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SANDRA POULSON – Pes Descalços

SANDRA POULSON

Sandra is a London based researcher, artist, fashion/print designer studying Fashion Print at Central Saint Martins.
Poulson grew up in Luanda-Angola and moved to Lisbon in 2013 when initiated her academic training in Fashion Design at Faculdade de Arquitectura part of Universidade Técnica de Lisboa. In 2014 relocated to London were studied at London College of Fashion and then enrolled in the BA Fashion Print at Central Saint Martins. As a researcher and artist, design operates as a medium to explore and communicate her interests reflecting social, behavioural, political issues and traditional values whilst navigating her experiences from growing up in Luanda as one of her central influences. The artist’s body of work recurrently revisits the body as a liminal space for discussion through photography, hyper-annotation, hyper-documentation, mixed media, collage and drawings which culminate in digital and hand-made prints on fabric. Such prints are sometimes the raw material for garments that are activated by living models.

The Girl with Open Legs, 2017 © Sandra Poulson.

PD: Please describe yourself, your practice and aspiration?

SP: I am a question maker, and I am interested in unpacking knowledge that can possibly allow various levels of progress if reached out by people. My practice lays on research, both academic and self-reflective in regards to own experiences within my culture and people. I am interested in the impact of Angola’s complex colonial heritage and our original traditions, in shaping modern society. The latter, being at the core of my studies regarding social, political and behavioural issues. Peculiarly, my body of work recurrently revisits the body as a liminal space for such discussion through photography, hyper-annotation and documentation, mixed media, collage, drawings which sometimes culminate in digital and hand-made prints on fabric. Depending on what drives specific works, at times, those prints are the raw material for garments and performances.

PD: The idea of home for many people mean the place where the heart belonged, is that notion of home has any link with childhood to you? Please guide us to the place that you call home?

SP: Yes, Absolutely. Both on a personal level, and on how my personal experiences influence my practice, childhood is a large percentage of the non-physical space that I perceive as home. In fact, a significant part of my practice lays on deconstructing and analyzing the early experiences that shaped who I am which inherently happened at home. Again, the first 18 years of my life were lived in Avenida dos Combatentes in Luanda-Angola, turning me into an outcome of various social, cultural, political and economic tensions. Being such large Luanda’s avenue, a place that operated as a soft border between the city centre and the unpaved Luanda. We lived halfway through this avenue, and we lived the avenue. There I was raised bombarded with the frictions between 2 opposite sides of the spectrum of Lack, whilst I slept my dreams where bombarded with the sound of AK47s shoot by local gangs of youngsters, re-enacting the sounds of 1992. I remember leaving the flat, which was fenced by 3 levels of metal gates, and an arsenal of plants in vases, which led some people in the neighbourhood to later identify me as my sister as the ones that lived on the plants- or plant girls.

Saco Preto do Calendario, 2018 © Sandra Poulson.

PD: Who are your domestic legends? Please describe the relationship that you can recall with it.

SP: I have not idolized many people apart from my parents, as I realized how much it took to introduce us to society and context within such complexities and give us the tools to not only survive it but to excel. I had, however, a micro-group of people that were older than me that I had a lot of time for and was willing to learn from. A primary school teacher, a sister and brother, and some family members. I was very interested in the adult’s conversations and was lucky enough to be raised in a house where it was compulsory to watch the evening news – Telejornal – from the National Tv Chanel, which gave me perspective when analyzing my surroundings. Started making more and more questions about the past and grow in me the will to help people. I guess that through the time I decided that my legends were the common citizens the people that really strengthen me are the ones that create their own solutions, despite the difficulties they inevitably have to face.

PD: Your practice encompasses textile printing, photography and video. Please elaborate on what role they play on your process and your approach with each one?

