The Flower That Blooms Alone
Above The Memory of Heroes
As there is a rising respect for Japan's multicultural background in the postcolonial age, the country is recognizing Yasuke as one of its own. Yasuke, who was most likely an immigrant from Mozambique or Angola (the consensus seems to be that he was born somewhere in East Africa), arrived in Japan in 1579 as a servant of Alessandro Valignano and his group of Jesuits. The flood of cross-cultural mingling that came after colonial expansion in Africa is likely responsible, in part, for women also receiving more attention on the political and military fronts, as gender equality was much more prevalent in non-European societies during this time period.
Essentially, In response to all of Yasuke's heroic masculine pride, this piece seeks to explore and demonstrate the feminine undercurrents that likely contributed to the establishment of such a stereotype: This work focuses on the rediscovery of a feeling of female autonomy that Yasuke inspired in Africa following his stay in Japan, in accordance with the hypothesis that Yasuke's ancestral country may have been Angola. It follows the tenet of thought that, if a foreign national from a background of indentured servitude could rise to the respected rank of weapon-bearer or bodyguard to a military leader in a society on the other side of the globe, then surely other marginalised or oppressed individuals, such as women, could build their own identities in this new world as well.
In light of this, "Above The Memory of Heroes" turns the focus to the Angolan soldier-queen, Nzinga Mbandi, in order to re-imagine Africa's position between the divided, colonial past and a more tolerant, diverse future.
Nzinga Mbandi, also known as Queen Ginga (born 1583), was crowned the "Queen of Kimbundu", a region in north-western Angola, following the mysterious death of her brother. Queen Ginga became a pioneer for the independence of her kingdom and continued the struggle against Portuguese colonial occupation until her death at the age of 81 in 1663.
The erasing of indigenous history that came after European expansion into Africa, prompted the creation of imagined spaces, removed from geography and society, in which the memory of many traditions and cultures lost or damaged in the face of colonialism, could endure. This work lives in such an imagined community, a culturalized setting free from physical boundaries, where Yasuke's legacy of liberation and nationalist heroism becomes a cornerstone in the empire-building and female conquests of Nzinga Mbandi in the African homeland.
Long In Exile
Following the exploration of Queen Nzinga Mbandi and the imagined legacy of Yasuke in the African motherland, Long In Exile speaks about the return of cultural heritage to the place of origin. This work is an attempt to highlight the importance of giving back indigenous people their own voice to tell their stories and affirm their histories.
In this piece, the idea of Queen Nzinga is presented in the form of a smaller figure (she stands just under 150cm tall, as opposed to Above The Memory of Heroes, which is about 180cm in height) that bears colouring reminiscent of a bronze cast. Also, her body is tainted with a Verdigris patina and her armour is scuffed and weathered, which is reminiscent of the metallic treasures uncovered at historically significant archaeological sites in Africa, such as Mapungubwe in South Africa and the ruins at the kingdom of Great Zimbabwe.
The title further ties in with recent news regarding the decision made by museums in both the UK and the US to return bronze artifacts stolen from African countries during the colonial expansion into their native lands. This movement was spearheaded by international pressure placed on the British government to return the famously looted "Benin Bronzes" that were kept in the National Museum of African Art in London - which was finally done in early 2022.
Long In Exile celebrates decolonisation efforts made by Western powers in contemporary times while taking a critical look at the legacy of cross-cultural exchange, globalisation and the continuous re-writing of African history.