This is one of six durational interviews upon which the following work is based:
'Love Story,' 2016
Featuring Alec Baldwin and Julianne Moore
7-Channel Installation: 7 Hard Drives
Duration: 73 minutes, 42 seconds, loop
The other five interviews featured in this multi-channel installation can be accessed via separate links on this Vimeo page.
What kind of stories are we willing to hear? What kind of stories move us? 'Love Story' interrogates the mechanics of identification and the conditions under which empathy is produced. Evoking the global scale of the refugee crisis, the work evolves out of lengthy interviews with six individuals who have fled their countries in response to a range of oppressive conditions: Sarah Mardini, who escaped war-torn Syria; José Maria João, a former child soldier from Angola; Mamy Maloba Langa, a survivor from the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Shabeena Saveri, an Indian transgender activist; Luis Nava, a political dissident from Venezuela; and Farah Abdi Mohamed, a young atheist from Somalia. The interviews were conducted in the cities where each individual is seeking or has been granted asylum (two in Berlin, two in New York and two in Cape Town).
Interviewee: José Maria Joāo
Interviewed in Cape Town on 13 December 2015
Granted refugee status first in Namibia, and then in South Africa
José Maria João was born in an impoverished village in northern Angola in 1970, a few years before Angola achieved independence from Portugal. His childhood was embedded in the Angolan Civil War, during which MPLA and UNITA – two of the revolutionary movements that fought to topple the Portuguese colonial regime – jostled for political power over a period of twenty-seven years. José’s family could not afford to educate him. From the age of ten he was sent barefoot to the closest market every day (ten kilometres away from home), where he sold fruit to help support his family.
At the age of twelve or thirteen, he – along with many other young boys – was violently abducted from the market (those who resisted were killed), thrown in the back of a truck and taken to a camp in the bush to join UNITA’s rebel militia (a militia that sought to unseat the MPLA government via guerrilla warfare). On their second day in the camp, the children were each given an AK47, and by day two were participating in frequent and bloody night assaults, the aim being to take MPLA villages for UNITA.
For more than a decade, José served as a soldier in captivity. Child soldiers were indoctrinated and stripped of their humanity. They were frequently made to witness and participate in savage killings of children who had rebelled or attempted escape. There was no possibility for contact with family or any reality beyond the bush camp. Following orders was the only way to survive. José’s physical strength soon singled him out for special night training sessions, during which he was trained to embody fierce animal spirits so as to be able to lead troops ferociously into battle – “They change your mind, you start to forget that somebody gave birth to you. You feel like you were just born in the air and fell to earth. Your mind is not there anymore.” José was both a witness to – and the perpetrator of – countless killings during his time with UNITA. Around 1994, he started to hear his mother’s voice in dreams, dreams that would haunt him over several years (“Don’t kill people, it’s not good, killing people is not good, you will lose your life, you must leave ...”), until he finally found the courage to flee the camp around 1997, late at night. He ran through the bush for five days to reach Namibia, burying his AK47 before he crossed the border.
Today, José is a much-loved bouncer at 'The Power & The Glory,' a trendy bar in Cape Town. He spends his downtime volunteering at a soup kitchen for homeless children. He sports a gold tooth (inspired by a Cuban soldier whom he met during the war), as well as a sizeable tattoo of Nelson Mandela on his right bicep. Every morning at the crack of dawn, José climbs Table Mountain, an activity he regards both as his breakfast ritual and his source of inner peace.
Duration of interview: 03:27:57