Artist of the Week

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Edith Borges: “Cape Verde is inside me and as a Cape Verdean I am proud of this” 30 July 2005

Rainbow eyes

Her studio is located in Malmo, a city in faraway Sweden, but Edith Borges’ paintings leave no doubts: her soul is 100% Cape Verdean, full of the colors and sunshine of the Atlantic archipelago. On vacation in her native land, São Vicente, the artist, who is also a high school teacher, speaks of her career as a woman of the arts and her intense love for Cape Verde.

Interviewed by: Teresa Sofia Fortes

Edith Borges: “Cape Verde is inside me and as a Cape Verdean I am proud of this”

How did you discover your taste for the visual arts?

Ever since I was a child, I loved to draw and paint. My father worked with book binding, and would make felt covers and write those beautiful letters on them, and so I was always surrounded by materials. His workshop, which is now the Gráfica do Mindelo press, was on the second floor of our house. When I learned to write, I began to write poems and illustrate them, so I invented my own comic strip. My brothers and I would make drawings on plastic, which we’d then put in front of the camera to make our own animated cartoons. In other words, I was always surrounded by images, colors, music, theater and dance.

But, you know, many people who show talent in a specific area when they’re children end up taking different paths, because they never had the opportunity to develop their gift. In your case, how did you evolve and become a professional visual artist?

When I went into high school I began to paint with water colors, in addition to learning geometric design. I always had by pad with me and wherever I was I would draw. Just yesterday I ran into an elementary school classmate of mine, Luzy Martins, who remembered how I liked to make drawings and paintings, which I’d give to my classmates after I’d finished. My teachers also told me that I had a knack for the fine arts. But I also love to work with children, and that’s how I applied for a scholarship in pedagogy, children’s psychology or fine arts.

And where did you go to college?

I got a scholarship in the former Soviet Union. After two years of study at the Yerevan School of Fine Arts in Armenia, I transferred to the Moscow Institute of Fine Arts, where I earned by Master’s in Fine Arts with a concentration in ceramic design.

When did you feel you were ready to make a career as a visual artist?

I always had to main desires as a professional: working in the visual arts and with teaching. I always liked showing people that it’s possible to learn.

And what areas do you work in at the moment?

In both, teaching and fine arts. I have my private studio in Sweden, where I live and where I earned my equivalency in 1989. I hold exhibits, displaying my view of the world, and I teach 14- to 16-year-old children at a normal school.

And how do you define your work as a visual artist?

You know, I don’t think about it. But I can say that my works are the fruit of what exists inside me and of what I get from others, and of what inspires me at a given moment. So it’s something very personal and hard to define in words. That’s why I paint.

In what way can the influence of Cape Verde be seen in your works?

In the Institute of Fine Arts you learn the technical aspects and history of art, which helps a lot, as it widens your knowledge. But what we have inside of us is what marks us and makes the difference. In my childhood and adolescence I was always surrounded by this joyous people and its sense of humor, by children, by our music, by the courage of Cape Verdean women, who often raise their children by themselves... All of this always affected me quite a bit, in the positive sense, and it shows up in my paintings. The colors of Cape Verde as well, full of light and sun, resulted in an interesting comment I heard one day during an exhibit in Stockholm. This person told me that my eyes seem to be see things through the colors of the rainbow. All of this is an emotional charge I put on the canvas. A little of everything I saw, heard and lived in Cape Verde influenced me. Cape Verde is inside me, and as a Cape Verdean I am proud of this.

Some time back I interviewed Kiki Lima, and he told me that he had had a gallery in Portugal, but that it was very difficult to have a space like that there at a time when the market was still very closed off to artists of African origin. What’s it like in Sweden?

I haven’t yet thought of having a gallery, as because of my husband’s work we travel a lot. But since we currently live in Malmo, in southern Sweden, maybe we could think about this idea.

Have you held exhibitions in Cape Verde?

The last one was in August of last year, at Amílcar Cabral International Airport, specifically in the Coffee Shop, with the sponsorship of ASA and Catering Freitas. In addition to this exhibit, I held a CD-ROM projection of 50 paintings. I did the same projection in São Vicente during concerts with Diva, at the MindelHotel, Djoya, at the Porto Grande Hotel, and Vlú, at Café Musique. As I live in Sweden, any exhibit I undertake in Cape Verde has to be prepared well in advance. In other words, I have to know the exact dates so I can prepare the paintings and the trip. I’m available.

There are those who say that in a country like Cape Verde, with meager means, it’s impossible to have a school of fine arts. What’s your opinion?

There may not be a very strong tradition in Cape Verdean painting due to the lack of access to materials such as canvas and oil paint. But the lack of materials should not be an impediment. For example, when I held my first exhibition here in Cape Verde, in commemoration of women’s day, I used platex... I opted for the wrinkled part. I used the paints that came in plastic containers to mix with white paint to paint wood. We can use the resources we have available. All you need is inspiration and willingness. But you also have to learn the different techniques, be organized and have discipline. A person can have a knack at doing a specific thing, but can only evolve with discipline, even if it’s just a hobby. The upshot of all this is that we need a school of fine arts. Culture is necessary.

How do you relate to Cape Verde living abroad?

Even living abroad, Cape Verde is always present. One of the ways of being in contact with Cape Verde is speaking Portuguese with my two children and Crioulo with my husband. - Why Portuguese with your children? Because that way they’ll have the possibility to learn to write and speak Portuguese, which is more of a language. They speak Crioulo when they’re on vacation in Cape Verde. On the other hand, when I’m in my studio I connect to Cape Verde through my paintings, our music, in addition to on-line radio stations and newspapers and all of my Cape Verdean friends scattered throughout the world, whom I contact by telephone or e-mail.

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