Mabel Medeiros, director of Mamam. Photo: Vanessa Acioly

EIn her almost three years as director of the Aloisio Magalhães Museum of Modern Art (Mama), Mabel Medeiros spent half the period under the Covid-19 pandemic. A very critical situation for those who had a series of plans and objectives for management, in the most diverse areas. Even more critical considering the constant attacks promoted by the federal government on culture in the country, with a project that, more than neglect, seems to weaken and dismantle the sector, she says.

“The shortening of the cultural sector has been used, in recent years, as a strategy of domination and control of social narratives. (…) A project of institutionalized setback, which legitimizes constant attacks on all pillars of civilization, distorts the motivation, essence and urgency of art”, says Medeiros, 46, administrator and specialist in Art and Education who took over the board of Mamam after the passages – chronologically – of Marcus Lontra, Marco Pólo Guimarães, Moacir dos Anjos, Cristiana Tejo and Beth da Matta.

Even so, the new management managed to have an outstanding performance in the period and, as one of the results, it received the ABCA Award (Brazilian Association of Art Critics) from  2019/2020 for the power of its programming and for its activity in the field of visual arts. Created in 1997, when the former Aloisio Magalhães Metropolitan Art Gallery gained museum status – honoring this plastic artist, designer and cultural activist from Pernambuco – and located in an old 19th-century mansion, the Mamam (linked to the Department of Culture of City Hall) established itself strongly in the Pernambuco scene, creating a growing dialogue with contemporary visual arts.

One of the main current guidelines, according to the curator, was to establish gender equity, starting from a look at the institution’s own collection – of the 1225 works in the collection, only 149 are by women – which is reflected both in the programming and in the training itself. team internal. In addition, the quest to make a museum more purposeful, the focus on virtual performance, the dialogue with artists from the city and region, the strengthening of the research and educational sector and financial difficulties were some of the points addressed in the interview with arte!brasileiros. Read the full text below.

Main facade of the Museum, in the center of Recife. Photo: Rodrigo Braga

ARTE! – Considering the moment we are living in, I think we could start by talking a little about how Mamam acted during the pandemic – which has lasted almost a year and a half – and where is the museum now?

Like the entire world, we were taken by surprise. We had projects for the year 2020, a schedule that was already in place and negotiated to happen, and when the museums closed here in Recife, we were in the process of finalizing the assembly of an exhibition. A group exhibition we received, entitled CKD – COMPLETELY KNOCKED DOWN, with nine artists from Bremen and Recife, which cannot be presented. And so we closed the doors at that moment. Everything that we had planned, in addition to this exhibition – because the museum has been investing in many actions of an educational nature, training the team and the public, actions that take place in parallel with the exhibitions – was put on hold.

What we maintained, at first, was a dialogue on social networks, in an attempt to adapt, and some projects that we already had ready. Luckily, in this administration, which started in November 2018, we had already turned a lot to social networks, to expand this virtual access, with a more informal speech so that people could get to the museum more easily. And in that first year We continued with some projects such as #artistaindica, where artists make suggestions for books to read, the Mamam Collection, whose works from the collection are publicized on our social networks, the holding of workshops and virtual courses, the dissemination of testimonials from art- educators about their roles in non-formal institutions… And that's what we keep doing. There was also a demand for greater dialogue with children and of dialogue actions with artists in the pandemic, with disclosures about the LAB and artist disclosures. In addition, we continued our administrative demand with meetings with the team, the Curatorial Council, articulations with artists and teachers to carry out training and, mainly, follow-up and requests for physical maintenance of the space and preservation of the collection.

When the initial turmoil passed and we managed to reorganize ourselves, other actions emerged. We were also in an internal process of continuing the preparation of the Museological Plan, which is in the conclusion phase, because Mamam had a Plan from the previous management, but it was not yet finalized. So we started to review it with the broader participation of all sectors of the institution, as it is necessary to do to think about the guidelines.

ARTE! – And there was a strengthening of the research sector…

I'm here thinking that it would be very important to mention that this line is coordinated by professors Carolina Ruoso (UFMG) and Joana D'Arc Lima (UNILAB/CE)

We also became part of a research network – Research and Training Network in Exhibition Curation – coordinated by professors Carolina Ruoso (UFMG) and Joana D'Arc Lima (UNILAB/CE). Mamam has already had research groups in other administrations that ended up not having continuity, so this is very important. And this network, which has around 30 researchers and involves Pernambuco, Ceará and Minas, focuses on curatorship research and the histories of the exhibitions. And as a museum, we strongly believe in the power of research, training, education.

We also have a second line of research, coordinated by Ana Luiza Lima, which deals with issues of gender, race and ethnicity, which starts from a look at our collection. Recife and the metropolitan region - which has been expanding to other regions of the state -, which was designed to, at this time of a pandemic, discuss from the protocols that we would need to assume in the returns, to actions, ways to mobilize. Because the pandemic impacts on the obvious health issue, but it also impacts on other issues. Until today, for example, we have a decree in Pernambuco that suspended any expenditure that was not for the health area. So we need to strengthen ourselves with other sectors.   

