"Thes files, by themselves, have no memory. It is with them that you build memory”, says researcher and curator Ana Pato. And in this process of reading, interpreting and giving meaning to documents and records – traditionally associated with the academic practice of historians and other researchers – artists have a fundamental role, argues Pato, curator of the exhibition Meta-Archive: 1964-1985 – Space for Listening and Reading Stories from the Dictatorship.
Based on this finding, the exhibition on view at Sesc Belenzinho, created in partnership with Memorial da Resistência, brings together unpublished works by nine artists, conceived from research in different public and private archives on the Brazilian dictatorship. “Because putting documentation in motion always goes through a mediation process”, says the curator. The mediators, in this case, are the artists and collectives Ana Vaz, Grupo Contrafilé, O Grupo Inteiro, Giselle Beiguelman, Ícaro Lira, Mabe Bethônico, Paulo Nazareth, Rafael Pagatini and Traplev.
The works, in various media and languages, set in motion information and materials that expose the violence perpetrated by the military regime over 21 years in different areas of national life. The artistic practice emerges – with its peculiarities – as a historian practice, from a desire to make little-known stories public and, often, to question official historiography. For, as Giselle Beiguelman emphasizes in a work exhibited at the show, memory is always a construction. “What did you forget to forget? What did you forget to remember? What did you remember to forget? What did you remember to remember?”, question the sentences written in neons.
The artist herself, in the installation Bone Drawer, “remembers to remember”, through photos and audio, of the reconnaissance work carried out with the bones in the Vala de Perus, where several people murdered by the dictatorship were clandestinely buried. Paulo Nazareth, in Inquiry, discusses the criminalization of black people from the reading of police investigations found by the artist and transformed into audios – in a work done in collaboration with Michelle Matiuzzi and Ricardo Aleixo.
Em School of Testimonies, Grupo Contrafilé reproduces in headphones – located on a “blackboard” surrounded by school chairs – reports of former political prisoners and their families belonging to the archive of the Regular Collection of Testimonies program at Memorial da Resistência. The work, like that of Nazareth, expresses a desire for the exhibition to expand knowledge about who were the active characters in the fight against the dictatorship, as Pato explains: “We wanted to take off a little of this imaginary that resistance to the dictatorship was made basically by men, whites, young, middle class and USP students who joined the guerrillas. The work of Contrafilé brings a broader view, which includes the labor movement, the movement of women and mothers from the periphery, for example”.
The expansion of the geographic notion of resistance to the dictatorship – beyond the Southeast or famous cases such as the Guerrilha do Araguaia – takes place in the work of Ícaro Lira on the Radical Criticism, a movement formed in the 1970s in Fortaleza. Still active today, the group had a multifaceted trajectory, with a fundamental role in the feminist struggle and passages through institutional politics, guerrilla warfare and, later, taking on a struggle against the vote and capitalism.
In another little-known story, Rafael Pagatini continues his research on the role of cultural institutions during the military regime, showing the intricacies of the relationship between the government and three institutions in São Paulo: Sesc, MASP and Pinacoteca. Images of dictators at the openings of exhibitions printed on fabrics, for example, reveal how these institutions helped to give a certain air of normality to the regime – “it was like a shield”, says the artist –, as exhibitions continued to take place and art continued. having its institutional space, with government approval.
Developed by Traplev from extensive research in archives – including those that resulted in the book Brazil: Never Again, carried out clandestinely by sectors of civil society during the final years of the dictatorship (1979-1985) and which revealed a series of crimes committed by the regime - the installation Weapon of Criticism / Guidance for Practice presents two large organizational charts, one for leftist organizations and the other for repression bodies, located on opposite sides of the exhibition room. The artist also presents a work on the educator Anísio Teixeira, who died in 1971 after being arrested by agents of the dictatorship.
In two large knitting facilities, Text-Fabric-Web, The Entire Group uses words found in the training handouts of the National Information Service (SNI) agents. The manuals, which served to guide the repression of leftist organizations, included dictionaries of slang and expressions that could be needed in interrogation and torture sessions. Next to it, a video by the artist Ana Vaz, entitled Apiyemiyekî? [Why?], addresses the genocide of the Waimiri-Atroari people during the march to the Midwest in the 1970s, when indigenous lands were invaded for the construction of BR-174 and the installation of a mining company. Illustrations created by the indigenous people about the period reveal the traumatic history lived by the population, referring us to the present day.
Finally, Mabe Bethônico researches the relationship between mining companies and the military dictatorship based on a doctoral project he discovered on the subject. The artist invited the author of the research, Ana Carolina Reginatto, to give her classes on the subject and recorded the process in videos. The final work, entitled Mineral Elite [Learning Cabinet] is another that, according to the curator, takes us directly to recent events in the country. “With Mabe's work, it becomes clearer what is happening in Brumadinho. When you look at Ana Vaz's work, you understand better what is happening on the indigenous issue. So we make calls that it seems we didn't make in Brazil,” says Pato.
Revisionism and Learning
If the working group created by Ana Pato with the artists to research the memory of the dictatorship emerged in 2018, it was from the beginning of this year, after the inauguration of Jair Bolsonaro, that the process of producing the works intensified. The theme was even more on the agenda of the day in a context in which the President of the Republic defends the military regime, praises torturers and encourages the commemoration of the date of the 1964 coup. “We are experiencing a moment of revisionism in our official history. Because the military dictatorship is part of our official history, it didn't seem to be a narrative that we had exactly to prove. But things have changed”, says the curator.
“The impression I have is that we are kind of disconnected from who we are, from our nation building. So, to understand what we are experiencing, there is nothing better than looking at the past, learning from History to become more aware of the present”, she says, reinforcing the pedagogical role of Meta-File – especially in times of denial of historical facts and the spread of false information. It is not for nothing, explains Pato, that the exhibition is subtitled Space for Listening and Reading Stories from the Dictatorship. “I think the exhibition is a place of learning. It seems to me that if we need to get back to reality, somehow the artist can be this symbolic path so that we can look at the real again.”
By making unrevealed stories public, there is also the possibility of some reparation or, at least, of dealing with the wounds of the past. “In Brazil, we did not recognize our debts, our traumatic history. And the genocides of the black, indigenous population, that remains. It's the very concept of trauma, the past that doesn't want to go away, that which is always coming back”, says Pato. In this sense, the curator refers to a history that begins long before the military dictatorship, with deep roots that go back to the arrival of the colonizers and the period of slavery. For her, it is only from this historical complexity that one can understand the current “dualism and split in Brazilian society”.
In a vast warehouse at Sesc Belenzinho, the show presents itself as a space for dialogue between the works, mounted between apparent metal structures and small wooden surfaces, allowing the overlapping of the stories presented. About Anna Ferrari's expographic project, the curator explains: “It also has to do with the idea of the archive, to pervert the very idea of boxes. I wanted to be able to see any work from any angle. But the point is this: you will never have the perfect angle, you will always have the other side.”
Meta-Archive: 1964-1985 – Space for Listening and Reading Stories from the Dictatorship
Sesc Belenzinho – R. Padre Adelino, 1000 – Belenzinho, São Paulo
until November 24