SP: In my practice, I have researched and thought through mediums such as hyper-annotation, hyper-documentation, responsive writing, drawing, mixed media, collage, digital print, screenprint, performance, garment making, video, and photography. The latter specifically is a medium I started exploring when I started my BA Hons in Fashion. I was interested not only in referencing existing works I found relevant, but to generate my own material and document the reality I identified as mine. Was also through photography that I was able to re-enact situations, memories, people that I did not have immediate access, as they were mostly references of experiences lived in Luanda, and I currently live in the UK. Again, because of the format of my degree course, and of the methodologies of a Fashion curriculum, my urge to generate every visual aspect of my responses to my questions, only grew. Video is on the other side, a medium I have started exploring only recently in collaboration with an Angolan artist and friend Raul Jorge Gourgel. We have been working together in a project about which I cannot disclose much yet, but it concerns the everyday responses to matters of Lack that are shared by Angolans, across social classes, and it is flooded with social commentary. Almost a work that puts documentation and performance in a battlefield, whilst referencing the aftermaths of colonialism and the civil war. Both photography and video play a key role in my practice, especially considering the context in which my undergraduate education is happening. Such mediums allow the re-definition of the subjects in the images, and very importantly, act as self-service.

PD: Please take us through your creative process and how different places may affect or influence your work?

SP: My mind, who I care about, what I care about, my work are not defined by borders, especially not borders that have been forcibly drawn in the context of the Pink Map. However, a lot of my energy is catalyzed into the value, values, and potential of my people. Therefore my work tends to draw on my culture, especially unwritten culture, to explore wider conversations.

My sense of locality is then pivotal to how I think, adapt and transfer knowledge. By that I mean the way I navigate different peoples and exchange with them, ultimately influences my work and will influence who works with me, from an artist in Luanda, to architecture in London or an Ecuadorian artisan. I see our ability to move as an ability to transfer, but also feel the challenge of preserving the value that is unique to each place.

Plant Monster Girl, 2017 © Sandra Poulson.

PD: Using your past, present or on-going projects as examples, please tell us more about the themes you are dealing with, your interests and how it gives emphasis to your work?

SP: My body of work engulfs several works that inevitably intertwine. Interestingly, without initially realizing that my works revisit the body, having it as a liminal space for discussion. ‘Hair Shame, not Anymore’ is an example of a work which encapsulates some of the stages of my visual and academic discussions about women’s bodies and the social and cultural pressure that have an influence on shaping it. Having as a starting point the gendered bodily practices that allow us to construct gender (as well as letting it construct us) and make meaning out of the body, here I discuss how controlling our natural features, and maintaining a docile body, shapes individuals and influences how we evolve as a society.

This work seemingly leads to ‘The Girl With Open Legs’, a visual response to academic research about the institutionalization of rape as a tool to monitor women’s sexuality. The work explores my interest in how from an early age, in various cultures, women learn to fear the institution of rape.
On the other side, works such as ‘Esta é a Boa Mandioca’ and ‘Black Calendar Bag’ – ‘Saco Preto do Calendário’ equally utilize the body as a medium, but mostly explore the symbolism of everyday life objects in a material culture perspective. Through this works, I navigate the streets of Luanda and the informalities that flood it, analyzing the responses that people generate to Lack.

PD: What are the iconography has the most significant meaning to you and how it has influenced directly or indirectly you practice? Please share it with us?

SP: There is a number of symbolic objects that are present in my practice, in fact, quite a lot of them. They are very important for the construction and deconstruction of the narratives I present visually, and through words. Such iconographic elements are mostly references to objects that I was surrounded by when growing up in Luanda, but mostly, that I have already encountered as a very young child, and that seems to be perpetuated in most Angolan households. Objects such as the Broken Plastic Chair which gained a central space in my work, around which I discuss how we invent and problem solve from Lack. Lack of better living conditions, lack of money, lack of resources for more definitive furniture, lack of flooring in the house, lack of a house that does not get affected by the rain (flooded really) and therefore the possible wooden furniture does not get damaged as well. Again the broken plastic chair is a very clear example of how we utilize two broken objects to generate a much stronger third one, and most importantly, how we identify potential in an object that in the west we are immediately discarded.

Other Iconographic elements present in my work are the gas canister (Botija de Gás), the Cuca Bottle, The White Dove on the Cuca Bottle, The Suit, Plants, and others.

PD: Could you define your practice using four descriptive keywords?

