"Nhíromi", by Denilson Baniwa, installation exhibited in the third edition of Frestas - Trienal de Artes. Photo: Matheus José Maria / Sesc Sorocaba

“Although our conversations always started with pleasantries, each time the path flowed towards the subject of a pandemic. It was very painful this moment. In the time I was with her, just on the street where she lives, six of her friends died from Covid-19. In one of the weeks I was sailing along the rivers of MARIWÁ, she was contaminated by the virus, we didn't speak for two weeks. I was afraid”, wrote the jaguar artist, as he calls himself Denilson Baniwa, on one of the walls of his large installation Nhiromi.

in the center of Nhiromi is a canoe from the Rio Negro, the Amazon region where Baniwa was born. His report addresses several other issues around the visit to his grandmother, but by exposing the fear of the pandemic times, he brings an important contextualization to the river is a serpent, name of the third edition of Frestas – Trienal de Artes, organized at Sesc Sorocaba.

With 53 artists and collectives selected by Beatriz Lemos, Diane Lima and Thiago de Paula Souza, it is the first time in Brazil that a biennial exhibition has a black team in the artistic direction, a merit of Sesc that undoubtedly deserves reflection from the other exhibitions of the same type, such as the Bienal de São Paulo and the Mercosul.

Scheduled to open in 2020, Frestas ended up being extended to this year, thus carrying the various fears of what it means to organize a face-to-face event in a country that is approaching 600 victims of a genocidal policy. Thus, even if discreetly, contextualization gives parameters to visitors that show that Frestas is not just another show, but an exhibition conceived in times of war.

The war, it is true, does not only occur here, much less is restricted to the years 2020/21, as can be seen in the installation the unpayable debt, by Musa Michelle Mattiuzzi, a sounded and non-literal version of the book of the same name by the Brazilian based in Canada Denise Ferreira da Silva, organized in Brazil by the Oficina Imaginação Política and the People's house and available free of charge to download.

The vast majority of Frestas' works are located in the basement of Sesc and Mattiuzzi's installation is one of the few near the building's entrance, an environment that looks like a festive space, all mirrored and with effusive light, but which is nourished by the forceful text about the current world and “what becomes accessible to the imagination, the kind of ethical opening that can be glimpsed with the dissolution of the yoke of Understanding and the surrender of the World to the imagination”, in the author's own words.

View of the exhibition with "Matrilineal Ceremony"
View of the exhibition with “Matrilineal Ceremony: homage to the matriarchs of the first 28 generations descended from Mitochondrial Eva”, by Negalê Jones, in the foreground and “Panorama Catatumbo”, by Nohemi Perez, in the background. Photo: Matheus José Maria / Sesc Sorocaba

In a way, several works in the show participate in this kind of suggestion game that moves away from explicit or militant approaches to seek more seductive, but not less political, poetics. It is the case of Catatumbo panorama, by Colombian artist Nohemi Perez, an immense panel made up of charcoal drawings on canvas. From a distance, the image of the forest is charming, even in black and white, but those who approach it notice discreet drawings of scenes with weapons, pointing to the persistent violence in the region of Catatumbo, a border area between Colombia and Venezuela.

This strategy is similar in the work of Pedro Victor Brandão, with a painting in strong colors that looks abstract, but is actually a possible graphic about indebtedness and default in Brazil. The same occurs with Rommulo Vieira Conceição's jungle gym, installed in the external area of ​​Sesc, which looks like a playground toy, but is actually a dysfunctional composition that has elements in its construction that can hurt.

the river is a serpent
View of the exhibition “The river is a snake”; in the foreground, the work of Rommulo Vieira Conceição, in the background, “Entidades”, by Jaider Esbell. Photo Matheus José Maria Sesc Sorocaba

The show concentrates most of the works in the basement of Sesc, which is in fact the building's garage, which turns out to be a suitable space. The curatorship did not seek to hide this characteristic, thus reinforcing the strength of what is not within the conventions.

The river is a snake is configured as a show with strong visual appeal – the wall of matchboxes by Antonio Társis, red as ember, is part of the same logic, as is the powerful installation of bird drawings by Laura Lima –, which delves into urgent themes without being pamphleteer. With this, the exhibition approaches one of the most important with such a proposal, the documenta X (1997), in Kassel, Germany, entitled Politics Poetics and organized by French Catherine David. There are even people on the circuit calling Frestas “Sorokassel”.

Regardless of jokes, it is unavoidable to confirm that, with just three editions, Sesc has consolidated an important contemporary art laboratory, outside the conventional circuit, highlighting bold curators, compensating for the difficulty of representing other biennial exhibitions in Brazil. .

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