Thuistezien 193 — 02.03.2021
For the solo exhibition ‘Foreign Agents’ presented at West in 2019, the South African, Berlin based artist Candice Breitz presented a seven-part video work called ‘Love Story’. This work constitutes six stories about people who have fled their home country. In addition to these six stories, two famous Hollywood stars interpret these stories, which confronts the notion of how we, as observers, casually deal with someone else’s life story. By evoking the serious condition of the refugee crisis, the diverse and critical personal experiences of people that typically remain nameless and faceless in the media are intertwined with the faces of that are the very embodiment of visibility.
One of the six interviewed is the Angolan-born refugee José Maria Joāo. He was born in a village in northern Angola in 1970 and with his childhood highly influenced by the Angolan Civil War, his experiences from early childhood are almost unimaginable to most people. By the age of 12, Joāo was abducted to join the UNITY rebel militia. On the first day of his abduction he was handed a weapon. As he was given his weapon, an AK47 gun, in his heart, he didn’t feel good. It made him remember the time his mother was telling him to not fight with his friends as he was asking to go outside and play. However, since there was no other choice and since he would get killed if he did not follow their orders, he would accept to do it. In his own words, he did already feel dead.
He was serving as a non-voluntary soldier for more than a decade, and the sound of the gun shots became normal to him, only realizing its effect from watching the people running away from it. However, when a dream started reoccurring while in his sleep, he began to realize that he had to flee. In his dreams, a voice spoke to him in Portuguese: ‘Do not kill people. It is not good for you. You will lose some day’. These repeating dreams, which continuously reminded him of his mothers words, he regarded as his salvation from god. Through his tactically planned, but difficult escape, he succeeded to flee to Namibia where he was granted refugee status.
Today, Joāo lives in South Africa. As he was still fighting in Angola, he would hear about the peace in South Africa, thanks to the unity created by Nelson Mandela. With his daily life and routines, he reminds himself of the life he had and how he was lucky to escape. From his own words, and in the most modest attitude, it is possible to hear his complete, incredible life story in the 3,5 hour long interview, filmed by Candice Breitz in Cape Town in 2015.
Text: Rosa Zangenberg