r e v i e w s

Jota Mombaça at CCA Berlin

by Gabriela Anco

at CCA Berlin, Center for Contemporary Arts
Curator: Edwin Nasr
14 Sep – 2 Dec 2023

Upon entering the exhibition space of the newly established CCA Berlin Center for Contemporary Arts, the visitor finds oneself instantaneously transported to an entirely distinct dimension. The hues filtering through the windows transfigure both inner and outer worlds into an apocalyptic backdrop. Has the sky been veiled by an excessive shroud of smoke? Is something ablaze on the horizon? From a corner, a soundtrack emerges, aligning with a video work featuring still shots of dreamlike air-, sea- and land-scapes. Jota Mombaça, a poet who molds words, emotions, objects, and imagery, resonates with a speech that unfolds like poetry: “Will the nation wait until the last morning?” But – is it a “morning” or a somber “mourning”? “The flood must go on,” it continues.

Jota Mombaça, A CERTAIN DEATH/THE SWAMP, Installation view, CCA Berlin, 2023. Photos: Diana Pfammatter/CCA Berlin

Jota Mombaça’s exhibition, “A Certain Death/Swamp,” despite exuding an exceptionally militant character, nonetheless refrains from immediately imposing a cerebral intellectual message upon the viewer. Instead, it immerses the observer, much like one being enveloped by a nurturing swamp, offering symbolic fragments that gradually assemble into a profound puzzle. Drawn initially by a burning atmosphere, one eventually becomes grounded in the humid and earthy elements encircling the exhibition space – soil, clay vessels, a mud painting.

As if unearthed from the very depths of the Earth, these relics, offerings from Gaia herself, firmly tether us to the present moment. Earth, embodying both mother and fertile humus, encapsulates the essence of Gaia. In contemporary terms, she assumes the role of an overarching maternal figure. Yet, within the ancient Greek tradition, Gaia was both a creator and a destroyer, a figure embodying boundless love and unyielding rejection. Gaia eludes facile classification as solely benevolent or malevolent; she is the embodiment of life.

Within Mombaça’s narrative, life emerges as one of the central themes, both as existence and possession. She speaks of life stolen, of displacement from one soil to another, from one Earth to another. Further adjacent subject matters, the passing of time and the holding on to memories serve as invisible links between human tragedies reoccurring in altered contexts. She creates a metaphorical bridge over the Atlantic Ocean, uniting the suffering of the displaced enslaved African people brought against their will to the Americas and the deadly and desperate crossings of the Mediterranean Sea by today’s free people of Africa. In fact, she speaks of the Human Tragedy. As a profound creative concept, Mombaça cedes the artistic gesture to the Earth itself, as to articulate its memoir, crafting a mud painting by submerging the canvas in the very essence of mud.

Jota Mombaça, A CERTAIN DEATH/THE SWAMP, Installation view, CCA Berlin, 2023. Photos: Diana Pfammatter/CCA Berlin

Much like the intricate network of mycelium concealed beneath our feet, Mombaça’s work weaves a complex web connecting concepts, ideas, locations, cultures, traditions, races, and individuals, across time periods and topographies. She delves into the themes of apocalypse and mourning, exploring both past and future notions of death caused by the capitalistic behemoth. In a form of pragmatic optimism, her work acknowledges the formidable challenge of altering established political and economic structures. Shifting one’s trajectory, like a colossal machine, demands immense strength. Mombaça’s art invests faith in two of the most enduring and just forces in the cosmos: nature and time. Much like the mud painting, the clay sculptures showcased in the exhibition were crafted by submerging the pieces in nearby bodies of water, permitting time and nature to imprint their marks – subtle cracks, erosions, remnants of mud, and occasionally even coins.

In today’s increasingly activist artistic landscape, Mombaça distinguishes herself through the exceptional mastery of the visual and plastic qualities of her artworks, paying special attention to the formal aesthetics of both – the pieces on their own and the exhibition as a whole. Works cease to be mere conduits for conveying messages. This distinctive quality lends her exhibition an equally important character as that of the undoubtedly crucial message, making it thus a self-existing entity, impressing with its eloquent force.

Head image : Jota Mombaça, A CERTAIN DEATH/THE SWAMP, Installation view, CCA Berlin, 2023. Photos: Diana Pfammatter/CCA