Interview / 27a. Bienal de São Paulo 2006

LL/HC: Would you assert that White Women (2002) is more about sexism or more about racism?

LC: I'd say racism... but then again I usually mix things up. Who said that "woman is the nigger of the world"? A white man, wasn't it?

LL/HC: Is modernism a false question for African artists?

LC: I'm not sure I know what you mean by modernism as a question... But O.K., maybe your question suggests that modernism is an European context and therefore somehow does not belong in Africa? I'd say modernism has been wrongly percieved as modernity. Still, I know of very few "modern things" that do not affect Africa and that Africa does not affect. Modernism should be a good historical example. I can't see Africa as some essentially different continent that does not, or should not as such, take part in modernity. Modernism in terms of painting styles and how you approach your role as an artist, had a revolutionary influence in Ethiopian art due to the cultural exchange between artists such as Skunder Boghossian and Gebrekristos Desta with Europe. And for the record, cultural exchange beyond its borders was not introduced to Africa by its colonizers. Ideas travel, sometimes we spit, sometimes we swallow... Should African artists spit out modernism? Yes, I think I'd like that.

LL/HC: Critics frequently link your work to your biography, to the fact that you have an Ethiopian father and a Swedish mother. Do you think it's really a main question or a kind of lable?

LC: I dig where I stand, it's plain to trace me in my work but my work is not biographical, so yes, I think it's a dead end. The notion of nationality is a powerful enemy...

LL/HC: Sometimes your work has an anthropological approach...

LC: I've always considered anthropologists a pest but I do study Humanity and we share an emphasis on cultural relativity and examination of context. In the video installation Minor Field Study (2004) I've made my contribution to crosscultural comparisons in the form of a pretty brutal cultural translation based on research material filmed by the Congolese anthropologist Billy Marius. When I was asked to write about Miinor Field Study I wrote a text called The Allegory of the Cock which is not all about anthropology, it's about a blind man, frame of reference and epistemology...

Interview by Helouise Costa and Lisette Lagnado