Indigenous director Takumã Kuikuro, from Vídeo nas Aldeias, filming in Xingu Park. Photo Vincent Carelli

It was in 1986 that indigenist and filmmaker Vincent Carelli made his first experience of audiovisual production with the Nambikwara Indians, in Mato Grosso. By filming the life of that population, he could only do what was common practice in the country for decades, that is, record the customs of peoples considered “exotic” and present the result on TV, cinema or in academic environments. The interest of the documentary filmmaker, however, was different. “The idea was to see how the Indians would react when confronted with their own image, and when appropriating it”, says Carelli, who began to show and debate what he filmed with the local inhabitants, and not with the “white men”. More than that, the desire was for the practice to become collective, and the filmmaker soon passed the camera into the hands of the Indians themselves.

Today, 30 years later and consecrated, the Vídeo nas Aldeias (VNA) project has already helped to train dozens of indigenous directors across the country and, along with that, to create a new cinematographic grammar. Somewhat surprising for the contemporary art circuit – as it is seen by some as a project more linked to the academic environment than to the arts – the VNA is one of those chosen to exhibit at the 32nd edition of the São Paulo International Biennial, entitled living uncertainty, within a curatorship proposal to present productions created in close dialogue with communities, peoples and popular cultural groups from different corners of the world.

It is not about political and engaged art, in the traditional sense, nor about works that seek to document reality, but about collaborative practices that reveal other ways of making art, as curator Jochen Volz explains. “If a few years ago there was the tendency of the 'anthropological artist', who wanted to show other cultures, I think today this idea of ​​really participating is strong. Not showing, but being together, doing together”, says Volz, referring to a series of works that will be at the Bienal – such as those by artists Bárbara Wagner, Felipe Mujica and Cecilia Bengolea, interviewed by ARTE!Brasileiros.

In this sense, Vídeo nas Aldeias is one of the most radical cases, since, even though coordinated by Carelli and a team, it was appropriated by the Indians and became a cinema made by them. According to Carelli, the delivery of the camera subverted the traditional logic, in which the white man is the one who will study and talk about “the other”. And when the point of view changes, symbols and themes also change: “In the beginning, I went with the idea of ​​doing a denouncement, political work, but the Indians showed another interest, and were enthusiastic about presenting what interests them , the beautiful things, its cultural treasures. I immediately understood that the great political issue of every minority is the issue of identity, which is cultural, of affirmation”.

Scene from “You are seeing things”, by Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca. Photo: Disclosure

By appropriating the camera and creating their own narratives, generally constructed collectively in the villages, the Indians began to develop languages ​​– mainly intuitively, despite the training workshops led by Carelli – and to make their own art. “Even if these videos are pieces of ethnographic interest, I think they are essentially cinematographic, artistically. It's not a video report, a pamphlet. It's cinema,” says Carelli. “And when they watch their own films, they finally overcome that disappointment that all indigenous people face with the audiovisual, which is that of expropriation, manipulation, TV that omits what was most important to them”.

Also discussing processes of appropriation, collaboration, documentation and experimentation, the photographer and visual artist Bárbara Wagner has drawn attention for her research focused on apparently marginalized cultural groups and manifestations and on their strategies of visibility and subversion within the cultural and consumer industry. In series of photos like Brasilia Stubborn (2005-2007) – which enters the “tacky” and “vulgar” universe of the regulars of a beach in Recife – and Bright Star (2008-2010) – who investigates the world of maracatu in Nazaré da Mata (PE) –, Wagner moves around environments and establishes dialogues in an attempt to not folklorize or exoticize “the other”. He also shows that many of these so-called “peripheral” cultures no longer seek the approval of the “centers” and that, subverting old dichotomies, they arrive without asking for passage.

