Cape Verdean artist: 1953-present
“I feel the need to paint in order to survive as a person.”
I recently realized, much to my amazement, that during my two year tenure in Cape Verde I’ve not once stumbled upon a visual artist that hails from this cozy archipelago. There is no shortage of festive music, or women dancing to batuku with rich, colorful fabric tied deftly across their hipbones. But visual art? Forgettabottit.
So I spent a few hours on the internet. There wasn’t much to see, but there was one name that kept cropping up. As my students can attest, the word “artist” in Cape Verde is typically taken to mean “musician.” So when Lima’s name appeared on the Wikipedia page, per the usual, it was listed in the section dedicated to Cape Verdean musicians. But I looked a little deeper and realized that Euclides Eustáquio Lima, commonly known as Kiki Lima, is also acknowledged as a salient Cape Verdean modern visual artist. There doesn’t seem to be much information available on him aside from interviews and frustratingly untitled stills of his work, but he has nevertheless managed to stand out.
Born in Ponta do Sol in the mountainous Santo Antão, Lima went to Portugal in 1983 on a scholarship to study Law, but gradually realized that wasn’t the route for him. He picked up a paintbrush and began to hash out his unique style, studying the Masters in Europe but always with the anticipation of returning home to Cape Verde.
I got to know some of Lima’s work before doing too much research into him and in the end, I think his art speaks very articulately for itself.
“Força no Pilão” oil on canvas, 61cm X 50 cm, 1995
My immediate response to Lima’s paintings is an appreciation for his ability to capture movement. Even in his above works, which are earlier and more “crude” than what he produces today, the spirit of the islands is rendered beautifully in the organic movements of the subjects. As mentioned above, music is a major component in not only the culture of Cape Verde but in the routine expression of daily life. On Fogo, I’ve experienced drumming and on-the-spot creation of lyrics used in accompaniment of the pilan (represented in the bottom image), wherein people gather to pound corn into a flour for use in katxupa, a local dish. The crowd gathers and makes up songs about the people participating, including singing about “the American in the blue shirt who is now pounding corn with her mother who is wearing a green shirt.” It’s a beautiful experience.
Perhaps the best way to describe the soul of Lima’s work is through his own words. During an interview in 2005 by Teresa Sofia Fortes of ASemana, he expresses the following:
“The first phase of my painting is predominantly dramatic, and has to do with the dramas experienced by Cape Verdeans – the problems of drought, famine, family needs, the brown landscape – but it also has an emotional part…This is all expressed through a very Cape Verdean color scheme. As you know, from the point of view of color harmony, the nature of Cape Verde is poor and I decided that I should invest in people, as they make up for nature’s lack of color, because they wear colorful, joyful clothes…So I opted for expressing this joyous vein Cape Verdeans have.” *
That quotation sums up exactly what I felt when I first saw his work. In a moment of honesty I’ll admit that if I’d encountered Lima’s artwork in the States, I probably wouldn’t have given it much thought. It’s an ignorant thing to say for someone entering the art world, but perhaps it’ll be a lesson learned. Having lived in Cape Verde, however, I can say with sincerity that I’m impressed with his ability to capture the place and the people. I’ve found that in traditional context at least, there’s a tendency to get caught in the currents of the festa, and all is lost in a lovely swirl of colors and lithe limbs moving together in one communal dance. Some of his paintings may seem chaotic upon first glance, but the frivolity is so well-captured that it seems in danger of dancing off of the canvas and surrounding the viewer.
Intimidades da dança, oil on canvas, 2012
Futuro, oil on canvas, 2011
The two paintings above are some of Lima’s latest work. His color palate is bolder, and subtle features added to the face and body bring an astounding amount of life to the paintings. These last two paintings especially seem to embody more personality. Just a few minor details added to the face and use of more controlled brushstrokes are enough to add depth to the sense of movement he’s spent his career perfecting.
Lima currently lives in Mindelo, the hub of Sao Vicente and the city that many people consider to be Cape Verde’s “most European.” He is based in Kaza d’Ajinha, a house that appears to pay homage to his father’s musical side as well as his mother’s culinary exploits, where he continues to paint in the comfortable solitude of his home country after years abroad.