Berna Reale, in the performance Americano, 2013.

“I didn't see art in the prison space. I saw a social, human problem, and for that reason I thought of making an art work to reflect on these questions”,

This is how the artist Berna Reale describes how she began to connect the art she makes with the work of an expert in the state of Pará. Born in Belém in 1956, Berna graduated in Art at the Federal University of Pará, but has also been working at the Renato Chaves Center for Scientific Expertise in the capital for eight years.

An artist before becoming an expert, Berna recognizes the burden brought to her art by her new craft: “The expertise that influenced the art I made. Today I have a more focused look at social problems than before,” she comments. The artist grew up in the north of the country, a region that in recent years has registered several cases that bring to light the precariousness of the prison system: “From what I see, we still have a long way to go for the prison problem to be solved, because the source of the problem is not he is in prisons, he is not between walls, but outside them”, says Berna. For her, this was something that would soon erupt.

Although violence has taken root in his artistic work since his work as a public agent began, he also addresses other social and political problems that invade the country in his performances, photographs and installations. After all, Berna believes that the problem of violence does not exist by itself, but is, rather, a set of calamities: “As long as education is not the basis and the social structure, nothing will change. As long as there is no food and basic health for the vast majority of the population, we will continue to dry ice and watch riots”. She often confesses that she was scared when she went to work with crime scenes committed inside prisons, such was the brutality: “It is not possible for anyone to see, for anyone to bother, for anyone to solve it”, she thought when leaving places like this.


Berna Reale, 'When All Shut Up', 2009.

Having been an artist before an expert helped Berna to look more sensitively at crime scenes, seeing the details that she transposes to art. What for many could be horrifying, for Berna is also horrifying, but it also becomes a material to be transformed with the repertoire it brings. Art and expertise, then, meet and the artist makes the audience reflect, often with shock, on a reality that can often seem distant: “The expertise made me know human misery, before I knew the poverty but not misery”.

Emotion is also part of everything that relates to his artistic work. But it was while performing at the Santa Izabel penitentiary complex, where last month a mass escape attempt took place that scared the region, that Bern found the height of the commotion. “A dark place with a still, heavy energy. A trapped person is a standing energy carrying its absolute weight,” he said.

On that occasion, he performed the performance Americano, walking through the dark corridors of the penitentiary with a torch. She was only allowed to enter the area where the prisoners were held on the day of the performance: “When I left there, sadness accompanied me for a long time, because I left and they continued there in a non-human life”. Berna also points out that seeing the rebellion take place there years after the performance of her performance makes her “believe that the artist sometimes has a previous feeling”.

It is not easy for her, despite her long career in the arts (including a Venice Biennale), to deal with these questions: “Transposing these problems to art is the artist's challenge. I try to study the conceptual and aesthetic elements that are inserted in the scenario in which the social problem is happening, as I did in Americano”, she concludes.

At the moment, the artist works on three projects: a street performance that is based on incarceration, photographs and installations about human misery and a project that deviates from everything she has done in the performance area. About the latter, she confesses, in a good mood: “I hope I don't give up doing it, because it's a huge challenge and, sometimes, I wonder if it's not a delirium”. Despite the difficulty, she is optimistic: “But I'm not an artist who wants to be in a comfort zone and for that I have to take risks”, she concludes.

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