PPresent in at least five recent exhibitions, three of which are still on display, the Bahian Acervo da Lage is one of the most original initiatives in the country's art and culture circuit. He's on show Rehearsals for the Museum of Origins, at the Tomie Ohtake Institute and at Itaú Cultural, in of the Brazils, at Sesc Belenzinho, and Cesar Bahia, at the Rio Art Museum (MAR), in addition to having participated in Memory is an Invention, at the Rio Museum of Modern Art (MAM Rio), and The Parable of Progress at Sesc Pompeia, both last year.
Created in 2010 by educators Vilma Santos and José Eduardo Ferreira dos Santos, the Acervo da Laje brings together, in two houses purchased by the couple, a collection of hundreds of works that were donated by the artists or their friends, many of which were also found for disposal. As the first house was on a slab, the name comes from this situation.
It all started with research based on José Eduardo’s doctorate in Public Health. His advisor, Gey Espinheira (1946-2009), encouraged him to study the beauty of the Railway Suburb. “Together with Vilma and the photographer Marco Illuminati we started photographing the territory in 2010. Vilma and I, faced with the death of five different artists from the territory, started looking around the city in thrift stores and markets for the works of these artists so that people from the Suburb knew them”, he says.
Of the five exhibitions mentioned, four are collective, which present the Laje Collection among other collections and territories, pointing to its character as an off-axis place that positions itself as a space that gives visibility to a series of artists/craftsmen – the category here is not what matters most –
that are not known. The MAR exhibition is a kind of step forward, as, by dedicating itself to one of the artists in the Collection, César Bahia, with more than 200 works produced between 2010 and 2023, it begins to give visibility and insert its name in an institutional way .
Through the six places where the Laje Collection is exhibited, as one of the exhibitions is divided into two spaces, it is possible to see how the circuit perceives the relevance and originality of this initiative. It is presented on its website as “a space for artistic, cultural and research memory about the Railway Suburb of Salvador”. Around 10% of the population of the capital of Bahia lives in this region.
Among the curators who worked at the Collection are at least two who took care of Documenta in Kassel, such as Ruth Noak and Marina Fokidis, and three involved in past editions of the São Paulo Biennale, such as Lisette Lagnado, Pablo Lafuente and Paulo Miyada.
Currently, 611 works by 30 artists are accessible on the website, in addition to other general categories such as Tiles, Home Collection, Toys or The Beauty of Suburbs, among others. This last session, for example, brings together digital photographs that participated in the exhibition The Beauty of Suburbs carried out with students from São João do Cabrito and Itacaranha who participated in an exhibition in December 2013, in the São João do Cabrito neighborhood.
José Eduardo, who was at the opening of of the Brazils, last August, sent a statement by email about the project, based on a very broad question, which concerned how the Collection was created and whether works that belong to it are sold. To help with reading, we made some thematic divisions in the answer:
THE BEGINNING OF THE COLLECTION
Jose Eduardo – We started the Collection in 2010 from research on the invisible art of beauty workers in the outskirts of Salvador, because, when I finished my doctorate in Public Health, studying the repercussions of homicide among young people in the outskirts, Professor Gey Espinheira told me He asked me to study the beauty of the Railway Suburb of Salvador and then, together with Vilma and the photographer Marco Illuminati, we started photographing the territory in 2010. Vilma and I, faced with the death of five different artists from the territory, started looking for the city the works of these artists were displayed in thrift stores and markets so that people in the area could see them. As we lived in a house on the slab, the Acervo da Laje emerged in 2010, and we then had to move to a rented house until we built our house, in 2015, which is also part of the Acervo da Laje.
BUY AND SELL
Jose Eduardo – The works were and are purchased, found in discards or received as donations by artists, residents and friends. At the beginning, I was doing a post-doctorate at PNPD, and this helped us a lot with research, identifying artists and then we started doing two projects to make these artists and their works visible. It's been 13 years of work, and we didn't know what we had in both houses. During the pandemic we obtained a notice to catalog the initial works on the website, as well as the creation of the newspaper library, all of this with the participation of many people from the territory, particularly young people and residents who participated in the actions with professionals from the areas of museology, archive, design and others.
Every month we took part of our meager earnings to buy works to generate and disseminate artistic creation in the territory. Vilma taught “teaching” [school reinforcement classes] here at Acervo, and I was a university professor, but during the pandemic I fell ill and resigned from the university, as I received R$250 as a salary. Then we stopped buying works more regularly. But, before that, the collections were already formed in both houses and constituted part of the Laje Collection.
We do not sell the works, as they are part of the Laje Collection, which is the only museum-house-school in the Railway Suburb of Salvador, and there are also many materials and works that we find discarded such as plaques, bricks from old potteries, sculptures and all of this is also part of the Collection. When we manage to approve a project, we also reserve a small resource to purchase the works, as we consider this to be important for the territory and its artists.
SHOW THE INVISIBLE
Jose Eduardo – We are looked after by a large number of people who help us develop actions such as workshops, chats on the roof, guided tours and after the website came invitations for exhibitions at MAM Rio, MAM-BA, Sesc Pompeia, and now at Solar Ferrão with Future Brazil: the forms of democracy, at MAR Rio and at SESC Belenzinho. Perhaps the idea of the Collection is to show the invisible and break the hegemonic canons of Brazilian arts, and that is why we always dialogue with many curators such as Keyna Eleison, Pablo de La Fuente, Marcelo Campos, Clarissa Diniz, Igor Simões, Lisette Lagnado, André Pitol, Yudi Rafael, João Angelino, Ayrson Heráclito, Marina Fokidis, Ruth Noack, Luiza Proença, the curators of the 31st São Paulo Biennial, at which we were invited to speak.
We participated in the third Bienal da Bahia and before that we held many exhibitions here on the slabs on the outskirts of Salvador with the #Ocupa Lajes project in two editions (2016 and 2018), moving the entire city. In other words, since its inception, the Acervo da Laje has always sought to avoid leveling what it means to be a space of art and memory on the outskirts, we have always dialogued with all the people who visit us, from children, young people and adults and people from around the world whole, because Brazilian arts need to know the productions of artists from the peripheries, and they must have their names in history, and no longer be considered creators of a lesser art.
ALWAYS WITH A FIGHT
Jose Eduardo – In the same way that the memory of the peripheries needs to be told by us, the same needs to happen with the democratization of curators, always in dialogue. And when a person is interested in an artist, we recommend them so that we don't become the new colonizers, lol. And that. The Acervo da Laje was born from a couple, it multiplies in the community of the Subúrbio Ferroviário de Salvador, it is linked to the new generations who are starting to work with culture and art, and in the exhibitions we hold outside of here we try to get as many people as possible to come with us and have another horizon, no longer the one that was relegated to us, to invisibility and exclusion. Anyway, we work without money, but with a lot of curation and dialogue, and when things get tough we campaign, ask for support, but no formal support has been granted to us to date. Everything is always – and always will be – with a lot of struggle, because living off art and memory in Brazil is a challenge. But we like a challenge. And, as always, we have been very well looked after outside of Bahia, lol.