The Johannesburg Salon

“Claiming the Future of the Past: Kiluanji Kia Henda’s Vision of Luanda’s Monuments,” in The Johannesburg Salon, Achille Mbembe and Megan Jones, eds. (The Johannesburg Workshop of History and Criticism: University of the Witwatersrand, 2014),


João António Aguiar's urban plans were commissioned just after the complete restructuring of the Portuguese colonial system in 1951. Fascist Prime Minister António de Oliviera Salazar declared that the colonies were no longer to be treated as tributes to the nation, but to be officially considered as provinces, with parliamentary representation. References to "colonies" and "colonialism" were removed from political rhetoric, department titles, and official documents, and replaced with the term "ultra-marine" in a gesture towards unity that imagined Portugal neither as a nation nor as a paternalistic empire, but as the capital of a global lusophone culture. Novo Lisboa was to be the seat of this enterprise in Africa. This gesture, partially in response to anticolonial criticism from the UN, extends and justifies a political vision publicized between the world wars (but which is arguably much older). At the 1934 Colonial Exhibition in Oporto, a map ostensibly "drawn" by military officer and politician Henrique Galvão was presented depicting Portugal and its colonies, colored red, superimposed over the rest of Europe, colored yellow. It's title, Portugal Não é um País Pequeno ("Portugal is Not a Small Country"), points to the motivation for many of the nation's political choices; that is, this was a European power unwillingly on the decline. Like a geopolitical Napoleon complex, Portugal imagined itself enlarged by the territory of its colonies, casting an imposing shadow across European neighbors that had outpaced Portugal—Europe's oldest continuous colonial power—technologically, economically, and in commensurate political power. These maps also served to remind the nation that were it to lose its colonies, retaining control only up to its traditional national boundaries, it would in fact be quite small, and would furthermore lack a self-reinforcing system of colonial trade and wealth accumulation.