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Casa de Cossa

Durante o periodo da Oficina de Arte Ujamaa 4 Moçambique 1995, Hans van Houwelingen restaurou a casa de Pedro Cossa, o guarda do Núcleo d’Arte
During the Oficina de Arte Ujamaa 4 Moçambique, in 1995, Hans van Houwelingen restored the house of Pedro Cossa, the guard of the Núcleo d’Arte.
(hvh:) “In Mozambique the civil war was just over, more or less bought out by the un: peace in exchange for money. Then you have to restore the order of things, obviously in a humane and morally acceptable way. Social work, of course, but also sports and culture – typically things which are politically harmless.
With a Dutch endowment, a workshop was organised for African artists in Maputo. I was the only European artist – and from the money’s country of origin at that. My presence therefore had a slight aura of neo-colonialism, and I carefully questioned myself in advance which role I should play once I was there. I tried to make the fact that I, as a benefactor, came to bring artistic possibilities explicit in my work. If you fail to see that aspect of self-criticism, then the work escapes you.”
“The Núcleo d’Arte is an art building from Portuguese times in Maputo, which was restored for the occasion, again with Dutch money. I decided to renovate the adjacent caretaker’s house, which was a complete ruin. His name was Pedro Cossa and initially he was the only one who liked the idea. Obviously the proposal was criticising the Mozambican organisers who had completely ignored the caretaker when allocating the aid moneys. He wasn’t even allowed to join for dinner, although he had taken care of the Núcleo for decades.”
“But that wasn’t my only point. I was there with twenty African artists, most of whom had always been working under pressure of war, without any materials to speak of, and who were now frantically spreading free paint all over free canvasses. Due to the hardships of war, they never had been able to work freely, and now they could. And then, in the midst of them, there’s this figure with a different background and a different story, who does something completely different. Not only was I confronted with them – they were confronted with me as well. It was a way of communicating about different ideas on art.”
“When I started renovating the house, people thought I was slightly nuts, and just let me go about my business. They even ignored me a little. Until one night it was my turn to explain what I was doing. That brought about the urgency I had been hoping for in this workshop. My way of working challenged their own. Implicitly, it became clear that art cannot leave art’s contexts out of the equation.”
“Inequality has completely unsettled Mozambican society. Many people don’t earn in a lifetime what others earn in an hour. In Maputo, an artwork therefore has a different meaning than in Amsterdam. Some artists brought their work to a place they could sell it, before the paint was dry – and their trade went well. I could understand why they didn’t care much about what was depicted. In turn, my role was that of the neo-colonial European who arrives with a pile of money to bring peace. I wanted them to understand me.”
(mk:) “You put a lot of thought into reflecting on your position; do I partake in an exhibition, where do I stand as an artist. In that context, wouldn’t it have been better to stay out of Africa? I mean: what do you know about it, and what’s your relation with it anyway?”
(hvh:) “That goes for every situation, also in the Netherlands. Mostly I don’t know the place I end up in, so I have to study hard to catch up. I see to it that I know enough about the place to have the feeling I understand where I am. I read quite a lot about Mozambique; not that I then knew where I was going, but I did know that I wanted to go there.
In that situation, I wanted to stick to my own way of working; I am not black, I do have money, I have been vaccinated, and I go home again after a month. I have worked from the position of a Dutch artist with a critical attitude, made the work that befits me and that provokes thinking about art. On top of that, Pedro Cossa now has a house with a roof and a door. That’s what attracted me and that’s what still pleases me.”

Source: Hans van Houwelingen, interviewed by Martin Koolstra, in: Engagement is self-interest; an inquiry into engagement in art. 03/2002