René Tavares translates into painting and drawing, through lines, and stains, a personal synthesis of his own identity, always in process (“unfinished”), positioning himself in constant movement between past and present references.
René Tavares is a key figure of the Santomense art scene and in the context of his generation. He has occupied the position of figurehead in the contemporary art system of the Lusophone geographic space. His visibility has become increasingly preeminent in Africa and internationally over the last few years. He is interested in deepening the permeability of the borders between stories, languages, and techniques and sharing this exploratory path. He is an artist who reflects in his works his own experience of displacement or contemporary relocation between the various post-colonial contact zones.
In many of his works, what the artist calls “l’imagerie comun” is present, the simple representation of a vulgar object or form that is inserted in a pictorial space of pure abstraction and that allows the treatment of lines with drawing technique and with painting technique, where several references appear nuanced, expressed in an ambiguous way, as if in a transposition of the very functioning of memory.
Recently, his works have taken on a political-cultural component, through which the artist draws attention to everyday reality, transferring references from memory, identity, and heritage to the contemporary context. Impartially, René Tavares intervenes in socio-political development, not through a desire to assume political discourse, but because politics is necessarily part of the regime of everyday reality.
“In Memory We Trust” promotes a reflection around the notions of memory, history, tradition, heritage and miscegenation.
The show includes more than 30 works produced between 2012 and 2021, many of which have never been shown before. It displays two distinct sections – divided between Lisbon and Luanda – with a large variety of media ranging from painting to drawing, including photography and installation. At the Angolan centre, the artist explores the themes of migration and heritage that have been, over the years, a consistent motor of innovation and creativity in his artistic production. At the Portuguese centre he gives greater expression to themes such as memory and cultural heritage.
The persistence of the concept of layer and the concept of miscegenation defines the main structure of the exhibition, in a vision transposed from the work of René Tavares himself, which repeatedly introduces inevitable conceptual combinations, crossed cultural and heritage references and composed solutions.The multiple layers of materially and plastically come together in each of René Tavares’ works – by painting, photography or drawing – by find reciprocity in their conceptual structure. The process of agglomeration of layers derives from the transposition to the work of a view that can be defined as archaeological or stratified on the ancestral Santomense culture of the Tchiloli – a traditional Santomense spectacle of European origin -, which the artist recovers, represents and plastically reinterprets in the core of Luanda.
The recovery of Tchiloli’s immateriality, seen through the magnifying glass of the contemporary artistic production that René Tavares embodies, is declared in this exercise that documents the intersection between personal narratives – of the actors who perform it – and the broader historical narratives – and the characters that enact in the streets of São Tomé and Príncipe.
“Two Lives Tchiloli” is the oldest photographic series in the exhibition, and one of those that more clearly embodies this idea of the meeting between past and present, between the individual and the collective, between personal narratives and historical narratives, in a double, but one composition, visually translating the meeting between three peoples – the Portuguese, the French and the Santomense – and the heritage that came from this.
A similar logic persists in the photographic-based works of the series “In Memory We trust”, differing only in the assumption of distinct techniques. Here, a more preponderant character is given to painting.The documentary photographs at their base take us back to a historical past and a cultural tradition that must be recovered, but at the same time push us onto the contemporary stage, where ideologies and concepts linked to the notion of territory and identity are simultaneously debated and where the relevance of the physical and ideological borders erected between civilisations is challenged.
The collective memory of the peoples and the inheritance resulting from their voluntary and involuntary crossings, which René Tavares addresses to the first exhibition centre, in Luanda, translates into a body of work that leads us physically and intellectually to another. In Lisbon, which is more up-to-date and committed to the factual and future vision of a continent which, in the era of globalisation, continues to recover its traditions, reaffirm its roots and consolidates a revision of the History that is today being carried out academically and politically on the international stage.
“In Memory We Trust” challenges us, placing us between the critical revision of a dystopian conception of the identity of the African continent and the need to affirm a renewed vision of the various Africas that Africa encloses within its borders and in the diaspora.
The work of René Tavares makes recurrent use of a rich archival material to present us with countless intellectual challenges. His practice proposes the redefinition of the fields of artistic expression, bringing to painting techniques, gestures and materials that refer back to drawing and transferring to drawing the gestural and theatricality that is the appanage of painting. This hybridisation of the plastic languages is also transferred to photography, claiming for art a trace of the absolute.