The 11th Mercosul Visual Arts Biennial runs until June 3, in Porto Alegre, RS - PHOTO: Publicity
The 11th Mercosul Visual Arts Biennial runs until June 3, in Porto Alegre, RS - PHOTO: Publicity

Can contemporary art be a strong voice for oppressed peoples? THE 11th Mercosur Biennial, in Porto Alegre, answers yes. It stands out for making a clean show, simple in the expography, but with a challenging theme and concepts, without fear of the censorship that surrounds Brazilian exhibitions. Migration, racism, territoriality, belonging, resignify the role of black people in Brazilian society, which has never properly incorporated them into the social fabric. At the opening party, at Praça da Alfândega, in Porto Alegre, the Fundarte Chamber Orchestra shared the stage with singers, actors, in contesting performances. Young artists took the stage with the track, An art inspires, breathes. Censorship no, a clear allusion to the show Queer Museum, censored and closed at the Santander Cultural Center last year. Bertolt Brecht's texts on freedom also entered the scene.

Gathered around the theme The Atlantic Triangle, curated by Alfons Hug, who lives in Africa, the works synthesize and denounce the exploitation and erasure of African nations, forcibly taken from their territories, a fact that to this day reflects in the drama of several generations living under social inequalities in Brazil. The exodus from the Black Atlantic provoked the process of creolization, promoted the crossing of religions, languages, technologies, cultures and arts. Miscegenation and religious syncretism also affected indigenous culture. These peoples have always been victims of a purposeful invisibility and only emerge prominently in society as the names of streets, rivers, food, instruments, musicals.

The president of the Mercosul Biennial, Gilberto Schwartsmann, a doctor sensitive to these issues, is, above all, an open man who gave wings to curators, without filtering anything. “In my view, a biennial has to focus on the artistic quality of the work and not on the quantity of them or the artists. The whole has to have density in all aspects”.

With this support, the curators Alfons Hug and Paula Borghi (deputy) conceived the Bienal in three main spaces and other peripheral spaces. The show starts at the Margs, with immersion in the Atlantic Ocean, during the diaspora and later in slavery. It extends through the Rio Grande do Sul Memorial, where indigenous issues pulse, and at the Santander Cultural Center with works that think about the city and the individual. The performances are spread across the squares of the capital and Pelotas, where activities take place in the Quilombola Community of Areal and Casa 6.

Without being limited to artists only from the Mercosur region, this edition brings together productions from practically all continents. Arjan Martins' drawings are born directly on the surface, as demonstrated by his seventy-eight square meter panel, a map with the points of arrival of slaves in Brazil. Territoriality is also part of the Cuban universe J. Pavel Herrera which takes into account Cuba's African origin, re-signifies the concept of Island, which only exists because of the sea, a symbolic space on the route of slavery and at the same time of transitoriness, the desire to come and go. “The sea is a space of belonging, and also symbolic of losses from the crossings of slaves to the simple attempt to reach the other side. “It is a territory to be looked at responsibly”, recommends Pavel Herrera.

The hypocrisy and barbarism of the early days of Angola's colonization are the guiding thread of the work of Iris Buchholz Chocolate, a German who lives in that country. Her pieces are made with metals, braided artificial hair, peacock feathers, with which she “borders” an imperial mantle inspired by a baroque landscaping, in connivance with slavery. Her research involves questions where she asks, “How do we distance ourselves from the past when we carry the stigma of being the descendants of victims and oppressors? What does the world forget? And what do you remember? Are we the victims or are we the culprits? Are there certainties in life? How do you talk about topics that are never talked about?

For Gilberto Schwartsmann, the moment is opportune to address all the themes that involve the 11th Bienal do Mercosul, which was postponed for a year and which was fortunate enough to take place this year, when the 130th anniversary of the Abolition of Slavery in Brazil is celebrated, the last country to abolish this barbarism.

The 11th edition is involved with controversial topics and reaches the administration of Porto Alegre, a city where there are five quilombos. The day after the opening of the Bienal, the president met with leaders of the city's black communities at Viaduto Abdias Nascimento, a tribute to the black writer and intellectual who attended New York University and is practically unknown in the city. As the Porto Alegre Internacional stadium is close to the viaduct, residents call it “as a joke” by Mamzebe, the Republic of Congo team that eliminated Internacional from the Club World Cup in 2010. Now the viaduct has a sign with the name by Abdias Nascimento, which was presented with the presence of the writer's wife, the American Elisa Larking.

The 11th Bienal do Mercosul provides an example of wisdom in addressing such controversial and barely visible issues in the Brazilian art circuit.

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