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Thursday, February 2, 2023

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Arts + CultureArtFuture ghosts: Jota Mombaça and the sinking ship of...

Future ghosts: Jota Mombaça and the sinking ship of climate change

We're all getting ready for our haunting, the multimedia artist tells an audience at Kadist.

Within our lifetimes, climate change has gone from “the disturbing future that we’re doing nothing to prevent” to “the terrible present that we’re doing nothing to mitigate.” As a lifelong Californian who’s never seen real snow, it shouldn’t be that much of a loss to think that I probably never will—except, that would involve prioritizing my personal satisfaction over the state and welfare of the world at large. I’ve never been one to think like that, and I certainly can’t after Red Sky Day.

Documentation of production of “THE SINKING SHIP/PROSPERITY” in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Photo by Camile Messerley, courtesy of Jota Mombaça

Upon entering the SF gallery of the nonprofit organization KADIST, one gets a clear view of Afro Brazilian artist Jota Mombaça’s (who uses they/them pronouns) prediction of our likely climate fate. The installation of their show “THE SINKING SHIP/PROSPERITY” (runs through January 28) features a series of metal structures resembling old pull-up bars or incomplete scaffoldings. They’re draped in sun-baked, dirty rags and all standing erect within growing piles of sand. One has a glass or jar of clear water in it. It would have a very Fist of the North Star vibe if it were meant to entertain rather than worry.

During the special one-night only performance, a white-clad Mombaça stopped by the glass to wash their arms, as if for the first time in who-knows-how-long. It’s an act they would repeat in the main gallery with even more structures, more rags, and more glasses of water, some of which had flowers in them. Interestingly, they never drink the water (as one would expect from someone who’s been wandering the desert) but they do stop to drench several rags, as if they were plants in need of the overdue sustenance.

“Just the bass line, the improper, the under” (2022). Produced in collaboration with Anti Ribeiro.

The main part of the performance features 30 minutes of Mombaça with their back turned to us, reading off “episodes” of disparate lives. Some of these include lyrics by Beverly Glenn-Copeland, some include foreboding musings like, “I am a future ghost; I am getting ready for my haunting.” All of them seem to fall somewhere between the memories that are lost to time and general anxiety about living in a world clearly in pain. It’s a striking idea, but it doesn’t seem to be part of a cohesive thread that runs through the rest of the show and installation.

The evening concluded with Mombaça’s short film, featuring the titular “sinking ship” portion of the installation. That may be a bit of a faulty reference on my part, as no submerged vessel was to be seen in the film that I recall. We do, however, see several rags, wooden frames, and ropes submerged in various bodies of water—some of them located here in the Bay Area.

“Ghost 0: Too much consciousness to be held by such a vulnerable entity,” (2022)

To be born and raised here in San Francisco is to (hopefully) be aware that much of our city’s foundation is composed of landfill from old ships that once clogged our shores. Newcomers often have no idea that they’re litearlly walking atop the bodies of gold-seekers from centuries past.

Watching Mombaça’s work leaves one wondering what memories of ours will linger once each of us has shuffled off this mortal coil.

Still, the performance aspect was the least impactful of the entire evening, and seemed to belabor the point beyond all necessity. The intent of the work was clear, but the impact was somehow muted by the direct participation of the artist themselves. Plus, nearly 30 people were attempting to cram themselves into KADIST’s two gallery rooms, neither of which was ventilated. Masks were required, but vaccines weren’t. The close quarters even pushed my Aranet4’s CO² readings up to about 1449ppm by the end of the presentation.

Thankfully, the film and installation portions of “THE SINKING SHIP/PROSPERITY” leave a lasting impact. In a world adrift in climate crisis, the last thing we need is for such an important message to be lost.

JOTA MOMBAÇA: THE SINKING SHIP/PROSPERITY will be on display through January 28. KADIST, SF. More info here.

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Charles Lewis III
Charles Lewis III is a San Francisco-born journalist, theatre artist, and arts critic. You can find dodgy evidence of this at thethinkingmansidiot.wordpress.com

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