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Maya Quilolo

Maya Quilolo was born in a quilombola community in Minas Gerais, graduated in Anthropology and Audiovisual in Belo Horizonte. She acts in the interchange between performance arts, visual arts, and cultural diversity. Her most recent research explores the body in its cosmogonic conception proposing connections between artistic languages and bodily interferences. Interested in multidisciplinary investigations that address the potential of the black body.

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The following interview is filled with hyperlinks to assist readers to better comprehend some of the context in which the artist finds herself. If anything was left unclear, please get in touch. It is recommended to start it by reading about quilombos.

Sometimes I find myself reflecting on the strong relationship that African religions have with nature. I would like to hear a little about how you see this relationship and how it influences your artistic practice.

If I can answer that question, I would say that none of us are separated from nature. This separation between man and nature is impossible. Objectively, logically and even scientifically inconceivable. So African-based religions are very much placed in this place of nature because the way they answer that question is fundamentally human. African-based religions are religions that relate to a very profound knowledge of the investigation of human experience. So I think that the question of nature occurs, in fact, in the relationship with the human—in its most fundamental and broad, more existential sense.

What religion teaches me is that starting from the human, we get to know ourselves and establish ourselves with other beings in the world. African religions teach me to understand the human, to live the human. And that is what would be called a natural path. So, this relationship starts from a profound experience of life, from the process of life in the community with other beings who are also not separate: they exist as they are connected to others. That is why the human body is made up of the same elements as plants, animals, rocks, etc. so that we can exist in this community. 

I believe that the community appears to me well before I understand myself as a human. The religions of African origin brought the understanding of this human to me, the consciousness of the human in the time I live, of the process of becoming human, of being born at last. In my artistic practice, I try to expand this human thinking based on sensitivity, in order to develop this awareness of what it is to be human, as part of a terrestrial planetary community. 

My work and its relations with African-based religions are in line with my life. I did a performance project that was something I was born to do: it's something that comes from my ancestors. So, there is no division between artistic practice, life, and spirituality — everyone walks together on a very narrow path. 

Maya Quilolo. Courtesy of the artist.

I believe that this relationship with nature is evident, for example, in your film ORI, 2017. Could you say more about this work?

When I did this work, Ori (2017) knew very little about African religions, but I quickly connected with Ori's sense. So, I did my first experimentation with the video, which brings the elements of "nature" in this relationship with the "human" body and, precisely, what I tested in this work was the experience of this fusion, understanding that all of us when we live, when we exist, we express the same will as the waters, that the clouds, that the sea, in short.

What is very interesting, especially looking at what I am developing now, is to see this human getting confused and finding himself there with all that life. I used Efun's paintings as a reference, a ritual body painting of Candomblé Ketu initiation ceremonies. I am happy to see how there was a very existential character and how it was an act of life. I keep thinking about my body painted with Efun's paintings, made to protect and consecrate the body that is being born. This work is like the newborn body, still trying to understand itself.

ORI, 2017.

I understand that perpetuating religious practices of African origin and other traditions is a form of resistance against colonial impositions. But I would like to know if there is any strategy you have adopted not to allow institutionalized ways of creating and exhibiting the arts to capitalize on their practices, or not to allow their works to be inserted in a colonizing discourse.

I would say that the "apparent" incompatibility between my work and perhaps the institutionalized modes of creation and artistic circulation comes more from the nature of my work than from the form. What I mean is that I don't see my work as something that seeks to be "decolonial", decolonizing or something like that. Still, it is a work that pulsates in the existential aspect of living in community, terrestrial life, human life. I believe that this is something that institutions have a harder time understanding, and that colonial discourse cannot conceive: co-creating with time, with space, with the other. This difficulty in dialogue comes more from how these places inhabit time than properly something to do with the works. Perhaps this impossibility of capture comes from this way of creating. 

My work is deeply connected to my existence with the Orixás; they are works that take place on this plane and in another time, other than this capitalist, other than this colonial one. I think that IPORI brings a lot of that, of how an artistic process embraces other agencies, "non-human" for example, of how an act that is confirmed in the present in the matter is precisely the result of these broader relationships with time with space, with other beings, with ancestors, with the history of colonization, with transatlantic trafficking, etc. More than manipulating these signs, I look for what to put them in relation, allowing life to spring up at work, which becomes an act of life. In that sense, I can say that institutions prefer dead objects.

IPORI - Primeiro Ato, 2018.

I would like to hear more about your film IPORI - First Act, 2018.

I believe that IPORI is a project that expresses this cosmopolitan characteristic of my work well. At the time, I worked as an anthropologist in Minas Gerais, and it was from this understanding of mining processes in Brazil that this performance emerged. My body felt the processes of water degradation that I witnessed there in the context of mining, so I decided to ally with Osun, who is the protective goddess of waters in Brazil. 

That is why I say that when I started to understand myself as a human, I understood myself as a daughter of the waters. From the moment I understood my place in the world, I also understood the corresponding energies in nature and the vibrations that attuned me. That was how things were moving to make it happen, for me to travel to Osogbo to deliver my offering. When I arrive in the Osum forest in Osogbo, I throw the obis to see if Osum would accept my gift. Osun accepted, and I lived with her a very intimate moment of water exchange, fertilization of the American waters in the African womb, of the waters of myself with the waters of my Orixá, a process of conceiving a life that grows in me now. All of my work from now on will result from this concept, mine and Osun's, and Orixás, and ancestors. 

This life's work raises many questions about capture, time, and sharing. Perhaps this performance is more than three thousand years old, and started with the separation of the plates that generate the Atlantic Ocean; it may have started when African women were brought to the Americas or started when I was born. That is, it is something that cannot be learned. And I am precisely on this mission of getting people, through sensitivity, to connect with this performance in the depth that it has.

If there is anything I can say that persists, it is this desire to put the time in this active relationship in my work's constructions. And I think this will is mainly not limited to colonial times, making the work challenging to capture, not the work itself, but the time it takes. I need to accept that it is my work's nature, as they are life processes, and we never run with life. One can just live. 

Thinking about your text Chronicle Poetics - Aquilombar in Times of the End of the World for magazine Afirmativa, I was very interested in what this idea of aquilombar would be. There are some explanations on the internet, but I would like your help to understand the term and reflect on how it is expressed in your artistic practice.

Aquilombar is a term widely used by black movements. It comes mainly from the thoughts of Abdias do Nascimento and Beatriz Nascimento - authors who greatly influence my writing and my life. Aquilombar means many things, but above all, it is the notion that our body, the black body, expresses a collective potential. So, from the moment you understand yourself, you understand your body, understand the world, and understand that that term is a term of life. 

When you meet with other black people, when you meet with yourself, when you seek your people's victories, it is a strategy of tackling when you think about your existence. I believe the quilombo is significantly related to the notion of Ori, because Beatriz Nascimento is the one who says that "Ori is the next name of Brazil." This notion of Ori supports the work I am preparing, Ori de Cobra D'água (2020), is a very important work for me, where I express this notion of community, Atlantic, planetary, intimate, cellular. The term aquilombar has a lot to do with this community that exercises an expansion and differentiation process that is inherent to its formation. Aquilombar is a term that designates this desire, this desire for community, the desire for a world to be born. In my dissertation, I say that my quilombo is born on the edge of the Córrego Calhauzinho and expands to several places in the world because the quilombo exists from our Oris. 

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