"From tomorrow to yesterday", by Mônica Ventura, at the exhibition "Abre-Caminhos" at Centro Cultural São Paulo. Photo: Publicity/CCSP

QWhoever walks along Avenida Vergueiro, in the capital of São Paulo, comes across a series of colorful lambe-lambes by the posts near the Centro Cultural São Paulo (CCSP), on which you can read “Black Magic” and “Jexus”. Anyone who thinks they are there by chance is wrong. Applied by Alex Igbo, they are part of Opener, one of the new exhibitions on display at the Cultural Center

Turning to the institution, a vertical sculpture built by Yhuri Cruz, with white flags waving in the hanging garden, catches the eye, as does the colorful installation by Mônica Ventura, which occupies the ground floor garden. However, it is upon entering the CCSP that you can see up close the works of 6 artists who make up Opener. Sharing space with them, but located within the library complex, it is 30ª edition of the Exhibition Program – Mostra 2020. With 18 individual exhibitions, the edition focuses on diversity, reflecting its own call for entries, which reached a record 874 projects submitted, most of them created by women, non-white and LGBTQ+ artists .  

"From tomorrow to yesterday", by Mônica Ventura, at the exhibition "Abre-Caminhos" at Centro Cultural São Paulo. Photo: Publicity/CCSP
“From tomorrow to yesterday”, by Mônica Ventura, at the “Abre-Caminhos” exhibition at Centro Cultural São Paulo. Photo: Publicity/CCSP

For Hélio Menezes, curator of contemporary art at CCSP, this quantitative and qualitative change in the inscriptions has reasons: the constant search for institution in becoming a diverse environment and the hard work of the last two years in implementing a curatorial program that is especially interested in dissident artistic expressions. “This key change, which I prefer to call a anti-disciplinary curation, does not take norms and subordination as guides, but precisely the questioning of disciplines as modes of operation”, he explains. 

This look can be seen in the format of the works. So much Opener, while the 2020 Exhibition has a predominance of installation works. “It was a desire of ours – to occupy the building in a fluid way, to end this idea that art can only be exhibited in a specific place, with a caption, a security guard at the door and a controlled body style – and, at the same time, At the same time, a beautiful encounter with the artists' desire to get out of confinement and gain volume in space, in a freer way”, points out Menezes.

It is this anti-disciplinary and anti-canonical look that guides the reopening, combined with a reflection on the pandemic period. If 2020 seems like a year that begins at the end, the curators of the Cultural Center sought to think about this moment. “Understanding that the year is actually starting at the end, and that nothing ends here, we have this idea of ​​cyclicity, that the end is a beginning, that death is a stage of rebirth”, explains Menezes; and adds: “We were really interested in emanating this energy, this understanding that we are not opening in a festive moment, that it is not a celebration, but it is not an end either. I think it is a cyclical process indeed.” 

This cyclical character and this movement, to which Hélio refers, are significant characteristics of Exu, the Yoruban orixá. This brings us to the first exposition.

Lambe-lambes by Alex Igbo for the Abre-Caminhos exhibition. Photo: Publicity/CCSP
Lambe-lambes by Alex Igbo for the Abre-Caminhos exhibition. Photo: Publicity/CCSP

Exu as an axis

For Menezes, it made a lot of sense to resume activities at the CCSP with Opener. “It is an exhibition that takes Exu as a concept, more than as a properly religious deity. It is not an exhibition about religion, but one that takes the dimensions of communication, circulation, openness and language as characteristics of this deity of Yoruba origin, which inspires these works by six artists who were invited to intervene in the building.” 

Alex Igbo's lambes, which we came across even before arriving at the Centro Cultural São Paulo, are an example. They seek to question the symbolic construction of words. “'Black Magic' is an expression that is almost always taken in a pejorative sense, and Alex presents them with vibrant, almost cute colors, in a reversal of the meaning”, explains the curator. 

The exhibition sought to occupy alternative spaces, avoiding closed rooms and being distributed through the open spaces of the institution, so that they could be enjoyed outside the agglomeration. As a result, part of the works can be seen from outside the CCSP, and the flag BRAZIL BLACK SAVE, from the Frente 3 de Fevereiro collective, can only be seen from the outside. Back to Av. 23 de Maio and with the colors of Exu, proposes to the city a salute to blackness and a direct intervention in the public debate on the structural racism of Brazilian society. 

from tomorrow to yesterday, by Mônica Ventura, occupies the Central Garden. In the installation, the artist takes up aesthetics and cultural, artistic and religious elements of the Yoruba peoples and emanates Zangbeto, an entity that was not transferred to Brazil. By her side, How to predict with the unpredictable? de Maré de Matos, brings this sentence as an open question, which speaks a lot with the current moment.

All the works commissioned for this show are unpublished, at least in São Paulo. It is the case of The Horse is Levante (Monument to Oxalá and axs workers), by Yhuri Cruz, assembled for the first time in Rio de Janeiro and now adapted for the CCSP suspended garden, creating a dialogue (and a dispute) with the tall buildings around it. “It's an anti-monument. It monumentalizes something that is not tangible, that is not in the immediate interest of stone, concrete, bronze monuments, which for the most part honor white men. On the other hand, it will honor the workers and Oxalá himself, as a deity of creation, of the wind, of wisdom, of the ethereal”, says Hélio Menezes. 

