‘If the Equator Shifts 90º, Does It Go from a Border to a Highway, or maybe to a Footpath?’ 

Artist essay and installation commissioned by Acne Studios, currently showing at the Normmalmstorg Flagship Store in Stockholm until the 12th December 2022. (2022)


Throughout my practice, discussions regarding perception of green spaces in the public realm, as well as plants in the domestic sphere, have been recurring. My work investigates the already existing connections and understandings of the flora as a core counterpart for humans, human activity, and societal constructions of meaning. I often return to lived experience and observations in Luanda, Angola, as central case studies for such analysis.

Plant Girls

I remember being still in primary school when on a Saturday, like many, I left the house with my sister to go to Bible studies. That day when we left the block, the boys from the building next to ours, said something along the lines of ‘there they go, the girls from the plants’ in a loud manner.

I asked my sister what they meant, and she replied, ‘don’t listen to boys and keep walking’.
I didn’t understand what they meant, but I wanted to. How are we the ‘girls from the plants’? Why does that identify us? Everyone has plants. When we got home, I told my mum what happened and explained that it didn’t make any sense, because everyone had plants, but the boys seemed to be sure about the name they gave me and my sister.

My mom asked me if I really did think that everyone had plants. She told me to keep an eye on that. I am glad she didn’t just give me an answer but left me with a question.

We lived on the second floor of a building, gated at every opportunity and I wasn’t allowed to go past our floor.

From then on, when coming up the stairs with my parents, if they were carrying shopping bags or climbing slowly, I would sprint to the third floor, on another day to the fourth or fifth floor. In a matter of few weeks, I had seen all of them. I was curious to see what had been above my head for my whole life, at the time about 7 or 8 years, and I couldn’t access. I wanted to see their gates, their plants.

My mom had more than plants, in my imagination she had a little forest. Her plants covered the corridor that gave access to the flat, and they were all one could see when looking in through the gate. 

On the other floors, I saw things; mostly objects that people maybe did not want any more so  would keep them outside the flat.

I couldn’t believe what I saw – the other neighbours didn’t have any plants.[1]May be the neighbour from the 5th floor had a couple vases. But the forest, that I thought I would see on every floor, wasn’t there.

Our corridor not only had plants, but it was also the only one that did. As such, it was essentially defined by the green of independent fennels and other species that grew even in the cracks of the wall.

In a building where most families fetched water daily (or when it was available through the public supplying network), using water for plants meant the same as ‘disposing’ of it.

‘I thought that water conditioned plants’ growth.

What I didn’t consider was which water.’

Matters such as access to water and time started to be addressed in ‘Economy of the Dust’[2] through the process of re-imagining the corridor of plants that the girls (me and my sister) were nicknamed after. The installation ‘Planta’ is interested in the reasons behind the non-existent plants in all the remaining floors of that building. Reflecting upon knowledge accumulated in early years of life, by a child that realises that water and time are finite resources in Luanda and that building presented the immediate example for the asymmetries in access to it. 

3000 Palm Trees from Miami

Such asymmetries reflect the societal structures of Luanda, as they do when crossing country, continent and ‘hemisphere borders’. About 15 years ago, with the redevelopment of Luanda Bay, ‘the Marginal,[3]received a makeover that reportedly involved the importation of 3000 palm trees from Miami.’[4]Such trees, due to various reasons, including a different climate and inability to be maintained according to the species needs, gradually died as they never adapted. ‘The importation is highlighted with a sense of pride in the corporate magazine of Angola’s parastatal oil company’[5], in an article titled ‘Miami on the Marginal’.[6]

This transplantation can be read as a not-context-appropriate movement, and the idea of it ‘adding value to the bay’ lays as central to this analysis and is very much debatable; given that the investment made for this transplantation does not reflect the resources made available for other immediate infrastructure in the city.  An opportunity to transfer a piece of information, in this case material information (the 3000 palm trees), can be also a chance to analyse the perception of this near-north–near-south exchanges, with focus on the direction where they tend to take place.[7] Here considering the direction of movement as key for assessing perceived value.

