian or archaeologist knowing they were part of it. A series of symbols and secrets passed from generation to generation. And to state also that I am a descendant of those people, of that community. That I possess rituals, objects, amongst other things, that were passed on to me and that maybe no one else has access to. 

 

maat 

Are those definitions of identity and history the ones that have guided your artistic practice?

Odete 

In a way, yes. History has always been an obsession of mine, mainly when it comes to reading history through autobiographies. You have no idea how I devoured Beauvoir and Sartre, and ended up knowing some things about what was happening between France and Algeria, Cuba, Spain, etc., through all the reading I was doing about them. The same with, for example, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf or Lili Elbe. When accessing a context or historical moment through personal writing it feels like we are adding or rewriting something. It seems we feel the past differently and that feeling has haunted me since I started working.    

 

maat 

Besides the lack of an historical narrative, the lack of a community has been also underlined in your work, especially in the areas of performance and music. Why? 

  

Odete 

All of us, I imagine, have a utopian impulse. An impulse that imagines and dreams of possible and impossible communities of mutual support, where conversation, creation, and struggle unite and confront each other with different positions. I would say my work has more to do with that horizon of a “healthier” community more than with the lack of it. I have always worked with this idea of projecting community on performative fiction, since my performance V, where I wrote letters for artists and friends about the fictional idea of building a perfect home for us, even in Anita Escorre Branco, where we can hear certain elements of what could be described as sound archaeology, to create a dream space with the future.     

 

maat 

All your work is deliberately a political act? 

 

Odete 

What work is not a political act? I know that art today has no impact and sometimes maybe it should be stopped, when thinking of the obsessive production of things that brings nothing good to our planet… But I feel that art can still have political strength. Even if our system is rotten, the creative act contains within itself the potential of the destruction of the world as it is. On radicality. I think it has to do with the contexts of creation more than anything else. Depending on the situation, my work can well be a political act. 

 

maat 

Your debut in music was in 2017. You are a producer and DJ, you’ve made the albums, Matrafona and Amarração and, in 2020, the EP Water Bended. In a statement to newspaper Público you say that music brought you something that the performative arts couldn’t give you. What did music bring you?  

 

Odete 

Music gave me immateriality. The non-object. Music allowed me to escape and question economies of the gaze in performative arts, material obsessions in the visual arts, and so on. It allowed almost a spirit work. During a time I was intensely battling with my body, music allowed me to think of it beyond the material. It allowed people to access me without seeing me.   

 

maat  

In an interview to the website Hyponik, you describe one of your performances at Tresor club, in Berlin, as part of a sound and visual art festival, as strange but liberating, or free of the pressures you normally feel. What are those pressures?  

 

Odete 

Most of the times, they are the pressures of putting on a show, of being spectacular, of dazzling the audience. Because in a way I always feel that people come and see and consume something with the idea that it should be worth their time and money – that it has to be spectacular in that sense. The notion of value suffocates me and I believe that was the pressure I was talking about: the pressure that what I do has to “have value” for those who come to have a good time.  

 

maat 

Performing demands too much of you?  

 

Odete 

I don’t know if it’s performance or the contexts of performance. I feel that it’s more the cisgender public that demands a lot from me. They demand to understand, they demand to be educated, they demand to be satiated in their curiosity. When in reality I question a lot whom am I making my work for… if it has an audience that feels it more profoundly… because even though there is a conceptualisation and a research process clearly understandable, the sensitive and emotional dimension of the work is quite intense. It is crossed by violence and joy that I don’t know if everyone is aware of. It is more the situation, the exposure of vulnerability of my art that scares me, not so much the performative act itself. 

 

maat 

Do you feel that in Portuguese culture there is space for trans artists or are we essentially in the realm of the exotic? 

 

Odete 

I would like this question to be asked not to me but to cis artists. To artists that are not trans. I would like you to ask them which trans artists they know near them and if they go to the same spaces. Because there lies one of the answers. But if I have to answer I would say we’re in the realm of the exotic. It is very clear to me that when the municipal galleries invite a cis artist that paints trans bodies to assert them as provocateurs, that we are still dealing with the exotic. We are not talking: we are being represented by cisgender people that have access to that space all the time. That paint us as “the difference” or as “provocative”. There are trans artists in Portugal older than 30 years old that have never even stepped in a gallery of that type, not to mention the older ones that are only part of other people’s shows but don’t have the right to be taken as creators themselves…   

 

maat 

You are a multidisciplinary artist, which are your great references?  

 

Odete 

There’s so many that I get lost, from Hannah Black, to Juliana Huxtable, to Jota Mombaça, to Asian Dope Boys, to Linn da Quebrada, to Ursula K. Le Guin, Dinis Machado, Miguel Bonneville, Alice dos Reis or even Paul B. Preciado. And I say these ones because maybe they resonate more with whoever is reading this interview because then I have all the friends that are close to me. And it is those friendships that strengthen and influence my work more clearly. I tried to bring to the project some of them but, of course, I wish I could bring all of them.

The Hasanlu Gold Bowl


The Hasanlu Gold Bowl.

Translation by Susana Pomba. 
All images courtesy of Odete.