Solange Frakas, founder and director of Associação Cultural Videobrasil. Photo: Ale Ruaro

AAfter the beginning of the period of social isolation due to the new coronavirus, in mid-March, while most cultural institutions in the country rushed to virtual platforms to maintain their activities and their bond with the public, the Videobrasil Cultural Association remained practically absent from social networks. “This mandatory stop, for me, at first was something quite paralyzing. Not just because of the pandemic, which is tragic, dramatic, but which is very accentuated and worsened by our political condition”, says the founder and director of the association, Solange Farkas. “I was really trying to think about what is happening to us and how to react to it. Even rethink our way of operating. I think they have such serious, deep issues that all of this makes us rethink the role of art, the role of these structures and how they were working,” she adds.

In a similar vein to what indigenous leader Ailton Krenak recently wrote, Solange rejects the idea that, after the pandemic, we must return to life as it was before. “We are not going to try to continue in a normality that does not exist. I think that all that is happening to us is not free. As Krenak says, this is a crisis of humanity, of the human being. The problem is not the world, nature, animals. It's us. We are the ones who are sick.” In an interview with arte!brasileiros, the director of Videobrasil, an association that holds one of the most important events in the country's visual arts calendar, the Bienal Sesc_Videobrasil, confirms that the next edition of the show, scheduled for 2021, will be postponed, possibly to 2023. curated by the carioca Raphael Fonseca and the Senegalese Renée M'boya, the 22nd Bienal was already being conceived, but should be rethought not only because of the pandemic, but also the political situation in the country.

“It is impossible to plan any project in the face of a government that disrespects culture, attacks culture, eliminates culture. In fact, this concerns culture, the press and democratic institutions, in this clear flirtation with totalitarianism”, says Farkas. For her, current times refer to the beginning of VideoBrasil, still in the 1980s, when the then festival needed to submit the videos that would be shown to censorship. "It feels like I'm sadly revisiting a moment we spent back there." In this sense, she adds, “I think that this moment forces us to rescue a little the marginal spirit that permeated artistic creation before all this professionalization”.

As an association that works with production from the so-called Global South – a term that refers to the cultural, economic and political condition of countries and territories on the margins of hegemonic modernization and central capitalism - Videobrasil has reinvented itself over the decades, no longer be exclusively dedicated to video, expanding its collection and permanent research program and changing the status of its main event from a festival to a biennial. Over the years, it has dealt with themes that are increasingly urgent in the global panorama, from the wounds of colonialism and structural racism to state violence and the role of memory in society. Themes that, many times, did not receive the same prominence that they now gain in the world of the arts. “I do think that this movement should be looked at with caution. Well, it's not exactly the art, but it's the market that's looking at this place. And anything endorsed by the market, especially this predatory market, I don't see it with good eyes, I don't think it's healthy."    

In the interview, Farkas also talks about the Videobrasil collection, which should gain greater prominence in the work of the institution in the near future, and about the various issues raised by the pandemic and the political and economic crises in Brazil. Read below.

ARTE! – We are going through a huge, unprecedented crisis, due to the coronavirus pandemic. So I would like to start by asking how you are dealing with this moment in Videobrasil? That is, what is possible to do or plan in this context?

Solange Farkas – Since March 14th we have closed the Videobrasil office due to social isolation. And since then we've been working from home, using communication media to be able to think, or rethink, what to do. And this mandatory stop, for me, was an issue that hit very hard. At first it was a bit paralyzing. I think I spent a couple of months not wanting to think about anything right away, about any project for now. I was a little paralyzed with anxiety. And something caused by everything, not just the issue of the pandemic, which is tragic, dramatic, but which is very accentuated and worsened by our political condition. So it's layers and layers of terrible news from around the world – and ours, particularly terrible. So, unlike other cultural institutions that were trying to maintain their audience and their dialogue with the public, creating online projects, lives etc., I didn't want, nor could I, deal with it. I was really trying to think about what is happening to us and how to react to it. Trying to make sense of the way we operated. Only after that time, then, I decided to rearrange things a little. The timing of this stop was also very crazy, because we were in the middle of the creative process for the next biennial. We were about to announce the open call now in June, with the curators already  working, with guest artists. So it was a stop in the middle of the process. And now we are going to communicate the cancellation of next year's biennial.

ARTE! – And there was also the itinerancy of the 21st edition, imagined communities...

