What Follows: Mariana Pestana


30 March 2017

“Brexit means Brexit.” This mantra has been repeated by the British prime minister Theresa May ever since the UK narrowly voted to leave the European Union on 23 June 2016. The exact form that this disentanglement from the EU will take remains unclear, although Article 50 – Britain's route to a formal exit from the EU – has been triggered.

Post-referendum, Disegno collaborated with the designer Faye Toogood on a series of portraits reflecting the contribution of non-UK nationals to London’s diverse creative industries. The portraits, published in Disegno #13, were accompanied by a short text from each sitter, reflecting on what the rhetoric of Brexit means for them. Many of the featured practitioners operate internationally, but each is based in London and each has been affected by the Brexit vote.

The project was developed in conjunction with London-based designer Faye Toogood, whose work is currently the subject of a solo exhibition on display at Friedman Benda gallery, New York. Since 2013, Faye and her sister Erica have operated Toogood, a unisex brand whose garments are inspired by the workwear of traditional professions.

To highlight the practices of the sitters rather than the nationalities, for Disegno #13 Toogood created a series of garments in calico that represent the various trades in abstract terms. The garments are archetypes. They celebrate the knowledge, skills, and culture that non-UK citizens have brought to London’s creative industries, as well as acknowledging the absence their loss would precipitate.

On the occasion of Faye Toogood: Assemblage 5 opening at Friedman Benda in late-February, Disegno is delighted to publish one of the reflections, penned by Mariana Pestana, future design curator at the V&A.

Pestana's reflection is accompanied by a portrait of the curator, photographed by Kevin Davies in the V&A. She wears the Curator top and the Acrobat trousers.

The Portuguese democracy was celebrating its 10th anniversary when, in 1985, we signed the Treaty of Accession in Lisbon to enter the European Union. My generation grew up with the possibility of expressing a European identity, in contrast to the nationalist narrative that had dominated the long dictatorship of Salazar for around 40 years.

My Europe represents a transnational ideal of union and unrestricted transit. Many of us got to travel freely in Europe, crossing borders that were no longer in use and which looked like obsolete ruins of an old order. The ease with which my generation moved, studied and worked in Europe gave us the illusion of a post-national world fuelled by a socialist ideology.

I arrived in London in 2008. From the window of the DLR train I watched Goldman Sachs flaunt its excesses with the bright blue-lit facade of its building. But politicians in Europe convinced everyone that the banking crisis was, instead, a crisis of social welfare. Austerity policies were forced upon a group of countries (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain – they became known in political circles by the acronym PIGS) in the name of a Europe that was to be collectively achieved but felt increasingly divided. Since then, I have watched ultranationalist parties rise in the name of fear and security in a Europe increasingly concerned with closing borders and controlling migration.

I landed back in London the day after the referendum to realise that maybe this was no longer Europe and maybe I was no longer welcome. The Europe that allowed me to be more than a national; the Europe that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 for turning a territory of war into a territory of peace; the Europe of hospitality; my Europe seems to be fading.