29 December 2023
Evocation to the River
Lis Haddad memorializes emotional
connections to landscape
by Kate Mothes
“In recent years, I have dedicated myself to the subject of mining and the tragic consequences associated with this practice in Brazil,” says Lis Haddad, who describes her work as unfolding along two paths: denouncing environmental crimes and neocolonialist practices, and employing art as a tool to posit different realities. Whether literal or metaphorical, the relationship between inhabited or domestic landscapes and untamable landscapes plays a central role.
The emotional connection to land underpins Haddad’s interest in the subjective and simultaneously personal and universal sense of belonging somewhere physically, symbolically, spiritually, or psychologically. “I am particularly interested in the movements that occur in bodies when there is a loss of emotional landscapes, whether due to exile or the reshaping of the environment by the extractive impositions of capital,” she says.
Haddad’s recent research has revolved around textile techniques with a time-based, performative element that provides a therapeutic outlet, such as hand-stitching the names of 291 victims of two disasters in Mariana and Brumadinho, Minas Gerias, Brazil. In both municipalities, major dams failed in 2015 and 2019, releasing tens of millions of cubic meters of mud and iron ore waste, or tailings, into the Doce and Paraopeba Rivers, decimating villages downstream.
In response, Haddad stretched a 124-meter-long piece of white fabric, allowing it to stream from the window of a large house. The length of fabric reflects the mere 124 kilometers—77 miles—distance between the dams, and spread over shrubs and the lawn as the artist and collaborators added names in a meditative, reflective process. She says:
There is a strong interest in inviting the audience to engage with the artwork and research. Therefore, the dimensions and quality of the exhibition space are often relevant factors, giving rise to site-specific works, installations, or wearable pieces that require the audience to negotiate between their bodies and the objects and/or materials presented, or activate a state of alertness.
In Becoming river, a video performance made in 2022, another expansive, undulating strip of fabric many meters long is carried through a dry field by Haddad and a group of artists from the global south, including Esther Kute from Kenya, Hugo Haddad, Isadora Canela, and Thaís Paiva from Brazil; Juste Constant Onana from Cameroon; Shonisani Netshia from South Africa; and Theophilus Mensah from Ghana. “In bodies of water, memories, meanings, hopes flow,” Haddad says. When the oceans are polluted and the rivers are diverted or empty, people are displaced, and cultural and ancestral memories are gradually erased. “In the absence of bodies of water, oblivion.”
Header image: Evocação ao rio (Evocation to the river), 2022
All images © Lis Haddad