Yes, I had two exhibitions for this year. First the itinerancy, which will still happen in Campinas when Sesc reopens, because it would have opened in April, but in Rio Preto, which would be in September, it was cancelled. And an exhibition that I've been working on for a few years, on the Anthropocene issue, in partnership with the Ilmin Museum of Art, from South Korea. And this project foresaw an exchange. In 2019, we took Brazilian artists there. And here the Korean artists would come in December of this year, at Sesc Bom Retiro. And the show was canceled too.

And the 22nd Contemporary Art Biennial Sesc_Videobrasil, which would take place in October 2021 at Sesc 24 de Maio, was canceled by Sesc and we still have no prospect of resuming. Anyway, we are living this moment of uncertainties of all kinds. This has altered the world arts calendar, which will have to be fully realigned. Especially because art events, in general, are always trying to respond to everyday, today's questions, to political questions. And with such a shock you are very unsure of what to say or how to answer such deep questions. So you really need some time to rethink everything. Even rethink our way of operating. I think there are such serious, deep issues that all this makes us rethink the role of art, the role of these structures and how they have been working. I now begin to understand this moment we are in as a new starting point, which can offer us a unique opportunity. Of course, in a privileged situation, in our case, because we can afford it, but to think, for example, how to fight this way in which the neoliberal system in which we live colonizes our subjectivity. There are so many issues at stake…             

ARTE! – With these global consequences in mind, Videobrasil has always prioritized this view of the Global South, this geopolitical South that includes countries and groups on the margins of central capitalism. How do you see this geopolitical map at this time of a pandemic? What is happening in the world makes this global imbalance and inequality even more wide open? Or maybe it's a possibility for rearrangements on this map?

Look, I think it really opens up the differences, of all kinds. Social, economic, racial differences. We know that countries in the Global South are hit hardest by a crisis like this. The differences in fact are exposed. And we are the always more fragile side, a fact that has to do with a social and economic issue. But at the same time there is an interesting thing – if it is possible to talk about something interesting at this moment when there is so much suffering, so many people suffering – which is that all the great certainties, the guidelines always placed from there to here, from North to South, are being called into question. They went down a bit. In that sense, we are a little similar. And for sure, when the peak of all this is over, maybe we'll be a little ahead in terms of some alternatives and outputs. We live in a permanent crisis. And if this pandemic situation affects the entire globe, we who live in underdeveloped countries, in subaltern conditions to this place in the world where money circulates, have always had to deal with precariousness and find alternatives, especially in the field of art and of culture, of course.

And particularly in the case of Videobrasil, it is interesting to think about how video, at this moment, occupies a central place in all fields of culture. Video is the mode of communication, it is the expression possible at this moment, it is what is connecting us. It occupies a central place in this context. And for us it's interesting to think about it. A lot of people ask me why Videobrasil isn't doing things online. First, because this forced condition allowed me this privilege, in a way, to think more deeply about our actions, about the role we occupy and about how to deal with all this from now on, maintaining a place of relevance for the arts scene in this place in the world – the South – where we are an important window.

And that's how this idea came about to focus more on this place in the video, which we have in our DNA. We have a very important collection, 35 years old, with production from this part of the world. And this whole crisis, this whole movement, made me think, especially now with this perspective, or lack of perspective, about when we are going to have the biennial again, in what form and with what support. Rethink how we are going to act. And think about how the collection can be this new place. Because in all these years, the collection has been so important to me not only in terms of memory – of this sensitive production of this place in the world -, but also as a place that feeds and feeds back the association’s own activity.

ARTE! – And how would this more intense look at the collection take place?

We are developing our new platform, which is Videobrasil online, to think about how to act in the virtual universe. Continuing with the curatorship, bringing curators from Africa, Latin America, Central America, as we already do, to highlight important artists who are in this collection, holding individual and group exhibitions, all of this in the online Videobrasil universe. If it was something that already existed the possibility of being worked on, it seems to me that this is the moment. So after this moment of impact, of paralysis, of a certain depression, I am now concentrating efforts and thinking, based on the collection, on these actions, on how to continue contributing with this Videobrasil online platform to this production of this Global South.    

ARTE! - There's something that came to my mind, when you talked about this certain paralysis that took you, which has to do with something that Ailton Krenak wrote recently, that everything that is happening can be the work of a loving mother, the Terra, who decided to make her children shut up at least for a moment, because she wanted to teach them something...

Clear. And I'll say more, this book by Krenak (Tomorrow Is Not for Sale), as well as the previous one (Ideas for Postponing the End of the World), dropped for me like a bombshell, in the best sense. I mean, let's pay attention. Let's not try to continue in a normality that doesn't exist. I think that all that is happening to us is not free. As Krenak says, this is a crisis of humanity, of the human being. The problem is not the world, nature, animals. It's us. We are the ones who are sick. And in that sense, I think that native peoples have a lot, a lot, to teach us, to tell us. We need to pay attention to that. And it really became an oracle for me.

