Hi everyone, I am very happy with the positive feedback this series of interview with contemporary artists is receiving. I hope you’re excited about this month interview, because it is with the Angolan painter Manuela Sambo.
Do you remember when was your first contact with art?
I grew up surrounded by traditional old Angolan art. My most important early contact with contemporary western art was in 1986 through my husband, the German artist Daniel Sambo-Richter.
When you knew that you wanted to become a painter?
I started my artistic career in 1987 initially with sculpture and 10 years late a started painting.
Who encouraged you to pursue an artistic career?
What artists inspired you when you were young? And today?
Old Angolan art, later the Expressionists and then mainly Renaissance painting. Later also contemporary artists like Balthus and Cindy Sherman.
As a self-learned painter, how would you describe your process of self-learning?
It is a very free and therefore very creative process. However, I am not completely self-taught, because I could always fall back on the extensive knowledge and the incorruptible eye and constructive criticism of my partner, if something was not clear to me or I wanted to know something.
I know that you studied German and Literature in the university. How was for you to change literature, that some people would describe as the art made of words, to visual art?
For me, these are two art forms that complement each other. They are both very introspective forms of art creation, but in my opinion, as a visual artist, through painting, you touch subconscious, deeper and also more intuitive areas.
In your work we can clearly see references to Western Art but also to African art, especially to African masks. When you started to get interested in African art? And when you decided to incorporate its elements in your work?
Through my parents’ house, I have had strong contacts with traditional Angolan art since childhood. When I started my artistic work, I realized that this formal language had greatly influenced my own approach and artistic expression. I began my artistic work with sculpture and the construction of large-scale masks of up to 2.5 meters. The theme of the mask still plays an essential role in my work, not only in terms of form, but also in terms of content. This happened and happens very organically.
Some people see in your work the influence of the Expressionists, but it is known that they were influenced by African art… so you would say that your art is influenced by both?
Yes . Western artists of the early 20th century consciously borrowed from non-European art and integrated it into their work. Only in this way Western art could take the development it has taken up to the present day. With my examination of old European art, especially the Renaissance, I have followed this process in the opposite direction.
Where do you find inspiration?
In my own life, in my inner life, in history and historical personalities and events, in music and, of course, in literature.
How would you describe your creative process?
In a first step as intuitive. Then I plan the works very carefully. My paintings are created in periods of up to 2 years.
Why female figures are a frequent subject in your work?
I am exclusively interested in this subject. The embedding of the female in the most diverse content.
You paint themes that are common in Western art, however you gave them a unique treatment, using very personal visual ideas. How do you develop your own pictorial language?
It’s difficult to say… a formal language is influenced by many things: one’s culture and personality. The environment. And especially by irrational things. I couldn’t name what those are. They just exist and influence my work. They are part of my personality.
I saw that your last exhibition, Libertas, was in Berlin last November. The exhibition deal with European and African art, can you tell us more about the concept of this exhibition?
In the center of my work are female figures, painted in my very own style, which is marked by my origin as an artist. However, the examination of the iconography, formal language and composition of both Angolan and occidental painting, especially of the Renaissance, play a prominent role. This is particularly visible in the painting that gave the name to the exhibition LIBERTAS in my representing gallery, Gallery ARTCO, in Berlin 2020. During a summer stay at Liebenberg Castle together with my husband, I dealt with the person Libertas Schulze-Boysen, who paid with her life for her commitment against the Hitler regime in the context of the so-called Red Chapel. In this picture the themes of war, resistance and freedom flow together in a symbiotic way, crystallizing my examination of these very factors from both an African and European perspective. In this solo exhibition LIBERTAS, experiences and personal insights flowed together, dealing with the interplay of European art in Africa and African art in Europe, questioning preconceived notions or precepts in this context in a very personal way. This aspect is very important to me, it also reflects my engagement with the contemporary issues of the possibilities for the realization of a self in the context of globally more uniform and at the same time more multifaceted social structures and forms.
How was the experience of present an exhibition during the pandemic?
It was very difficult, both for me and for the gallery. Because after a few days the gallery had to close because of the lockdown. The exhibition went on digitally, but I think this form runs exactly counter to art. Art demands physical presence. Unfortunately, this had already happened in March 2020 at the collective exhibition at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin. I had a great presentation there as one of the awarded artists for the Falkenrot Prize. But, also, this exhibition could only run for 10 days… Anyway, the good news is that at the moment, until June 22, a exhibition of my works is running at the beautiful Schloss GalleryMelanie Hape in Potsdam. Everyone is most welcome.
For further information on Manuela’s work:
All the images were kindly provided by the artist and ©ARTCO Gallery.