Sao Tomé. Until only a few days ago this Island has been somewhat of a miniscule dot on the map of my consciousness. I have heard of it, even managed to spot it in the map a few times, but I usually gloss over it with enough interest accorded to an obviously not interesting subject. Today, I am here. Invited by the biennale of Sao Tomé and Principle. A biennale initiated by the artist, João Carlos Silva and curated by Adeleide Ginga.
I am self-obliged to walk the streets, discover its contours and create work out of the interaction between this space and people. As always the case, in the first two days, I was detached, that feeling of not knowing what to make of this new location. But as time went on, I began to acclimatize with the place as my eye guided my mind, uncovering layers over layers of reality embedded within this wild vegetative Island.
It is a small Island with only 180,000 people. Coming from Lagos where this figure can barely match the population of an average street, it felt as if I was on “pause” – everything moving slowly and forcing me in that pace. It is an island where nature dominates. Everything man-made seems to be engulfed by the freshness of nature. There are more trees and forests than people and due to this, the people have a unique relationship with nature. Food is abundant because the land and plants are far from barren. All year round the trees produce all kinds of fruits. It is an Island of immense greens. Where only the thought of the concept of selling “bio” foods at acutely exorbitant prices becomes immediately ridiculous. Every tree churns out fruits by number, plantains, bananas, Guava, Cocoa, Cocoa nuts, Palm nuts, avocado, tomatoes, pepper, cassava, potatoes, mangoes, oranges, grapes and much more.
I was told that Cocoa used to be the main export but today this has shifted to the traditional herbal medicine from roots and plants.
The feeling that one gets from this place is that the Island sustains its people and will continue to do so as long as there is sunshine and rain (the later being too frequent that an umbrella is a more valuable asset than a pair of shoes). In the way of material acquisition, we do not see much. The cityscape is plagued with old dilapidated building of obviously Portuguese architecture. One could tell that much has not been done in terms of an independent advancement since its independence from Portugal in 1975.
The buildings are chipping away with every passage of time, with no scheme towards preservation talk more of restoration – they just stand there obtrusively like phantoms of a colonial past, creating a picture of people meandering through “beautiful” shacks and rubbles.
But all of this is perfectly cocooned every inch of the way, by the freshness and liveliness of the many plants and trees and no matter where one stands, a glance to a far horizon reveals sea, a perfect reminder that here, one is circumvented by the Atlantic.
The images I made during the few days I spent in this Island, is an attempt to seize the mood of this place, and how it conveyed to me a certain form of serenity and confidence in just being in tune with nature.To see images from this project click here