As we enter the closed spaces of the Cultural Center, we see a crossroads in the heart of the libraries. It's the installation Here nothing ends, by Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro, which is perhaps the portrait of the anti-disciplinary and anti-canonical art that Hélio seeks with his curatorship. “I think that this installation by Castiel is a beautiful example of how to converse with the bookish environment, of a controlled knowledge in books, the library, silence, in speaking softly, having a controlled posture and way of body. It opens a space, in this sense, if not for lack of control, for freedom, rest, pause and reflection”.

A conversation beyond the white cube

It is this work by Castiel that prepares us for the ascent to the sequence of individual exhibitions that build the Exhibition Program. Of the 18 participating artists, 14 were selected by public notice, in which Diane Lima, Marcelo Campos, Márcio Harum and the CCSP visual arts curators Maria Adelaide Pontes and Hélio Menezes participated as members of the judging committee.

Among the projects submitted, there was a large contingent of dissident artists (non-white and non-male) outside the Rio-São Paulo axis. “Other institutions often have problems, you see very weak programs, a little pale, of trying to place an indigenous artist, a trans artist, as a kind of quota of representation”, says Menezes. For him, the scenario at CCSP was practically the opposite: “It is an excess of projects of excellent quality by artists who until yesterday were on the fringes of this most central system of the arts, and who today seem to define what is interesting, not only from the point of view of from an artistic point of view, but also from a marketing point of view.”

Thus, the show is full of anti-disciplinary proposals, whether by Amador and Jr. Property Security Ltd. and Charlene Bicalho, with the exhibition Water, don't sleep, who turned to another audience: outsourced workers from the cultural center itself, bringing into focus invisible narratives; or by artists who put their family experiences in focus, such as Moara Brasil, with the Silva Museum – in which she brings her family history, a portrait of our country, with indigenous traditions crossed by Christian colonization -, and Luana Vitra, with Three Wars in the Chest – telling the impacts of mining, on the bodies and stories of those who come from their city, marked by the extraction of iron. 

Racial discussions, so present in Opener, also take shape at the 2020 CCSP Exhibition. Peter de Brito makes portraits and subverts them into Eugenia, by “painting” them with bleach, discoloring the black cotton. The uses of anger, sculpture by Ana Clara Tito, makes up the exhibition Liver and carries Audre Lorde's ideas of turning the anger of racism and misogyny into something productive for herself. Rafael Bqueer, with the performance and installation Picuma, proposes an inversion both in the colonial and patriarchal view. “Based on the strength of his own hair – by a black, Amazonian, LGBTQ+ artist – he sustains a chandelier, which in the Brazilian social imagination immediately refers to Casas Grandes”, explains Hélio Menezes. 

Alongside these works, we see artist exhibitions: Alice Lara, Bruno Novaes, Denise Alves-Rodrigues, Elilson, Helô Sanvoy, Iagor Peres and Lídia Lisboa. In the most plural ways, they converse with the architectural space, with the world and dispense with the white cube and the disciplines of art, questioning colonial, patriarchal and white norms and expanding the possibilities of identity and knowledge. 

In dialogue, four artists, invited by the CCSP visual arts curators – Hélio Menezes and Maria Adelaide Pontes -, participate in the set of exhibitions with unpublished projects. “The choice of these artists is a mixture of two desires: recognition of consolidated and important careers for us to understand the present contemporary production, as well as a selection of the same contemporary production of today that announces a scent of what will come”, says Menezes. 

Profana Ventura, builds in the CCSP its plantations ofand prank, for eternity. Completely denying the white walls of the museum, she built – with the help of LGBTQ+ masons – four walls for her own exhibition space, in which she created her own Church. The entrance doormat reads “Neither I nor my house serve the Lord”, setting the tone for his exposition, which points to the colonial Christian intersection of the lord with the colonial slave-holding image of the lord. 

Daiara Tukano, Genilson Soares and Rômmulo Vieira Conceição investigate a common point: “They explore the dimensions of the gaze, how it can be deceiving, displacing; as what we see is not previously placed in the object, but something that can be seen from the relationship with the one who looks, the one who looks”, explains Menezes. Daiara with works that bring the three-dimensionality of an experience with ayahuasca, alongside paintings, drawings and a photograph that carry the history and teachings of the Tukano people. Rômmulo, with an installation that involves several layers of glass and from different angles of vision, creates unlikely three-dimensional display cabinets, which shock objects that are aesthetic and class markers. Genilson, on the other hand, participates with the reproduction of a work installed at MAM Rio in the 70s. time was already disruptive, it seemed to us to have very strong echoes with the present moment”, says Hélio Menezes.

In this way, the reopening of Centro Cultural São Paulo, casts a new look at the current world, not only pandemic (or post-pandemic), but anti-disciplinary and open to discover the new forms of art and knowledge that are to come.

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