Don’t speak to Nástio about being an “African artist.” Oh, and Nástio’s work isn’t autobiographical, so don’t go there either. Nástio doesn’t like it when people come to him with a certain agenda. But he's great, and you’re going to love him.
Here’s a few things I heard about Angolan performance artist Nástio Mosquito before meeting him inside the white walls of London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) on November 6th, ahead of his performance that evening.
Turns out, I did kind of love him. I’ve never done an interview where I’ve been more uncertain about what response my questions were going to get. He says he doesn’t know what “performance” or “contemporary art” is, and was “never too much into the art scene anywhere.” He didn’t choose to be a “performance artist,” because he cannot “choose” to be himself. He’s “just doing, not choosing...serving the ideas, serving the perspective needed for ideas to come to life.”
Nástio’s performance didn’t disappoint either, though it’s near impossible to put into words what it was like. His point about serving ideas rather than a particular artistic discipline might sound a tad pretentious, but actually made total sense after seeing his show: blending the mediums of music, immersive theatre, video installation, comedy, and spoken word, the performance was funny and entrancing, cheeky and confusing. Much like Nástio himself.
But what ideas is he serving? The artist (for want of a better word) told The Creators Project that his ICA performance was in part an homage to one of his heroes, Frank Sinatra. Drawing influence from the song "It was a very good year," Nástio explained “I’m kind of prostituting his song... grabbing it to speak about our relationship with our past which is something I have an extreme difficulty dealing with.” He’s clear he’s using his own memories not as “therapy” or to present his opinion, but a way to “breathe life into ideas and perspectives” and share them—no matter how distant from him they might be. Let’s assume Nástio’s skit during the performance about “fear of premature ejaculation” as a younger man was one of the distant ones, then...
Watch the performance below:
Themes of dreams, spirituality and the self featured heavily in The Age I Don’t Remember. It struck an intriguing balance between self-deprecation and hopefulness. Phrases such as “it’s a race to make your own life count” and “you speak about power like you know what it is” came alongside a call for a toast (with whiskey and bananas given to the audience) to “knowing our limitations.” The artist told me earlier that he respects the fact that as individuals we are limited beings—and that this interdependency on each other should be “a motive for celebration.”
Nástio handles dreams in the context of how you make your ideas a reality. He views spirituality as an important part of this, claiming that, too often, spirituality is associated with the “political institutions” of religion. It’s thought of as intangible, when in fact for Nástio “there’s nothing more functional than spirituality, and there’s nothing more spiritual than functionality.”
Although not the focus of The Age I Don’t Remember, a lot of Nástio’s work handles social and political issues. So I asked him if he was an activist—possibly due to my personal interest in politics and protest art, possibly (probably) due to my own need to put him in some kind of box. He said “I don’t identify particularly with that word—activism—but I don’t know. I suppose someone who recognizes himself as an activist, what we share is a commitment to people, on us, living better. If that’s the case, I suppose I am.”
Nástio Mosquito: The Age I Don’t Remember was commissioned by EDMASH to celebrate the relaunch of the EMDASH Award.