Guinea-Bissau 1990

António Júlio Duarte knows how to leave. Perhaps the origin of this eagerness goes back to his return to Guinea-Bissau in 1990, at just 25 years of age and after a brief trip the previous year to that then newly independent country. This time around it was an invitation to photograph the urban music scene that fuelled his return. Bissau, Bubaque, Cacheu and Gabú are some of the cities where the instant of each encounter takes him, despite the initial project being abandoned due to lack of funding. In the capital, the city’s structures – the slaughterhouse, the hospital – and the feverish streets lightened by the sand that covers the Guinean grounds. In the islands and provinces – the horizon, the rituals, the sea. António Júlio Duarte’s work does not begin or end with the ineffable that his photographic images contain, but perhaps it extends itself in that mixture of reality and sensitivity that so unsettlingly coats the world.

Part of the singularity of this series lies in the internal tension inherent to the monochrome quality of the images. The speckles, focus and compositions overflow the outside with a tangible perception of what sees and that of what is seen, for a moment annihilating the very nature of the image and its time – striking us with the truth that lingers on between the fantastic and the real. If on the one hand its blaze manifests itself immediately, without hesitation, on the other its metamorphosis is slowly and insidiously revealed to the retina of the eye.

Photography has indeed this strange condition of being a melancholic practice [1]. In the first image of the exhibition, a figure reads while sitting on a chair at the beach. The composition holds its centre in the shadow of the tree, with the man at one end deeply absorbed in the landscape that is swallowing him up at that moment. The cover of the book is not legible. Ahead, the skin of a feline lays drying, stretched out over a floor of wooden slats withered by the sun. Two children adorned with Bijagós skirts come together for a portrait during the fanado [2] ceremony, in a classic, almost sculptural pose. One cannot see their faces, just some bits of currency that one of them seems to be hiding inside his hand. A boy wearing a nturudu [3] mask introduces the season in which most of the images take place – February in Bissau. On the 11th of that month, the release of Nelson Mandela and the image of the Imperial Palace rises with the solemnity of a Tower of Babel. The tuning of the drums through the heat of the fire ignites an atmosphere of spontaneity and euphoria that voices the central photographic image of a group of people rushing around in costumes, celebrating. Traditional cloths [4] cover waists and shoulders, fluttering in a seemingly aimless race. In this vortex-like path, we sense the moving of the social signs of a culture on the verge of apotheosis. The final symbol of an angel with vulture wings kneels in the serene position of a divine, mystical being. Simultaneously profane and sacred, it waits in this trance-like reality – the Carnival [5].

On the way back, the leaving. If it is possible to identify the moments when the pictorial tradition is present in these images – the landscape, the nude, the portrait, the self-portrait – other aspects, mostly dichotomous, seem to invade them without remorse. It is an inexplicable presence – a spectral one – that runs through them as if in a parallel narrative and anticipates their imagetic character, somehow foreseeing it in cadence. Desire, violence. Serenity, restlessness. Life, death.


Eva Mendes



[1] Guibert, Hervé, in A Imagem Fantasma, BCF Editores, Lisbon, 2023, 40.
[2] Fanado is the name given to the secular rite of passage for children into adulthood. It can last several days, depending on the community. In both cases, female and male, the respective tasks of adulthood are taught.
[3] Nturudu means “giant mask”, but also ugly and scary in everyday vocabulary.
[4] By traditional cloths we mean the panu di pinti, which is a Guinean fabric known for its vibrant patterns and colours.
[5] In the Nturudu carnival, “people are encouraged to forget about problems, social, ethnic and religious differences. Carnival, as a celebration of the flesh as opposed to Easter, has the power to invert the social rules of force and to create a profane space of freedom, even if only momentarily, to criticise the government for the problems that affect everyday life in society and to practise competition between groups in a playful way; and, above all, as a space for sociability, for letting off steam, where people talk about peace, justice, education, development and unity”.
In Revista Tensões Mundiais, v.15, n.29, O Carnaval de Nturudu: diversidade, cultura e identidade nacional, Universidade Estadual do Ceará, Fortaleza, 2019, 125.