*By Mariana Tessitore
“For me to be here today speaking, many people who came from Africa to be enslaved had to die.” This is how the artist Jaime Lauriano started this conversation with the ARTE!Brasileiros at the end of 2016. With his big, round glasses, and the map of the African continent tattooed on his arm, he received the report at Ateliê 397, a space for cultural intervention based in Vila Madalena, in the west of São Paulo.
Lauriano spoke about his work as an artist started in 2007, after his training in the visual arts course at Faculdade Belas Artes. In 2011, his production took a one-year hiatus, in which he worked with political marketing “to understand how the structure worked from the inside”.
However, in 2012 he decided to return to the field of arts, starting a project that proposes reinterpretations of key moments in Brazilian history. Last year, the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo acquired its On this earth in planting everything gives, which gave the artist greater projection.
The collective is a central issue for Lauriano. He reinforces that his body is the result of an ancestry, marked by the struggles of marginalized groups throughout history. “Talking about this collectivity is one of the responsibilities I assumed for myself. Not necessarily thematizing this, but affirming that I am a producer of African origin, that something is engraved in my body. And that is what the police and racial segregation remind me of all the time”, says the artist.
In his latest project, Lauriano recounts Brazilian history from three perspectives: work, land domination and the creation of the nation state. These three points were investigated in exhibitions that the artist held respectively at Centro Cultural São Paulo, Galeria Leme and Centro Cultural do Banco do Brasil do Rio. According to Laureano, the aim was to “search in the past for explanations for what is happening in the present. He wanted to understand questions like: why are so many young black people killed? Or why do we still create so many nationalist slogans to this day?”.
To answer these questions, he went to the public archives of Rio and São Paulo. There he found several documents, from which he created his most recent works. In recent years, the archive has become a constant reference in contemporary art works. Asked about this issue, Lauriano comments: “It is an attempt to 'fictionalize' the archives to show that the story we are told is also a fiction. It is not about creating a new official history, but about presenting other possibilities and perspectives”.
In 2014, Lauriano dusted off the archives of the military dictatorship to create two videos that he presented at the press conference I Show, at Centro Cultural São Paulo, held during the World Cup in Brazil. In Sudden death, the artist films people covering their faces with the shirt of the Brazilian team, while a narrator reads the names of 25 political disappeared from the 1970s. In the video, “the camera takes a traveling shot, showing these people in profile, as if they were listening the anthem before a match, taking a frame or still about to be shot”.
In the work, the artist draws attention to how sport can be used as an instrument of patriotic exaltation: “I wanted to talk about the 1970 World Cup because, at the same time that everyone supported Brazil, that was the year that the dictatorship military managed to break up the armed struggle. It was also the period of the economic miracle, the population excited about the distribution of income through consumption. And it is very contradictory because this is a rhetoric that is still used in any type of government”.
Last year, the artist held the exhibition Self-portrait in White on Black at Galeria Leme. The show was a milestone in her career, functioning as “a self-portrait, not just my social condition, but the imposition of white society on black bodies, and how it crosses the history of Brazil”. It was there that he presented the installation On this earth in planting everything gives, composed of a seedling of Pau Brasil planted inside a greenhouse. In the work, there is a whole system, with irrigation and ventilation, which guarantees the ideal conditions for the tree to live. However, as it grows, the tree will likely die from suffocation or from exploding the glass in the greenhouse as it grows in size.
Lauriano says that, as in the greenhouse, in Brazil “there are ideal conditions for growth, but we imprison. The State subsidizes transport, health, in short, many things, but it also restricts freedom, people have borders, passports, police. The first enslaved in Brazil was the Indian to remove the pau Brasil, which is perversely the plant that gives the country its name. So, what names the nation is the sign of the first genocide, the first torture. At work, I wanted to think about all that.”
The current artistic director of the Pinacoteca, Tadeu Chiarelli, saw the work in the exhibition and decided to acquire it for the institution's collection. After buying the piece, Chiarelli made other acquisitions of works by Afro-descendant artists, which would make up the exhibition territories, presented this year to commemorate the institution's 110th anniversary.
Lauriano says that from that moment on, he began “to understand that he had a very great responsibility, for being a black producer of contemporary art within a society of racial segregation, but that to this day preaches meritocracy and racial democracy as founding pillars” .
For the artist, the insertion of black people in the art market is “a work of an ant. I, for example, refer people to other exhibitions. I understand that creating a network, a community of people is also part of the artwork. I learned this because I've been listening to rap a lot since I was a kid and that's very strong in rap, this industry that is supplied by Afro-Brazilian producers. And I think this thought also needs to be in the visual arts, the more people we can bring together, let's go, you know? Where cattle pass, cattle pass. It opened a crack, come on people. Some people and I are managing to open this gap, this place for dialogue”.
In his latest exhibition, presented this year at the CCBB in Rio, Lauriano continued to propose connections between the past and the present. At work calimba, for example, created stamps with 25 newspaper headlines about lynchings carried out in Brazil. The stamps refer to the practice adopted by masters of branding slaves with iron. The artist tells a little about the process of conception of the work: “While I was researching the newspapers, I remembered the lynchings practiced in the 1920s in the south of the USA. They were black men beaten, hanged and hung in public squares. These images became postcards as if they were landscapes that should be contemplated. This lasted about 20 years. And here in Brazil, at that time, we were experiencing the height of racial democracy. This also happened, it just wasn't publicized. All this made me think about colonial violence, how it is updated today in these lynchings, which are once again carried out in the public square by civil society and not by the state. It is impressive how violence also transits historically”.
Lauriano comments that part of his job is to appear in the press to question the stereotypes associated with Afro-descendants. “It is important to show that there is another place for the young black man than that of the potential suspect. Even because the black in Brazil today is not even a suspect anymore, he is already the accused, the one who did the bullshit.” Optimistic, he says that, due to the presence of artists such as Sonia Gomes, Emanoel Araújo and Paulo Nazareth, the arts environment has become more open, even though there is obviously still prejudice. However, with the strengthening of the discussion, “it becomes much more difficult to erase or silence the black”. As the artist says, where cattle pass, cattle pass.
*Mariana Tessitore is a journalist and historian