Yonamine, Pão nosso de cada Dia (Our Daily Bread), 2016, toasted bread, nails, 11' 5 3/4“ × 26' 3”.

Yonamine, Pão nosso de cada Dia (Our Daily Bread), 2016, toasted bread, nails, 11' 5 3/4“ × 26' 3”.


  Yonamine, Pão nosso de cada Dia (Our Daily Bread), 2016, toasted bread, nails, 11' 5 3/4“ × 26' 3”.

The work was extraordinary, arresting: Most of the longest wall of the gallery was covered by a field, about eleven and a half feet high by twenty-six feet wide, of 2,500 slices of toast. Many of these were branded using a customized toaster, with a selection of images forming an irregular pattern: two portraits (face and bust) of José Eduardo dos Santos, president of Angola, and the numbers 0, 1, 7, and 8 (the most frequent), along with 5 and 6. The work’s title, Pão nosso de cada Dia (Our Daily Bread), 2016, reinforces a chain of implicit associations. Few things are more universal and commonplace than bread. It simultaneously invokes both family and domestic intimacy and the most fundamental political and social struggles—not to mention its religious connotations in Catholicism. The expression “our daily bread” also evokes the quotidian routine that seems to repeat itself endlessly—a kind of weariness.

Yonamine was born in Angola in 1975, the year the country won its independence from the colonial rule of Portugal and descended into a civil war that lasted until 2002, and he has lived in Zaire, Portugal, Brazil, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Our Daily Bread represents one of the principal driving energies of his work: the desire to convey the experiences of daily life in all their multiplicity. This show, “Não sou santo” (Ain’t No Saint), also included seven of Yonamine’s canvases, in which he combines, in a self-assured and imaginative manner, a large variety of techniques (silk screen, graffiti, décollage). They evoked Pop and street art, and brought to the gallery space the visual experience of the city’s urban peripheries. Commercial logos (many of them detergent brands, such as Omo, Le Blanc, and Cif, recalling the tensions between clean and dirty, black and white) coexisted with images from the news (showing Barack Obama or a cartoon from Charlie Hebdo, for example) as well as more personal references, including part of a photographic self-portrait. By their accumulation of layers, the compositions suggested graffiti, with successive accretions and erasures of messages, and the pasting and removal of increasingly tattered urban posters. The works invoked the contradictions between expression and censorship, renewal and destruction.

But it was not only a matter of seeing. Four loudspeakers transmitted the sounds of the popular outdoor markets of Luanda, Angola’s capital. The acknowledged importance of words acquired greater evidence and autonomy in the video M de M, 2013–16. Here, a selection of close to two hundred words that begin with the letter m formed a continuous loop, to the tick-tock rhythm of a clock and the recurrent separator “M de” (M as in . . .). What is noteworthy in a work with such refined formal economy is that the possibility of a sense of arbitrariness quickly dissipates. Inevitably, we begin to discover a raison d’être for the presence of those words that, as they follow one another, seem to initiate the recounting of a cultural history (of the coexistence of African words with those originating in different variants of the Portuguese language—for example, the slang of Luanda, Angola), a political history (linked to the history of colonialism and its consequences), and a personal history.

Yonamine’s “stories” have no conclusion, no “moral,” but perhaps they lead us to reflect on the impact of colonialism in our present-day cultural experience. It is not always easy to distinguish between good and bad, they suggest, and it’s important to recognize how difficult it is, in these times, to find a saint.

Alexandre Melo

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.