Interview with David Aguacheiro
Can you talk a bit about your background and where you’re from?
I was born in Maputo, Mozambique in 1984, but my parents are from the North of Mozambique. They moved here because of the civil war in Mozambique that lasted until 1994. I grew up during the time of the civil war, and lost my father at a very young age. I had to start working at 9 years old, selling peanuts on the beach to help my mother sustain our family. I failed a lot of subjects at school because I was always drawing in class. I had to repeat the 10th grade twice. That’s when my English teacher told me about the National Visual Arts school, because he saw that regular school was not the right place for me. The move meant going back 3 years in school and start over at the Art School. When I entered into the National Visual Arts School, I was lucky to get a scholarship and not have to pay fees. But because I couldn’t afford to pay for public transport I walked to and from school, a total distance of 20 km every day.
I started considering myself as an artist when I won the “Discoveries” Award for a painting, awarded by the Culture House Maputo in 2006. At that time, I was studying graphic design at the National Visual Arts high school. From there many doors started to open for me. I had possibilities of participating in workshops, residencies and projects with international artists in Mozambique and abroad. I started getting into VideoArt and acquiring more diversified visual languages to use in my art. Since then I’ve been participating in Art Biennals, collective exhibitions and art awards. My fist solo exhibition was “Take Away” in 2018.
Plastic Life, 2019
What message, if any, do you intend to convey with your stunning photography?
As an artist, what preoccupy me are social and political problems. With my artworks I constantly seek to question what is happening in society, and especially to provoke the viewers – provocation for me is a means to get people questioning and thinking for themselves. Coming from Mozambique, a country that has just recently liberated itself from colonization in 1975, foreign intervention is a pertinent topic for me – especially with regard to the exploitation of human and natural resources. One of the attached projects entitled “Take Away” criticizes the way in which foreign entities are greedily extracting resources from land and see alike. It was inspired by an experience I had as a child, living with my grandmother in a rural area, and seeing endless rows of trucks carrying timber and other precious woods, leaving the forest behind completely destroyed.
Another topic I look at a lot is the environment. Countries like Mozambique, whose contribution to climate change is close to zero, suffer greatly from the effects of climate change a capitalist system and corporate greed are causing, aiming for a supposed prosperity with- out thinking about the future and how their actions affect all living beings now and in generations to come. The photo essay “Plastic Life” looks at the plastic bag as a main actor in this scenario.
Lastly the third main topic in my work is gender equality. Women’s contributions to every area of life have been erased from historic writing for the most part. My recent installation “Forgotten Heroines” aims to bring the women that fought in Mozambique’s liberation movement back from oblivion into presently discourse.
Plastic Life, 2019
How would you explain your processes whilst making? How do you go from idea to finished piece?
I always start with something that unsettles me. I have to first feel moved by a topic or something that happens. Then I start doing my research. This part is very important for me. I try to learn a lot about the topic I am working with. I also research possibilities for materials and art forms that I can use to express my idea. I play around with test objects to see what works best. I also talk to different people (not just artists) to ask what they think of my idea, and how they understood it. Creating something “beautiful” isn’t my primary goal. I am much more concerned with creating meaning. With my final artworks I want to provoke conversation. Between people and with themselves. So they can question themselves, and the world around them.
Forgotten Heroines, 2019
Would you say you had a traditional or untraditional route into the arts?
I studied at a public Visual Arts School for 6 years, from where I graduated specialized in graphic design. So I would say that my entry into the arts was more traditional than for others. However, the way I work as an artist now is mainly self-taught. I continued to experiment and broaden my practice by myself after finishing high school. And I continually search for new techniques and ways to express myself.
Social media, especially Instagram, has been said to have democratised the art-world. From your experience, do you see truth in this?
I do see that social media opened the doors to the art world for many artists that would traditionally not have had access, and gives a platform to potentially show their art to a large audience. I personally have only recently started to use Instagram and Facebook to showcase my work. So for me personally it hasn’t brought any tangible benefits yet. Most of the opportunities I’ve had in the past came from application I sent out, or through a circle of contacts.
The art world has felt inaccessible by many working-class individuals, not only in terms of trying to succeed within it, but also in regards to feeling welcome in galleries and museums. Was art a part of your environment when growing up, or was it something that you engaged with later in life?
Art wasn’t part of the everyday environment in my family when I was growing up. We had other things to worry about. The main concern in my home was to earn enough money for food. There was no money for any art related activities or art supplies. I was mainly just studying in school and working to help out my mother. But I did always use my creativity to build my own toys using the materials I found in and around my house. When I first started painting on canvas in art school I mixed my own paints using wall paint, glue and dye. I started engaging with the art world when I entered the Nation Visual Arts School. That’s when I began going to exhibitions, concerts, workshops and get exposed to more influences.
Forgotten Heroines, 2019
What do you appreciate about the artworld?
People who are not afraid of expressing themselves and challenging conventions. And to have the possibility to use any medium or material I see fit to make my art, without limitations or boundaries. I also appreciate how artists bring forth their imagination and originality to create things that surprise you, that you wouldn’t expect, and that have a certain creative signature to them.
Conversely, what frustrates you about it?
What frustrates me most in the art world is the elitism created by certain groups, that elevates the work of some in favour of others. Not necessarily due to merit, but because of other influences they have - contacts, money, influential families. This creates barriers for those who want to enter the art world professionally from “outside”, and be able to live off their art. Often times, even if your work is really good, if you don’t know the right people there’s no way into the spaces that bring with them possibilities to build a serious career. There’s also a geographical disparity I feel quite prominently. The “default” artist for global opportunities and exposure still continues to be the white North-American or European artist. As an African artist a lot of times it feels a bit like either being given possibilities out of pity and to fulfil a quote, or not being taken seriously at all.
Take Away, 2020
What would you say has been your top experience in your art career?
In 2018 when I finally managed to have my first solo exhibition entitled “Take Away”, that criticizes and questions the exploitation of human and natural resourcesin Mozambique through foreign “investments”. I first had the idea for this project in 2008. I continued working on it over the course of 10 years. Realizing the entire project also involved a lot of financial investment, because I had to build a 6m-long wooden fisher boat specifically for the exhibition and print 2m high photos. So it took me a while to be able to do it the way I had idealized the final art work. To finally see it come to life felt like pouring out my thoughts into the world, it made me feel extremely calm and at peace with myself.
What is your dream project?
My dream is one day to exhibit my work at the Tate Modern in London.
What do you feel is integral to the work of an artist?
To communicate what they want to say with their art in a way that leaves it open to different interpretations by the audience.
What’s the best piece of artistic advice you’ve been given?
The best advice I’ve received so far was from my fellow artist Tina Krüger. “To not change my ideas to try to please others or to produce the work they like to see. And to not be afraid to express my thoughts without dialling them back.”
You can see more of David's beautiful work here.