SP: Fragmentary. Currency. Progress. Tradition.

Tia da Mandioca, 2019 © Sandra Poulson.

PD: Please do share with us any thoughts, worries, suggestions or criticism regarding the state of art in the world by emphasizing the Angola art scene?

SP: I think that due to its complexities as peoples, which are associated by a common national identity/border/politics, we Angolans, Angola and our art scene are an interesting case study for the state of art in the world. It is important to note that such formal borders can very much differ from the spectrum of ethnographic identities and understandings of self, and are sometimes too stiff to bend around the spectrum of the views and needs of the millions of people delimited by such borders. Angola is indeed a very intriguing example for the outcome of colonialism, and the world is very much experiencing comparable complexities, as everything is unquestionably postcolonial, or post-neo-colonial (careful about comparing Angolan art scene with world art scene, is there such thing?) I guess that the way that the art world operates goes in line with the way politics and our worldwide economic system work. Networks of people that assign value to things, and translate that into numbers that could possibly mean money, the latter serves the 1%. However, it seems to me that things are not as black and white as the 1% vs the 99%, I guess that there can only be a grey area where value – cultural, progress related, historical- is being created and documented, aspiring to serve more than the 1%. I am therefore interested in that grey space and how it can serve as a trampoline to increase the 1% and distribute that cultural power. Not sure if only that. Concerned about how much power is placed in the hands of who assigns value to works/artists/points of view, and how much that factually impacts what the public has access to. How relevant are the works? How much value has the works? How much access does the public have? How much trust o the institutions do we need to have? Who decides what has value, and what value it has? May 2019.

PD: (Open note) Use the space below to share anything that you may think is relevant.

SP: I think that it would be interesting to share aspects of my practice that go beyond the realm of my art practice and perhaps touch more on the social responsibility aspects that I am indeed interested in.

This year I was really lucky to be invited by an Ecuadorian artist and textile designer, Maria Cuji, which is a friend of mine, to develop a workshop based on transferring making skills and take it to Ecuador.

With Maria, I had the chance of sharing my practice and teach creative thinking techniques to a group of very talented men and women there. The people we were working with are part of a foundation for people’s rehabilitation from addictions and were incredibly interested and willing to learn and share. I have also exchanged and learnt a lot with them, their culture, language, and society I encountered there.

Above everything. The stories of different people and the efforts as a society to lift individual people and activate aspects of culture that can benefit families in an economic level revealed to me to be an interesting model for some issues that we also face in Angola. It also made me more than ever want to take my friends, which are artists and creative professionals around the world to Angola and get them involved in projects with young Angolans that deserve to have platforms to explore their dreams and have access to the training necessary for the professions they aspire to have.
In Ecuador, I realized I could speak “Portunhol” (the successful attempt of Portuguese speakers to speak Spanish) which allowed me to have conversations with everyone I met, ask questions, and of course, in Ecuadorian style, share my relationship status with everyone (because everyone asked if I was married or had a fiance).

The lady of the hat was a relatively young woman (around 17years old) I met on the walk to a waterfall, in our journey to the east, heading to the Amazonia. I asked her to take a picture and she let me, hours after we met again in the city of Baños, at the food market, whilst eating at the same table. She introduced me her family, husband and two children, and her sister and husband as well. She asked me about mine. I said that I wasn’t married, and he was quite surprised, asked me “Cuando“? In Ecuador, I was asked about my husband more often than my nationality or name. It made me put my sense priorities in perspective, and think about the way different peoples structure their society. This trip, my first one to the continent, continues unveiling knowledge and triggering thoughts. How can we as Angolans, work across generations to create soft infrastructures for other Angolans? How can we transfer knowledge more effectively? How can local knowledge be used as a resource for local and effective problem-solving? How could local artists/artisans use their skills to impact not only their families, but their neighbourhoods, and cities? Which kind of projects/ initiatives are urgently needed locally? How can art be used in communities to connect youngsters, and generate income for families? Which kind of education can be implemented by independent players? How can makers of products across the country be connected in ways that empower them?


More about Sandra.

BY JANUARIO JANO, 2019 © PD.