uMoya: The Sacred Return of Lost Things

Taking over historic buildings, unexpected spaces and art galleries, Liverpool  Biennial – the UK’s largest free festival of contemporary visual art – has been  transforming the city through art for over two decades. New venues and sites announced for the 12th edition include historic buildings Tobacco Warehouse and Cotton Exchange, and retail and leisure destination Liverpool ONE, which join leading arts venues such as Tate Liverpool, Bluecoat, FACT Liverpool, Open Eye Gallery, Victoria Gallery and Museum and World Museum. A dynamic programme of free exhibitions, performances, screenings, community and learning  activities and fringe events unfolds over 14 weeks, shining a light on the city’s vibrant  cultural scene.

The artists at Open Eye Gallery highlight Western exploitative practices related to the extraction and destruction of natural resources in African countries. Work by David Aguacheiro and Rahima Gambo is presented alongside a new iteration of Sandra Suubi’s performance installation ‘Samba Gown’.

David Aguacheiro is a Mozambican filmmaker, multidisciplinary artist, photographer and graphic designer. He works with photography, painting, videoart, metal, and installations. The themes that interest him most are the environment, human rights, and identity, using his work to provoke the viewers – provocation as a means to get people questioning and thinking for themselves.

David Aguacheiro’s photographic installation considers the ongoing extractivism (the removal of large quantities of raw or natural materials, particularly for export) of oil, timber, sea life and other essential natural resources from the artist’s home country of Mozambique, and its devastating impacts. By centring people through his poignant portraits, Aguacheiro suggests that the repercussions of this violence are complex, deep-rooted, and layered. The artist presents people stripped not only of their resources, but also their clothes, dignity and identities. The extraction is extended beyond that of the land to include culture, place, tradition, language, religion, worth, and self. The work questions the value and ethics of consumer goods and trade, asking us to consider the devastating and long-term impact on the people and land which remain.

Rahima Gambo is a Nigerian visual artist who came to artistic practice from photojournalism and by working independently on long form documentary projects. She explores the experimental and conceptual territory between still and moving images as it intersects with documentary, psychogeography, socio-politics, ecology, and autobiography.

Rahima Gambo employs walking as an artistic practice, using movement as a meditative and creative process from which to weave a visual story. ‘Nest-works and Wander-lines’ (2021) and ‘Instruments of Air’ (2021) explore the origins of language, embodied and multisensory communication, and speculative storytelling. The artist places video clips on a timeline, similar to found objects in an assemblage or words in a cut up poem, to create an out of time and out of place territory. Underpinned by an improvised and open-ended approach, the video installation becomes a capsule for the artist’s fleeting experience of traversing a particular rural environment in Laongo, Burkina Faso, where Gambo spent three months in 2020. With a background in photojournalism, here Gambo proposes an alternative to the documentary storytelling form, focusing on sensing rather than seeing and experimenting with new forms of non-verbal language. The works reject standardised and normative forms of communication, using movement, symbols, signs, gesturing, tracing and silence as preferred modes of understanding the world.

Sandra Suubi is a socially conscious visual activist, whose multimedia physical and sonic sculptural works are a response to her observation / study / experience of popular visual culture and social practices, especially in her country Uganda.

Sandra Suubi’s ‘Samba Gown’ is a statement of resistance. The work, originally devised as a performance piece, imagines and re-enacts the Ugandan independence ceremony of 1962 as a wedding ceremony. A procession in the Samba Gown is used as a metaphor for what happened that day when Uganda (bride) entered a binding contract with its former colonisers (groom). The work draws attention to the transactional relationship that exists between former colonies and their colonisers. The photographs displayed around the gallery document the wearing of the gown in various rubbish dumps in Kampala, Uganda. Comprised from plastic waste, the gown comments on plastic pollution as one of the major aftermaths of colonialism – Uganda receives thousands of tonnes of plastic waste from wealthy nations each year. Suubi evokes historical narratives, contemporary narratives on dumping grounds and the West’s exporting of waste, alongside contemporary forms of Western extraction such as knowledge and anthropological studies.

‘uMoya: The Sacred Return of Lost Things’ addresses the history and temperament  of the city of Liverpool and is a call for ancestral and indigenous forms of knowledge,  wisdom and healing. In the isiZulu language, ‘uMoya’ means spirit, breath, air,  climate and wind. The Biennial festival is curated by Khanyisile Mbongwa with Director Dr  Samantha Lackey and the Liverpool Biennial Team.

Khanyisile Mbongwa, Curator, Liverpool Biennial 2023, said:

“We invite visitors to surrender to the currents of uMoya, to lend themselves to its  flow, allowing the artists’ work to be a compass, guiding them through the Biennial.  To enter the city of Liverpool as a site where something productive can happen, as  the port city opens itself up to be excavated – laying bare its history of colonialism,  role in the trade of enslaved people and the making of the British Empire.

The artists unpack catastrophe by engaging with histories of extraction (people,  resources, objects); they re-read cartography by engaging with histories of mapping  (trade, architecture, town planning, street naming, public sculptures and  monuments); and propose healing by engaging with movements of undoing violence, ‘unholding’ the suffering and centering repair work. Finally, they turn to aliveness by  engaging with the human right to be alive and live.”


The Opening Door 

10 – 11 June  

The Opening Door allows the invited artists to respond to the theme of ‘uMoya’ by  using their bodies as vessels and vehicles for change, bodies that have historically  and often continue to be viewed as objects of desire or servitude.

Events will take place throughout the opening weekend including live activations by  Albert Ibokwe Khoza, Raisa Kabir and Lorin Sookool, alongside talks including an in conversation between Khanyisile Mbongwa and Christina Sharpe (Writer and Professor, Canada Research Chair in Black Studies in the Humanities, Vanier  College).

The Middle Passage 

2 – 6 August  

The second stage of the public programme, titled The Middle Passage, will centre  around the moving image, short films, and live activations from Unmute Dance Theatre  working with local dancers (supported by Art Fund, British Council and Paul Hamlyn  Foundation, and developed in collaboration with DaDa), and Shannon Alonzo.

As part of a multi-year development programme for international Curators, in partnership with British Council, Liverpool Biennial will host a Curator’s Week of events, discourse and networking from 2-6 August. Funded spaces for early-mid  career Curators from Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are available to apply for  now via the open call, closing 9 April 2023.

On 4 August, a day of screenings by artists including Campbell X, Versia Harris Michelle Eistrup and Santiago Mostyn will run alongside events including a talk chaired  by Osei Bonsu (Curator, International Art at Tate Modern).

The Reflective Return 

7 – 10 September  

The ‘Reflective Return’ will take place towards the end of the Biennial, providing a moment for visitors and Liverpool Biennial 2023 artists to reflect on the themes of the  festival through artist talks, music and listening sessions.


For families, schools and the wider community, the Liverpool Biennial Learning Programme will include a selection of online and physical resources, including a sensory pack, wellbeing routes to navigate the Biennial and artist-led workshops.


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