There is a Fish Hall, and a collection of molluscs. A star attraction is the giant sable antelope, or palanca — a species thought to have been wiped out during the civil war but rediscovered in 2004. The palanca appears in Kia Henda’s film Havemos de Voltar (We Shall Return), an exploration of the ideals imposed on the animal.
"For me [the museum] became like a magical place, because this idea of embalming [stuffing] a dead body, it’s not common in Angolan society; it comes from colonial times," says Kia Henda.
He finds this a metaphor for how people can read or approach history: "a dead body that we pretend is alive".
Kia Henda, who divides his time between Lisbon and Luanda, is concerned with complicating official historical narratives. The critique of colonial "collectors" is easily read, but placing a mock dictator in a similar diorama links to the artist’s views on African populism.
As the Goodman says, Kia Henda sees populism as "the discourse of those looking from the inside, claiming that the expulsion from paradise is the fault of those who came from the outside. They … hide the destruction by people who colonise themselves, pinning the blame for Africa’s failures on an external phantom."
Kia Henda’s past work also employs irony and delves into the construction of histories, notably the sci-fi Icarus 13 (2013), a photo series of a space ship built to visit the sun. An article on Frieze.com describes the hoax — the green cast of the sky created by fireworks at the local football stadium; the spaceship itself an incomplete Russian-built mausoleum in Luanda.
Other work explores the Cold War’s influence in Africa. Fantasy and science fiction were important in Cold War times, says Kia Hendra, who as a child read Superman and Marvel comics, and saw the Russian movie classic Solaris, about scientists aboard a space station, orbiting a fictional planet.
In Russia, "science fiction was also important for social-political interventions: [intellectuals] would create another universe in order to criticise the life they were living", he says.
The artist points out parallels with Angolan witchcraft. "I am not saying sci-fi and witchcraft are the same thing. But the narratives manifest the same way," Kia Hendra says. "Like a man flying, or someone becoming invisible … in my examination of Angolan history, I saw that sci-fi could create a different, dissonant narrative of reality," he says. Spending time in Luanda remains important to Kia Hendra’s creative process. There, unlike in Lisbon, historical narratives are less fixed.
"I feel that everything is under construction and you don’t have this weight of history on your back. That gives you some kind of freedom to invent your own history," he says.
"As an artist, that is important to me, to invent my own history. What I really want is to invent my own narrative, to invent my life," he says.
In the Days of a Dark Safari is on show at the Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, from October 7-28.