ARTE! – Now, in addition to the global inequalities we are talking about, the pandemic has also opened up the huge internal inequalities of countries. Just to give an example, a recent bulletin from the city of São Paulo revealed that the risk of death of blacks from Covid-19 is 62% higher than that of whites…

And that says a lot.

ARTE! – And these inequalities have been addressed for a long time at Videobrasil. In the last edition, for example, this was very strong. Do the things that are happening reveal an even greater urgency to address these issues, whether in the arts or in society as a whole?

I think things are not cool. Art is a human experience, absolutely necessary. We know that. In fact, it's the soul of the thing. I never see how to disconnect art from life, from human experience, from everyday life, from politics. So they are things that are together, and they only make sense together. It is not possible to think of artistic production as an artifact for a few. It's not perfumery, it's food, so to speak. So, thinking about all these issues that we have insistently brought up in our actions, this is like a Videobrasil program, trying to contribute to this thinking, addressing these issues that relate not only to the production of the symbolic, but to life, to the differences each increasingly accentuated that exist. And the last edition of Videobrasil seems to have been premonitory, in a way, when we were talking about indigenous peoples and working on this idea of ​​communities of affection. The nation not as a state, but the nation as this state that you choose, these communities. Not necessarily the one you were born with, but also the one you choose out of affinity, out of affection.

At Martins, #JÁBASTA!, 2019, acrylic on different fabrics. Photo: Disclosure.

ARTE! – Speaking of this premonitory thing, I thought now of the work of No Martins in the last biennial, with paintings of black faces and the writing “Enough is enough”. Well, in recent weeks we have seen, from the murders of the American George Floyd, and in Brazil of the boy João Pedro, the explosion of demonstrations and the discussion about structural racism that forms American, Brazilian and many other societies. How have you watched these recent events and the outbreak of this debate on racism?

I think, of course, that the issue of social isolation makes us notice certain things more. Because when you're in a situation of normality, people generally miss it. People don't look at each other, they don't look at these issues. But this issue of social difference, this issue of racism, which is structural racism, the level and degree of violence against the black community, as well as the indigenous community, this has always existed. It took now this explosion in the US for people here to join this campaign. Sometimes it even depresses me a little, because I see people who don't care, who don't understand what's happening, but keep reproducing this campaign on the networks. It's a certain cynicism.

So I think this is an important place that Videobrasil occupies, to alert, to make people look at these places. And thinking about the place of speech of these communities. Not just black people, but indigenous peoples. With indigenous peoples, I think it's even worse, because they're not even considered people. It's a very crazy, very perverse thing. So I think the pandemic is also helping us to look at our weaknesses as a society. I don't think this Brazilian personality, so racist, so superficial, has ever been as evident as it is now. And maybe, from that moment on, something might actually start to happen. To wake up people to this political issue, to the open racism, to this disgrace, this pity that this current, authoritarian, fascist government is. Why are we going through this? Where did these people come from? What is that? Why don't we react? These are questions that at some point were going to explode. And I think the pandemic forces us to think about these issues, to look at this place.   

ARTE! – Talking about the artistic production of indigenous communities, blacks, peripherals, LGBTs, women and other historically oppressed groups, this is a production that traditionally circulates little in the institutional system and in the arts market. But it seems that this has been changing in recent years and that both large institutions and the market have turned very strongly to these productions. I wanted to know how you see this movement. And whether he is something to celebrate or to look at with caution.

Look, I think it's delicate, I'm a little suspicious of it. I do think that one should look carefully. Of course, it seems so important the arts looking at the production of these black, indigenous artists, and with these political issues on the agenda. But it's not exactly the art, it's the market that's looking at this place. And anything endorsed by the market, especially this predatory market, I don't see it with good eyes, I don't think it's healthy. On the contrary, I find it very harmful. It tends to trivialize, it is perverse.   

ARTE! – Isn't that a genuine look?

Not. I think they discover these places, they realize that there is a powerful production and that there is a favorable moment, when these works sell. But they don't move an inch to change, for example, the production conditions for these artists. Because this research that we at Videobrasil do – and other institutions around the world as well, which have this more political perspective and linked to social issues involving artistic production -, this research demands time, resources, displacement. Because in these places there is an absolutely powerful and extraordinary production not only in the sense, but in the operation itself, in the making. And for 30 years we have been doing this work of putting a little spotlight in a place that is in shadow. Huge places, in Brazil, in Latin America, in Africa mainly.