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Inner courtyard of the museum, with works by Francisco Brennand. Photo: Disclosure

ARTE! – Maman reopened, for face-to-face access, the doors of a part of the building, notably the patio with works by Francisco Brennand. Are there plans for a full reopening?

The first reopening took place in October, when all equipment in the city reopened, then closed again, due to the needs imposed by the pandemic. But we still don't have the assembly of the exhibition that we had to suspend. And what we have now open is the circulation in the inner courtyard of the house, which has permanent works by Brennand. The administrative sectors and occasionally the collection and library are also open. We are planning the gradual return of the face-to-face events that we usually do – the workshops, courses and debates are still in the virtual field. The exhibition has not yet opened, due to sponsorship negotiations between the production and the municipality.

ARTE! – Just about that, I wanted to ask how is the financial aspect of the museum – which is managed by the Fundação de Cultura Cidade do Recife, an agency of the city hall – and if it was affected by the pandemic. Also, was it necessary to make staff cuts?

Yes, we had financial losses. In fact, the museum was already suffering from budget cuts, but in the pandemic we are “on hold” until the decree in the state (funds only for health) is revoked. As for the team, no one was fired. A total of 11 employees, 13 interns and 8 municipal guards work at Mamam.

ARTE! – Returning to the subject of virtual acting, I would like you to talk a little about how this came about and also how you see this field in the future, even after the pandemic. Some say that cultural institutions in Brazil were far behind in this regard and were taken by surprise by the pandemic… how do you see this point?

Yes, I believe that the virtual is here to stay, but I also believe that we will need to rethink this virtual a little bit. Because in the same way that we had to virtualize everything, I hear many people talking about exhaustion, that they can't take their whole lives online anymore. Of course, that burnout will also ease in the future, because we're not going to be on screen all the time when things get better. But as a cultural institution, we were actually behind in this aspect and we will have to think more and more about virtual programming. One thing we achieved, which actually predated the pandemic, under Beth da Matta's management, was to create a profile on the Google Arts and Culture platform, with a curatorship of works from the collection, a little bit of the museum's history and a virtual visit. to some shows. But it's still something that gets a little stuck, because we can't always update. But, we certainly managed to expand our actions on social networks and virtual platforms and, consequently, the dialogue with our audience. Today, in this online format, our workshops, debates and courses allow people to participate from anywhere, as long as they have access to the internet. We were also able to provide training for the public with professionals – artists, curators, teachers and art educators from other regions of the country. There was also a focus on social networks, because this approximation is necessary, it is a place where people are often, they are intimate, which even helps to remove some of the formality in contact with the institution. But yes, we will continue to invest and think about it even after the pandemic.

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View of the exhibition by Adriana Varejão, in 2019. Photo: Flávio Lamenha

ARTE! – Well, in the balance that you make at the end of the first year of your management, just before the beginning of the pandemic, you put some basic guidelines for the museum, which were already being complied with. One of them is gender equity, and this concerns both programming and the staff itself. Could you talk a little about this path chosen by the museum, the motivations for this decision…

Well, we come from a process of centuries of exclusion, not only in relation to the issue of women. In our work at the museum, the beginning started with a look at the collection itself. Because we have 1225 works and of this total only 149 are by women. In terms of artists, we have around 340 and of them 89 are women. It is a percentage that is still a little misleading, but in practice we have, among many male artists, small collections, a more robust representation, against a few groups of works by women – such as Tomie Ohtake, Tarsila do Amaral, Rosana Ricalde, Oriana Duarte and Juliana Notari. Most artists only have one or two works in their collection. There is a clear disparity in this regard. So we started from that thought because the data signaled that.

And in this process we also saw the need to look into another research, to better map these artists. Because what we have in our work records, in our catalog cards, in our entry documents, are two blocks of information: the artists' data, with space for name, artistic name, etc.; and the data of the work itself, with title, materials, dimensions, etc. But this only allowed us to read this gender data binary, from the names. From now on, therefore, we change this entry form, including a self-declaration of gender, race, ethnicity, so that we can have data for further research. 

And this look at the collection also made us think about current discussions, which are there, of the various groups that are fighting for space, for rights, for the possibility of having professional space, representation, etc.

ARTE! – Is there also work to strengthen the collection? If so, is it going in that direction to bring in more women artists and from minority groups?

We do. Even the research groups already give us this basis, this direction for acquisitions – but so do the actions of the museum. Many people question how to get into the museum. Mamam has a curatorial commission, which was established in the administration prior to mine, of Beth da Matta, because we believe that having a collective discussion, among several people, creates a greater possibility of expanding the collection, not letting things pass that at times sometimes escape the vision of a single person.

So the arrival of works can go through this commission, but Mamam is also open for artists to get in touch and request space from the museum. Obviously, the institution cannot handle the entire production of the city, which is vast, with many young people, but we remain attentive to this, to this contemporary production. Even the gallery was born, back in the 1980s, from a demand from artists who wanted a place where they could exhibit. Today the city has several other spaces, but Mamam continues to be a place that many people want to reach - especially in recent years, at a time when we have seen our culture suffer blows of all kinds, losing funding, public notices, possibilities of circulation, acquisition of works, etc.

