Mnica de Mirandas best photograph: a ruined hotel in Angola

It was a landmark of tropical modernism but it was abandoned during the civil war

Like so many buildings in Angolas capital, Luanda, Hotel Panorama has been abandoned. Its a relic of colonial times. Built in the 1960s, the hotel is a landmark of tropical modernist architecture a kind of African take on Le Corbusier. But its own history has been entirely lost. I have found almost nothing about it in any archive. This swimming pool, the hotel and the people who stayed here are all lost in the mists of history. A few black-and-white photographs from the 60s are all that remain. Instead of uncovering Hotel Panoramas history, I tried to write it.

Angola was a Portuguese colony until 1974. After centuries of colonial rule, the national liberation movements took up arms in the 1960s. Over a decade of fighting resulted in Angolan independence, but civil war broke out soon after. The conflict raged into the new millennium and war left much of the country in ruins. The countrys history is complex, painful and often difficult to access. Architecture is one way of reading the past.

My work is a form of research. I dont go to a place and just start shooting. I dont do documentary photography or street photography I investigate. I need to have a relationship with the place Im shooting and an understanding of its history. Im a child of the Angolan diaspora: I was born in Portugal but my mother was Angolan. Like tens of thousands of others, she fled her homeland in the 70s and found refuge in Portugal. Much of my work explores the duality of belonging to these two different places.

In a previous photo series, Hotel Globo, I pored over colonial archives and found the hotels original owner. He explained the history of the building at length. He told me how he had moved to Angola, married a local woman and built the hotel, to widespread acclaim. For years it was the best hotel in the country, but it fell into disrepair when his son was forced to flee during the civil war. Despite an attempt by one of his descendants to restore the hotel to its former glory, years of fighting ruined Angolas tourism industry and the hotel remains stuck in time.

These ruins exist across Angola. They stand out of their time and resist attempts to forget or erase our history. They are part of what Angola is today, not simply what it has been. And they are in danger. The tide of globalisation and hunger for economic growth after decades of conflict has seen Luanda expand rapidly. The buildings get taller and old structures are torn down. When these buildings disappear, however, so does our history. My work is an attempt to preserve them: geography, space and identity are intimately linked in what I do. Im creating an archive, a space in which the past is preserved for the present.

Mnica de Miranda

Mnica de Mirandas CV

Born: Porto, Portugal, 1976.

Training: BA in visual arts at Camberwell College of Arts, London.

Influences: Sophie Calle, Wolfgang Tillmans, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Chris Ofili, Mona Hatoum.

High point: Setting up my exhibition at the Dakar Biennale in 2016 was one of the most challenging points of my career, as there was only one hammer to install the show. That being said, we overcame the lack of resources. Exhibiting at Dakar had a huge impact on my career because it gave my work so much visibility.

Low point: The beginning of an artists career can be tough, when you are not networking, and it seems that nothing is happening. Work only happens in relation to others, never alone in our studios.

Top tip: Keep on believing in your art. Patience will pay off. Sometimes its at the moment that you are just about to give up that things start to happen.

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