Portrait of the series 'As Mulheres de Lá', by Fernanda Feher
Portrait of the series 'As Mulheres de Lá', by Fernanda Feher
Fernanda Feher in her studio at Pivô

the pivot space, based in the illustrious Copan building, in downtown São Paulo, increasingly reinforces its commitment to encouraging investigations and experiments in art, welcoming artists, curators and researchers in the programs they offer. One of them, Pivô Pesquisa, is intended for residencies offered throughout the year to emerging Brazilians or foreigners, shaped according to what each applicant is looking for, lasting approximately three or four months each.

In the almost six years since its creation, 145 artists from 20 different countries have participated, promoting activities that allow important exchanges between the participants themselves, but also with external agents, be they art critics or the public itself. In addition, the program has a series of institutional partnerships that allow valuable exchanges, such as with the CPPC (Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros), the British Council, Matadero Madrid, Centro Cultural São Paulo and ArtRio.

In the first residency of 2018, 13 artists participate. Are they:  Adrián S. Bará, Anna Costa e Silva, Carolina Cordeiro, Carolina Maróstica, deco adjiman, Fernanda Feher, Gilson Rodrigues, Leandra Espírito Santo, Maya Weishof, Renan Marcondes, Rui Dias Monteiro, Tomaz Klotzel and Vanessa da Silva.

ARTE!Brasileiros spoke with the artist Fernanda Feher, born in São Paulo and currently living in Portugal, about the theme of the project she is developing at Pivô:

ARTE!Brasileiros: When did you decide you wanted to be an artist?

Fernanda Feher: I spent my adolescence drawing and painting, until my theater director told me: “You have to study painting”.  That's how I left Brazil and studied ten years at the PRATT Institute, in Brooklyn, New York, where I established my vocation.

However, I have always been an idealist, an activist. I was involved in everyday life with social and political concerns. At the time, there was Fernanda a painter and Fernanda an activist. He did volunteer work. It was a division that bothered me. Over time, I created the project “As Mulheres de Lá”, where I managed to synthesize my true vocation, bringing stories into my work. I was relieved.

A!B: How did you create this project?

I started to research Africa and see where I could collaborate. I went first to Tanzania, at a school run by a Canadian woman who taught adult women, with the aim of helping them to create independence from their husbands or how to strengthen themselves individually and be able to become economically independent in order to work. I stayed there for a month and a half.

There are several organizations that I have come into contact with, one of them based in London, Orchid, which impressed me a lot. They take care of the issue of female mutilation all over the world.

I presented my original idea: travel, interview and paint these women and use the sale of the work to support the work of the organization.

So I went to Kenya and, unintentionally, to a region close to Tanzania.

The work is very difficult, because the awareness against genital mutilation collides with the cultural issue. Despite this being banned by the government, traditional families wait for school holidays to send all the girls at the same time to have the mutilation done. For them, mutilation is part of the “growth of women”. Some women, not mutilated, are unable to marry or are bullied. Mutilation is part of “being a woman”.

It happens between the ages of 9 and 14, when a woman starts menstruating. The custom is so ingrained that some families today carry out the mutilation at the moment the girl is born, as a way of circumventing the law, which it now prohibits.

In other cases the midwife herself, when an unmutilated woman is about to give birth, mutilates the woman in childbirth. Imagine the scare!

Shedding light on this cultural myth is a very serious task. It cannot banish and not support education because mutilation would not be necessary in development, but traumatic. It's extremely complex.

A!B: You didn't tell us this story, yet we were captured by your work even without it being literal. By strength, by color. How do you explain this?

My portraits are of women who discuss all this. Some are mutilated, others are girls who approached the schools where we were to listen or collaborate and teach.

I'm interested in telling their stories, their strength and joy, and not necessarily showing where they are victims. I want to try to bring the other side to my work. I like that, of them being able to see themselves as a whole.

I think that if I painted mutilated vaginas, I would not be collaborating at all with this process and maybe no one would come to ask me who these women are…

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