In addition, I think that, in the arts scene, there is also a burnout in these Northern countries. Why is it that, for some time now, this global art world – Europe, USA etc. – start looking at these so-called underdeveloped places? Because of a need, because it is necessary, because of an exhaustion of them. So you see healers traveling south, going after it. And this is something recent, historically. And I always thought we needed to be prepared for that moment, because that relationship needs to be balanced. This is very important. And, of course, I am very cautious about this enthusiasm of the market. Because it trivializes, it creates labels. We have to go carefully. But then, artists are not fools. They are powerful, they are smart. Many artists, curators and managers of these more marginal places are very politicized, very articulate. So they are also a little wary of us, for obvious reasons. And they have an awareness of their place in the world. And I think this is a big difference between these artists who come from these more subjugated places, who suffer prejudice, and these white, middle-class artists who participate in all the fairs, etc. There is a difference in the speech, in the attitude, and this is also imprinted in the production. That's why the power of these people's work, that's why the power of indigenous production. It is crazy to think that Brazilian indigenous people, who are from the original communities of the globe that live in the most subjugated and precarious situations, have such an extraordinary production. So why do we at Videobrasil have so much strength and energy, despite everything? Because we deal with this production that is so powerful, so necessary, which can help so much in this reflection on the world.

ARTE! – Well, speaking a little more specifically about national politics, regardless of the pandemic, a very troubled and threatening situation for culture already existed in Brazil in recent times. There is a government that seems to see the arts, culture, as enemies. How do you see this picture and how is it possible to work at this moment?

We have been on a decline since the coup that took out Dilma Rousseff. And now with culture declared the enemy, which is a typical practice of fascism – historically we know that. Now, of course, it is impossible to plan any project – like the biennial – in the face of a government that disrespects culture, attacks culture, eliminates culture. In fact, this concerns culture, the press, democratic institutions, in this clear flirtation with totalitarianism. So the situation is paralyzing. You don't have any mobility, because you don't have any mechanism to produce, not even a little bit.

ARTE! – Does the situation become financially unfeasible?

Since the Temer government until now, thinking about a public policy for culture, it doesn't exist. There is actually an attack, a takedown. If it weren't for Sesc, which I always say is our cultural policy - especially Sesc-SP, which has this extraordinary figure that is Danilo Miranda, who is a humanist, a sensitive man and an extraordinary manager -, we would I would not have done the biennial since 2016. Because there are no conditions to do so. Either you have to reinvent yourself, in fact, or wait for this earthquake to pass. And in that sense, the pandemic totally takes us out of a comfort zone. I was recently asked about how art can sustain itself, how it can react to all this. I think that this moment forces us to rescue a little the marginal spirit that permeated artistic creation before all this professionalization. Because the structures, the tentacles to maintain a production, the institutions, the financing, the way of exhibition, end up also greatly affecting the production itself. Production ends up being very shaped to meet these demands, which are still demands of this neoliberal world, where the market is above all. Thinking from the point of view of creation, does the artist need all these devices to produce? Of course not. Of course it's important, but maybe now we have to be a little freer, go back to a time before this boom in the arts.

ARTE! – Speaking of going back, the first Videobrasil festival was held in 1983, at the end of the dictatorship period. Looking back there and thinking about the current moment, do you see parallels?

It's very similar. And this is madness. It feels like I'm sadly revisiting a moment we spent back there. When we started the festival, in 1983, it was a moment of political opening, and there was still a very strong state censorship mechanism on art. So in the first five years of Videobrasil I submitted all the works, before showing them, to censorship. And censorship vetoed several works. I was sued several times for showing works that had been censored. So we come from this place and are returning to this place, from a political point of view, very sad.

ARTE! – Even censorship has become an issue again…     

Yes, it exists now with other mechanisms. To the extent that you cannot produce, you cannot speak what you think because you are not in a position to do so, it is a form of censorship.

ARTE! – In interviews I did recently with cultural managers of Brazilian institutions, Danilo Miranda said that in many ways this is an even worse government for culture than the military dictatorship was, and Ricardo Ohtake said he even sees traces of Nazism in the current government …

I agree with both. In the dictatorship things were clearer, right? And as for Nazism, it is noticeable. It's not me or Ricardo that we're saying, it's they themselves who are demonstrating in this sense. It is a caricature of Nazism. They reproduce gestures, they try to rescue it. Sad for us. And it's painful to think that this guy was elected. Even if we know under what conditions, but still. What is this Brazil? What is this sick piece of Brazil that still supports this citizen today? Where do these sinister people who are part of this government come from? So we are a schizophrenic society, which needs to be treated collectively.    

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