Roselín Rodríguez Espinosa speaks with Cuban artist Susana Pilar Delahante about her career and the work she presented at the 12th Berlin Biennale, which will be open through September 18, 2022. Read full interview at C& América Latina.
Susana Pilar sees her body as an archive of the forced displacement of people from Africa and Asia to Cuba. Her performative works, often in-situ, are charged with the history of the place where they are made. In this interview, the artist talks about empowerment and the conflicts she faced with her participation in the 12th Berlin Biennale.
C&AL: In your work, you have gone through projects on affective and family memory, and at the beginning of your career you turned to performance as a way to present your own body as an archive and as the strength of those memories. If we take into account a context like Cuba, where the policies of forgetting are systematic and determine daily life, reinventing memory and the archive is an important key, even more so in the case of a migrant body like yours. How have you developed that experience in your work with performance?
Susana Pilar Delahante: Reinventing memory and the archive are super important in my research and artistic practice because some in power have erased the facts. My body, a descendant of forcibly displaced migrants from Asia and Africa to Cuba, is my archive and my memory. My family’s oral narratives (since we were denied the right to write our History and today we are reclaiming those rights) are my textbook. My ancestors inhabit my body and I generate actions that reclaim what we are.
C&AL: How have you been building your own strategies to decolonize and depatriarchalize memory archives? How did these ideas end up forming part of your artistic practice? Are there words or related ideas that guide you in this type of work?
SPD: I don’t know at what point it all started, I don’t remember. All I know is that the “Archive” does not represent me in the same way that I see myself. I am not a number, not I, nor those who came before me. I understood that this reality, written by the same hand that erased my ancestors, was not mine and I had to look for answers elsewhere. And the elders arrived, with all the stories kept in their hearts, and I learned that I come from Congo and Sierra Leone; that a Chinese man left Canton and ended up in Matanzas to become my great-great-grandfather; that we were not slaves but enslaved; and much more. Resistance, struggle, family archive, mothers, Black women, Negritude, are some of the words that guide me.
C&AL: Some of your recent works establish an incisive dialogue with the physical and architectural spaces where they are on display and appeal to memories connected to those spaces. I’m thinking of your interventions at the Venice Biennale (Dibujo intercontinental /Intercontinental Drawing, 2017) and at the Dakar Biennale (Historias negras / Black Stories, 2022). What were you interested in highlighting or underscoring with those? How does the historical burden of the place affect the conception of your pieces?
SPD: There is feedback between what I want to communicate, the context in which I am and the tools I use. Many of my performances are in-situ and are charged with the History and the energy of the place where I make them. Intercontinental Drawing and Re-territorialization take place in a country that maintains large numbers of unprotected migrants in a state of limbo, most of whom are African. The boat I am towing is my heritage, my History, my ancestors, the journey they were forced to take… and the hairs that I pull out represent involuntary displacement, dislocation and uprooting. Black Stories takes place in a country from which my ancestors were kidnapped and enslaved, with no right to return. [. . .]
[Photo above by Marnix van den Berg: Susana Pilar’s “Dibujo intercontinental [Intercontinental Drawing],” 2017, performance. Courtesy of Galleria Continua, San Gimigniano.]