The Parable of Progress, exhibition on display at the Sesc Pompeii, closes on a high note the cycle of events held throughout the year in Brazil around the 200th anniversary of independence (1822) and the centenary of Modern Art Week (1922). Reversing the historical emphasis, the exhibition does not intend to review or reinterpret the facts that occurred on these iconic dates, but rather to think about contemporary production based on central issues that emerged throughout this modernization process, illuminating contradictions and seeking to identify zones of thematic and poetic condensation. If a dominant narrative still persists, marked by a series of mottos and myths that until today remain as a basis for articulating the construction of culture in the country, its increasingly frayed plot reveals an intense presence of ignored or suffocated elements, by this hegemonic myth of progress.
Instead of adopting a linear and evolutionary vision of artistic creation, the show is organized by the articulation of complementary nuclei, which present overlaps and connections that are not always evident, bringing together a wide range of actors and organizations. Five spaces, with different profiles and geographical roots, which interact directly with the surrounding communities, were invited to participate in the project, with highly personalized exhibition centers, but deeply integrated into the set. They are the Acervo da Laje (Salvador), the Aldeia Kalipety and the People's house (São Paulo), Quilombo Santa Rosa dos Pretos (Itapecuru Mirim, in Maranhão) and Savvy Contemporary – the Laboratory of Form-Ideas (Berlin). A sixth radiating pole is Sesc Pompeia itself, which is now celebrating its 40th anniversary. Both space – symbol of transformation and generation of culture since the 1980s –, like its author, Lina Bo Bardi, play a fundamental role in the exhibition.
The architect is one of the strengths of the show, which combines in the same space more than 600 items, produced by a hundred artists, and arranged in a very fluid way, thanks to the expographic project designed by Tiago Guimarães. It is represented in the first place by the space that houses the exhibition and which is now 40 years old (forming, along with independence and modernist week, the trio of ephemeris that sustains the event). But Lina is also present through a series of projects, works, drawings and reflections that help shed light on multiple issues, such as the connection between Africa and Brazil, with her Houses of Culture projects in Benin and Bahia; the pioneering recovery of craft and cultural traditions in the anthological exhibition The hand of the Brazilian people (resignified through the work of artists such as Mestre Dicinho); the fight against a retrograde and elitist view of art or the significant presence of the theme of immigration in the exhibition.
Curator Lisette Lagnado, responsible for the project for the 27th Bienal under the theme how to live together, takes up this dialogical structure to collectively try to respond to the challenge of “recovering notions of public space, destroyed in the name of modernity”. Despite pointing out that “this is not about looking for alternative modernities, or subaltern ones, or from peripheral regions”, Lisette reiterates that we live in moments of questioning widely disseminated notions such as that of the Brazilian “cordial man”. “Brazil's post-colonial trajectory shows the permanence of oligarchic structures on a multiethnic fabric disguised as 'racial democracy'”, she emphasizes.
There is, in the wide range of works, a series of works of great power and intense harmony with the central issues identified by the curatorship, in its various instances of action, as fundamental contemporary issues, such as colonialism, racism, nature, immigration and resistance . One of the first works in the exhibition, a photograph from the series on earth, by Daniele Rodrigues, seems to synthesize the strength of the popular uprising, with a hand that rises from the ground carrying a sword-of-São-Jorge (or sword-of-Ogun), with a white landscape in the background in which you can only foresee a little church. The sword, in this case, is the plant, which has a series of symbolic connotations for religions of African origin. This image, which belongs to the powerful selection of works sent by the Laje collection, echoes with the nucleus of Maranhão, located at the other end of the living space. Through the lens of Márcio Vasconcelos, we see a set of five portraits of strong women, whose drama only becomes evident when reading the caption of the image, which brings their names (Dona Bia, Rosa, Dijé, Glorinha and Antonia) and the information that they are part of a tragic group, the Death Sworn.
These encounters, which permeate almost the entire exhibition, acquire an even more radiant power in the core that functions as a backbone of the entire scheme, a kind of “translation of the concept into physical space”, as Lisette explains. It is a web of works from historical times, installed on the long wall at the back of the exhibition space. This intersection of themes and periods was named Parable, in reference to the general title and which refers both to the geometric representation of the curve and to the symbolic force of the narrative and the imagery symbol. There, a wide selection interacts with ten iconic works of modernism, by idols such as Tarsila do Amaral and Lasar Segall. These works considered fundamental to the history of Brazilian art are shown virtually, through reproductions in light boxes, underlining their spectral character. As André Pitol, assistant curator of the exhibition, together with Yudi Rafael, tells us, the process of choosing these iconic works was based on the selection of the most contemporary works, some of them commissioned especially for the event, as if the present questioned the past in terms of of current issues. “We tried to respond to modernism in a broader way”, he explains.
In times of threat to the precarious Brazilian democracy and evident political setbacks, the works that touch more surgically on the wound of authoritarianism stand out throughout the exhibition, such as the core of correspondence by Ariel Ferrari, son of León Ferrari, on the eve of his murder by Argentine repression. But silent violence, linked to unavoidable themes such as colonization and diaspora, is practically omnipresent.🇧🇷 They manifest themselves in impactful canvases, such as German Invasion, by Márcia Falcão, in the curly gesture and powerful figuration of Elson Junior, or in works of a more allegorical nature, such as Odoya, by Ani Ganzala, featuring Iemanjá and her devotees. The orixá swims in the middle of a beautiful sea full of fish, which fall out of her hair, on a bottom of the sea full of skulls and which seems not only to show that we are not the country of the future, as the modernist mystique promised, as we still have many reckonings with the past to do.
In addition to the show, which is on display until April 2023, the project Parable of Progress will also include the publication of a book with essays written by the curators and a guest list. The edition foresaw the publication of a series of photographic records of the exhibition, made by Rochelle Costi, who died prematurely, victim of a car run over at the end of November, which should be maintained and turned into a tribute to the artist.