“The fear of the unknown is not only a problem for Western culture: when attempting to depict the new, we often find ourselves doing nothing more than mirroring our own prejudices and desires”, wrote the artist Claudio Goulart for the catalogue “In Fusion; New European Art”, which accompanied a 1993 exhibition showcasing the European multicultural mix of the day. Claudio exhibited the installation “Vale Quanto Pesa; It’s Worth Its Weight”, a title that refers to the brand of soap, which he used as a child to wash his mouth out whenever he told a lie. The work consisted of piles of golden suitcases along with the first 15th century representations of the New World: the world that the West tried to conquer, discover, overpower and exploit. These representations unveiled an extraordinary new world of new-found lands before the very eyes of all those who saw them. Most of the artists who made these images never left Europe so that their creations are saturated with idealisation and the fantastic. “It is not easy to tell the truth”, wrote Claudio in the same catalogue. “And for an artist this is not only a moral question but also an artistic one.”
The work that Claudio showed and the words that he wrote, reflect the artist that I met while organising “The Climate” in 1991, a series of 30 exhibitions involving 70 foreign artists in the Netherlands. Claudio’s interest in and love of colonial imagery, his awareness of post-colonial trauma and its consequences, and his engaged attitude towards the multicultural world in which we live, mirrored my own obsessions. The way in which he worked was simple and clear; although he used symbols, they were never overly complex or difficult to understand. Instead they were aesthetically presented and meticulously organised.
The first work we co-operated on was a documentary about foreign artists in the Netherlands that focused on those closely involved with the setting up of Time Based Arts along with the people who pushed and helped them, and the reasons why this all occurred.
Our second collaboration was the exhibition “The Land Within Me” (Het land dat in mij woont), which was held at Rotterdam’s Museum of Ethnology in 1995. Claudio showed Portrait Interieur, which consisted of two large photographs of him both dressed and naked, blindfolded and with his arm held in front of his eyes. On the floor was a patchwork blanket of symbols that represented different cultures.
….Het van vroombeeld kleiner wordend
zitbeeld in mijn vader
En moeder herinnert mij
Steeds marginaler aan mijn stamland,
Rotshol sinds ik hier gewoon ben.
These words, which were written by the Moroccan poet Mustafa Stitou who lives in Almere, provided the inspiration for Claudio’s work for that exhibition. The text “And Mother reminds me ever more marginally of my tribal land” embodies much of how Claudio felt about living here: with his mother there and his family of friends surrounding him here. The work also relates to the general issue of being the Other, and of the Pride of being that Other. He showed the same work at “The World of Aids” exhibition in Geneva. Here, the Other is the person with Aids, and the Pride may refer to the pride of the wounded body so that the title, “Interior Portrait”, represents his awareness of illness, of looking inwards.
Getting to know Claudio’s work, meant getting to know the man, whom I began to love. During the development of our work together, I increasingly respected his insights, his moral need to tell the truth, his candour and his down-to-earth analyses of situations that I could not always deal with. The multicultural issue increasingly became a societal issue, but all the work we did in relation to that theme seemed to disappear into unidentified black holes. His criticism was sharp, his analyses fearless, his anger sincere.
Claudio’s final works were the Art Zone posters, which were made when he was no longer able to stand or sit for any length of time. The subjects were similar to his other works. His working method was the same as ever: simple, critical, clear and respecting the beauty of form and choreography. Although his touch was maybe lighter, the criticism was as fierce as ever. “To Have and Have Not”, “Displace(d)” “Listen to Your Heart” and “Earning One’s Living by Wasting One’s Life” are the titles of just four of the 35 works he made. His last work in that series was maybe an answer to the fourth work. It is called “We Are on the Road to Nowhere’” and reads: “It is not the destination, but the long and winding road”. Maybe some of the sailors who landed in 15th century Brazil felt the same way; maybe the artists who painted their fantasy representations of the New World would have known what he was talking about. I believe that for Claudio this became the true emotion at the end of his life: “It is not the destination but the long and winding road.” Let us make the best of that road, and celebrate the fact that it was here that we met Claudio Goulart.
Thanks to Annie Wright for the translation