International Dancehall Queen competition
International Dancehall Queen competition (2013), in Montego Bay (Jamaica), which will be the subject of the work of Cecilia Bengolea and Jeremy Deller

For the 32nd Bienal, the artist should deepen her most recent research, around the MCs de brega from Recife, and present the unprecedented are you seeing things, made in partnership with Benjamin de Burca. As in the case of Vídeo nas Aldeias, the idea is not just to document or appropriate a foreign culture: “What I want is to be inside, to talk, to enter into agreements. It's not about going there, taking a product from them and moving it to the Bienal”, says Wagner. In this sense, the artist relativizes an idea present in various fields of knowledge – from the arts to anthropology, from architecture to politics – that one should “give a voice to the marginalized” and to their cultural manifestations. “They have control of their own image and their own voice, so for us there must be a process of listening and observation. And I always ask myself what contribution I can make to the documentation of the cultural production of these groups, but in a collaborative way”, concludes the artist.

“It's better to give a voice than to hide it”, jokes Volz. “But I think we can start from another level of discussion, without this idea of ​​central or peripheral culture. It's much more interesting to think of a network that is horizontal, that allows things to happen somewhere and reverberate throughout the network. So it's more about listening, interacting and understanding that culture encompasses all of that.” It includes, for example, the dancehall queen competitions in Jamaica, where Argentine dancer Cecilia Bengolea and artist Jeremy Deller will produce a video for the Bienal. Choreographer and dancer, Bengolea has researched and participated for years in the popular Jamaican dance competition. This year, in addition to competing, she will produce with Deller a video about the event, a mix of documentary and fiction made in dialogue with dancers and other local characters.

By presenting projects produced in close dialogue with communities and with issues of concrete reality, the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo, which takes place between September 10 and December 11, also seeks – “through the poetics of art”, according to Volz – to contribute to global discussions on economics, politics, social and climatic conditions, among others. The title, living uncertainty, appears in this line, starting from the observation that “uncertainty is the condition in which we all live”. Who better than the Indians, for example, to talk about uncertainty? “They live in permanent uncertainty,” says Carelli. “Every decade there is a resizing of their lands. It is a perpetual neocolonial cycle.”

With the proposal to approach these contemporary issues, the show also seeks to bring the public closer to the Bienal pavilion. “This art made in dialogue with the populations brings people closer to contemporary art, often seen as something so far away”, says Chilean artist Felipe Mujica, who participates in the edition with a series of curtains that will be produced with the embroiderers of Jardim Conceição. , from Osasco, and the designers and stylists Alex Cassimiro and Valentina Soares, from São Paulo. As he did at the Bienal de Cuenca (Ecuador) in 2014, when he created his works with the embroiderers of a family sewing workshop in the city, Mujica here wants to produce in dialogue with local agents. Despite being known for his curtains – made with different fabrics and geometric designs – the Chilean does not dominate the entire production process of his work, and makes this not a lack, but a possibility. “I don't sew, so I'm also interested in learning from the person who sews the curtains. And then there is always a dialogue between what I intend to do and what the person proposes and says is possible”, he explains.

In São Paulo, there will be about 30 curtains hanging in the pavilion which, according to Mujica, will be positioned in order to create new spaces and relationships with the architecture of the place. When dialoguing with communities and calling his artistic works “curtains”, the Chilean seeks, precisely, to get closer to real life: “There are people who want to call them banners or flags, but I prefer to call them curtains, because I am interested in what keep this domestic notion, which relates to people's lives”. In order to relate more concretely to the reality it intends to debate, the 32nd Bienal is also promoting Study Days – in Cuiabá (Brazil), Santiago (Chile), Accra (Ghana) and in the Peruvian Amazon – in which curators, artists and others involved in the production of the event visit local communities, ecological reserves, cultural centers and artists' studios.

By commissioning the works created in dialogue with different cultural groups, the Bienal also shows consistency with the concept that guides it, of “living uncertainty”, not only in the debates and themes it promotes, but in the very processes of production of the works. A work done in constant negotiation with third parties is also the result of improvisation and experimentation, and cannot have a pre-established final result, as Mujica explains. “When working on this dialogue with people, the result is also always uncertain”, she says. Uncertain, according to Volz, because created in relation to concrete life, itself unpredictable: “Art allows us to create narratives, provoke questions and reflections, but in fact they are reflections that come from real life in its various dimensions”. And he concludes: “This has to do with understanding that the levels of knowledge and abstraction are multiple. And the polyphony between indigenous communities, Jamaican dancehall communities, artisans and embroiderers, cheesy MCs and so on, that's what interests us a lot.”

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