Movement x Perception

As many things in movement, ‘Miami Palm trees in Luanda’ were more than trees – they were of near-north origin, which seemingly allowed them to add value to Luanda Bay, while building a borrowed imaginary of existing in a near north geography.

In this instance the trees are transported and transplanted as goods that allow characteristics of one place to be replicated and, perhaps, felt in another. Here the work really wonders if they move as goods or, instead, as currencies – ones that are external and therefore seen as more valuable. It also reflects upon the construction of the aspiration to access currencies from near-north geographies, while simultaneously knowing that such currencies are heavily affected by extraction in near-southgeographies.

Equator Line 90° Shift

In a way, formally these ideas regarding movement of currencies, between north and south, rely on the abstract harshness of the equator line, almost to be justified. They don’t necessarily form them, but function as a ‘permanent psychological’ reminder of a division between the so-called ‘Global South’ and ‘Global North’. Terms which in fact refer more to power dynamics than geographic positioning.

AbdouMaliq Simone analyses the possibilities around this shift, thinking about the nuances of proximity and ‘The South’ as ‘latitude oriented’. The latter being perhaps more defining than equatorial separation.[8] Challenging the impact of the terminology (‘Global’) and thinking about the ‘Near’. In ways also replacing the ‘Global-Something’ due to its generalist and inaccurate nature, as it almost doesn’t define anything, but it groups towards agendas. For instance, when thinking about Europe, the proximity to north or south within the continent affects the disparity of perception between the nations in the Mediterranean Sea in relation to Scandinavia. It becomes clear that equator proximity still applies past the line.

What ‘If the Equator Shifts 90º, Does It Go from A Border to a Highway, or maybe to a Footpath?’, or has it possibly been a highway disguised as a border?

The work is interested in challenging the meaning of movements of value and currencies, while reflecting upon the framework of coloniality that enables value calculations to be often based on geographies, and proximity to the north. What if the memory of the no longer living palms from Miami travels north, with a register of not having adapted, but rather having learnt something? What if the psychological conditioning that allows near-north currencies to be perceived as being more valuable than near-southones, is revisited based on observation of extraction of resources and their north-oriented trips.

In ways, the artifices of economic, political, socio-cultural perception result from centuries of continued colonial entrapment. Almost operating as Stockholm syndrome, when speaking directly of colonialism, and the immediate need to exercise decoloniality as a means to reformulate the relationships along the footpath that the now vertical, equator line can be.

This work operates as an exercise of walking though that path, perhaps one drawn between Luanda and Stockholm, and will temporarily inhabit the very building where that condition gained a name in 1973[9]. The very condition it challenges on a macro scale, but with thoughts on every one of those 3000 palms in Luanda.

Sandra Poulson, 2022

[1]This is the case in many buildings in Luanda, however it is also very common to see residential budlings where many of the floors have plants. In January 2022, I have visited a building in downtown Luanda where most floors did.

[2]‘Economy of the Dust’, Sandra Poulson, multi-installation solo show, exhibited in London at V.O. Curations (2022)

[3]Luanda bay


[5] “Miami on the Marginal,” Universo, Sonangol, Winter 2008, p. 13.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Highlighting the conversation about the perception of where value and ‘culture’ come from.

[8] AbdouMaliq Simone, Improvised Lives, 2019 p.12 -14.

[9] On the 23rd of October 1973 the Kreditbanken bank in Stockholm was target of a robbery. Famously known as the Norrmalmstorg robbery. Due to the developed relationship  between the robbers and hostages, as the latter chose to protect, not testify against and even raise money for the robbers defence, the phenomena became known as Stockholm Syndrome. The very building that was then the bank is now home for the flagship store of Acne Studios in Stockholm, and for a month home to ‘If the Equator Shifts 90º, Does It Go from a Border to a Highway, or maybe to a Footpath?’ installation.