Kwame Sousa, The Empowerment of the Black Person

June 9, 2021
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‘The Empowerment of the black person’

Racism will disappear when it's no longer profitable, and no longer psychologically useful.And when that happens, it'll be gone. But at the moment, people make a lot of money off it, pro and con.

Toni Morrison


 While we are talking about the empowerment of the black people, coincidentally, I found on the street the book “Becoming” byMichele Obama, certainly one of the most emblematic worldwide empowering contemporary women. Simultaneously, the same day, I am learning that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie receives her 16th phd from the Catholic University of Louvain. I am admiring these women for their strength, energy and capacity to pen doors and transform the image of black people (and of women in general)and to speak loudly about ‘the danger of a single story’ as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says.  In that continuity, I cannot avoid thinking about the power of the words of another iconic figure,Amanda Gorman (by poet and activist born in 98, LA), who delivered us her‘Fugue Poem’ at the occasion of the intromission of Joe Biden.[1]

Taking this empowering words and postures in account, let’s get back to Kwame Sousa’s work and the fact that he works from a place considered as a true ‘Laboratório Tropical before Brazil’ according to the Brazilian Historian Luiz Felipe de Alencastro[2] .Although, his work speaks about the coloured people at large, it is interesting to remind us of how luso-phone countries have turned national identity narrative to their advantage. This idea of ‘Tropical Laboratorio’ was born from the ideas of Gilberto Freyre and was consolidated through his Luso tropicalist doctrine called by some “racial democracy”. Faced with such a myth, we have, in principle, two options: first, that of considering it as a kind of false consciousness, that is to say as a mystifying ideology hiding a reality of violence, discrimination, prejudice and racism ; secondly, that of considering it from the angle of myth in the sense of Lévi-Strauss, therefore as a vision of the world, as a system of ideas and, ultimately, as a story whose references are at the same time inside and outside the history of a narration shared with the Caribbean and America, until the abolition of slavery on the island in 1876[3].  Located in the Gulf of Guinea, the two islands São Tomé and the Island of Príncipe were discovered by the Portuguese around 1460. These islands are distinguished from all the other geographical areas of the globe, by the geographical distance and the isolation that surround them. This archipelago served as a place of appropriation of the Portuguese-speaking presence resulting from the slave society of the intensive exploitation of sugar which experienced a very particular expansion thanks to the slave trade. This unique social, economic, and psychological context questions the relationship to the continent and language. In that respect can we say that it is an extension of the African continent, and more particularly with Guinea, Angola, Cameron, andMozambique? This insular situation is also still today a strategic base, a place of return and for sure a place of injustice and suffering, with an unknown and uncertain destiny engraved in its population’s psyche which is also reflected in the artist’s work.


Having held exhibitions at several galleries around the world and participated in the “Luanda Triennale”, “Bamako Film and Art Festival” and various editions of STP’ “Biennale”, Kwame Sousa belongs to the third generation of artists from his country, being considered one of the most influential contemporary visual artists in the international scene representing STP. Kwame Sousa is an active emerging artist, who also believes that emancipation belongs to his involvement. Therefore, he initiated and runs the Ateliê M, the first school of visual arts in São Tomé and Príncipe. Project Ateliê M –Escola Informal de Artes Visuais is based on the understanding of the role of visual arts as human, social and economic development capital; source of self-esteem, vertical solidarity and social cohesion, favouring the emotional perception of belonging to an identity, self-knowledge, freedom of speech and intercultural dialogue as social values. Its goal is to contribute to the development of visual arts  by creating and implementing an Informal School of Visual Arts, which is intended to be a reference center for santomean artistic education.


For Arco Lisbon solo show, Kwame’s Sousa corpus of thirty paintings offers infinite conversations between each other’s in the exhibition-space. The works embrace the remaining pain and proudness imprinted in each cell of these painted bodies at a standstill. Time scale is diluted in his paintings, between the present and the past, the line is frozen, and the pauses fully assumed by their protagonists, staring at the viewer. The way he paints takes a longtime, as it proceeds by layering. « I work on several works and ideas at the same time, they are complementary. Works result as an ensemble, and I do not work thinking that it will synthesise all my research in just one piece. It is a continuous process, which might also end by finishing all of them at the same time”. Often pairing or grouping, frontal, or sideways, these bodies challenge us by the way they look at us. The painted eyes are staring the viewer, questioning us about what we look at and how. The feet are not grounded, bodies seem to be in levitation, as if not belonging to anywhere, but for sure embodying the black body from the slavery epic until our era of wildly capitalist emerging time.


(extract from the text)


[2] XVI(2) | 2009, Afro-brasilianidade?Luso-afro-brasilianidade? Afro-brazilianity? Luso-afro-brazilianity?

[3] Les « trois races » sont-elles soluble dans la nation ?  Africanisme et nationalisme au temps de Lula

Are the “Three Races” Soluble in the Nation? Africanism and Nationalism under Lula
Poderão as « três raças » dissolver-se na nação ? Africanismo e nacionalismo no tempo de lula,
Lorenzo Macagno  (Lusotopie, XVI(2) | 2009, «Afrobrésiliennité ? Luso-afrobrésiliennité ? » mis en ligne le 20 septembre2015, consulté le 10 décembre 2021 :


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