Interview with Cristóvão Dalet
Cristóvão is an artist from Benguela who started painting when he was only 14. He started by drawing comic strips, inspired by artists that he used to see working in Praia Morena. Seeing that people liked his work (and some were even interested in buying his pieces), he decided to continue. I had a chance to interview him after seeing some of his work through his Facebook page.
I haven’t seen any comic strip on your page… do you still draw them?
I passed the “comic strips stage”, as they take too long to draw and they are not really what interests me. Now I mostly dedicate myself to realistic and surrealistic paintings.
How do you describe the difference between realism and surrealism?
Realism allows me to paint something real and tangible, like a face or a landscape. On the other hand, through surrealism, I try to express an idea, a feeling, a dream or just something fictitious that has an important meaning for me.
In general, through my paintings, I want to express what I feel inside myself. I like putting a piece of myself onto the canvas. For me, art is a mixture of reflection and imagination.
What have you mostly been interested in, lately?
These days, I like painting African faces, especially of women and of the populations that live in the interior, as I would like to express what – to me – best represents African culture. One of my latest paintings shows some zungeras (the women who walk around the streets with a basket on their head, selling all kinds of products), in an attempt to show the daily sacrifice that they make to sustain their families. Through this painting, I also hope to encourage people to value the zungeras’ work better.
What is a recent surrealist painting you have done?
I recently made a surrealist painting called “A Ignorancia da Juventude” (= “the ignorance of the youth”). The painting represents a mother preparing cornmeal with her daughter, a common scene in rural communities.
People living in the city have lost the ability and the willingness to learn from the older generations, and I think this is one of the causes of unemployment, as young people don’t want to learn their parents’ job anymore. Instead of learning the work that the older people in their families have been doing for years, they think that University is the only way to find a job and then they find themselves unemployed.
Take the example of the son of a shoe-maker who doesn’t even try to learn his father’s job and lets good skills go to waste. This is the issue I wanted to transmit through this painting.
I see that you mostly use vivid colours…is that a pattern in your paintings?
Yes, my paintings tend to have very vivid colours, like red, yellow and bright green, to give a sense of joy. I intentionally avoid dead colours, as – to me – they are linked to sadness and thoughtfulness, which is not something I want to express through my work.
How do you sell your paintings?
Mostly, I sell them through Facebook (check out his page!), where I regularly post pictures of my work. I have also built relations with a local art gallery, that sometimes showcases my paintings.
Have you tried turning your work more professional?
I haven’t had a chance to attend a school as, unfortunately, there aren’t any public courses dedicated to plastic arts in Benguela at the moment. In the meantime, I have been learning through the internet, where I look at works from Portuguese and Brazilian artists and read information on the techniques they use.
What are the main challenges you face in your work as an artist?
The main challenge me and my colleagues face at the moment is the difficulty in finding the materials needed for our work (paint, brushes, easels, etc…), as they are scarce and expensive. This is the reason why many local artists have given up and are now dedicating themselves to other things.
The other challenge we face is that it is easier to get to know the work of foreign artists, rather than of other Angolan ones, as the work of Angolan artists is not sufficiently publicized. As a matter of fact, I personally know very little about the work of other Angolan artists, besides the few that are working in Benguela. The others (the most successful ones) tend to exhibit only in Luanda, and I don’t have the means to travel all the way there.
I, however, am determined to continue my work and hope to, one day, put together my own exhibition, for which I’ll need about 15/20 paintings and a sponsored space.
Cristóvão’s tip for someone who’d like to become a painter: Go and watch the work of more experienced painters, learn from them, talk with them, … your fear will go away!
Written by: Caterina Manzi