For this reason, due to this lack of incentives, since 2019 Mamam has also organized the idea of ​​an inter-language project, in which the museum provides spaces - for example, the auditorium for theater rehearsals. Understanding that not only the languages ​​of the visual arts, but also other artistic languages ​​have lost space, we have been getting closer and doing multidisciplinary projects or other artistic areas, even though the main focus of the museum remains the visual arts.   

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Presentation by the Magiluth Theater Group. Photo: Zé Rebelatto/ Estúdio Orra

ARTE! – Thinking about the production of local artists, another thing that you say in that balance sheet, which seems to me to be quite relevant, is the need to make the museum more purposeful, more capable of setting up exhibitions and projects of its own, not just receiving ready-made things. Why was this not possible and what is being done to change this picture?

The impossibility of the museum being more purposeful basically comes from a financial issue, when we have been losing – not only locally, but nationally – funding. This greatly diminishes our ability to propose. We need a strengthening of institutions in general, but of course the museum also thinks beyond its own resources, seeking resources that come from public notices and projects contemplated in the most diverse possibilities.

ARTE! – Finally, I wanted to ask a question more related to the political context. We have, even before the pandemic, a federal government that has promoted strong attacks on the cultural sector, both with cuts in resources and with attitudes that even border on censorship. As a cultural institution, what is it like to work in this context?

It's been really hard. We see a project to weaken the sector, because it is very clear that it is not just ignorance, but actions that clearly weaken all these places. I understand the guidelines in relation to culture and education – and other areas – as part of the current power project. The shortening of the cultural sector has been used, in recent years, as a strategy of domination and control of social narratives. The Ministry of Culture was extinguished and the budgets earmarked for the National Culture Fund were also – and mainly – drastically and systematically reduced, among many other actions to dismantle important initiatives and achievements for the Brazilian people.

The recent news about the fire at Cinemateca Brasileira is one of the many examples of the disregard with which the cultural sector and how our collections and history have been neglected and destroyed. A project of institutionalized regression, which legitimizes constant attacks on all pillars of civilization, distorts the motivation, essence and urgency of art. It is a project that is in process and that has apparently achieved what is foreseen in it. The feeling is very bad. And although we are not directly linked to the federal government, we had several mechanisms that made resources reach the states and cities.

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Internal area of ​​the mansion that houses the Mamam. Photo: Sol Pulquerio

ARTE! – The current Secretary of Culture, Mario Frias, has already made it clear that the approval of projects in the Culture Incentive Law will be guided (and is already being) by ideological criteria, according to the government line, and no longer through commissions plurals as was done until recently…

For us, it is even more difficult, considering that we have put ourselves in this place of discussing the elitization of art spaces, with themes that totally go against what this vision of culture of the current government could be. And, in fact, we lose a little energy, we who are all the time thinking about projects, dreaming, unfolding for things to happen...  

ARTE! – I would like to go back to a point that we went through briefly, about the focus on educational work, which is clear through the various projects and workshops of the museum. The idea of ​​participation, not just contemplation, seems to gain more and more prominence in the work of various cultural institutions. In other words, think not only about the number of visitors, but also about the quality of that visitation. How is this issue handled at Mamam?

Yes, educational work has been very important. In fact, several projects emerge from debates in education and we are expanding the activities of this sector, also in the sense of opening up more to dialogue with groups in society. So it has been a collective construction that involves both the formation of the team itself and actions that interest outsiders, the public. We also have interiorization projects, for example, outside the walls of the institution, both in communities in Recife and outside the city. And we have a project that is a little on hold for now, given the context, but it is a dream of ours, to make a museum school, in which all projects are linked in a more systematic way.

ARTE! – Finally, going a little further back in time, Mamam is a museum that is just over 20 years old. It's not exactly new, but it's not an old museum either, established decades ago. How do you think the institution was inserted in the cultural map of Recife and what is the importance of the institution today in the city and even in the country?

I think it's the institution's own history, from other managers who have passed and who have been consolidating the work. Mamam was created in 1997, with a vision of becoming a venue in Recife that would house important exhibitions on the national and international circuit. So the museum was born as an institution that brought large exhibitions, by Picasso, Rodin, etc. It is very common even today for people to arrive and say: “Oh, I came here to see Rodin”. And this marked, for being an institution in Recife, in the Northeast of Brazil, that it entered the route of the great exhibitions, and the management of Marcus Lontra was, without a doubt, quite relevant in this sense, as he is a curator who had access to the production international.. And if we think about the sequence of managements, Moacir, for example, started with a look at local production, but then also circulated a contemporary national production. In the sequence, Beth da Matta also returned to a more local production, not least because there was an appeal from local artists to want to be present there in that place. So I believe that the way in which the actions were carried out, the projects and programs that have been created, the managers and their visions, created recognition of Mamam not only in the city, but also internationally. 

     

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