Marcos Zacariades with iconic photos of the original city
Marcos Zacariades with iconic photos of the original city
By Fabio Cypriano and Patrícia Rousseaux, in Igatu

It seems unlikely that an abandoned stone town, Igatu, which had more than ten thousand inhabitants in the 19th century, at the height of mining in Chapada Diamantina, and today has just over 400, would be home to a contemporary art gallery. More surprising is that this gallery was opened in 2002 and, with an active program, that not only deals with art, but also with the memory of the place.

Marcos Zacariades, 63, from Salvador, is responsible for the initiative, in a very particular story. An employee at Caixa Econômica in the 1980s, he decided to give up his career and financial stability at the age of 36, when he began studying at the School of Fine Arts at the Federal University of Bahia. His training was influenced by cinema, where Godard and Bergman were determining figures for the study of image. At the same time he bought a small piece of land in Igatu, a district that belongs to the municipality of Andaraí. 

“I found this place on my second trip to Chapada in 1984 and I identified with it”, he recalls in the shade of an iron gazebo, his own project, in the outdoor area of ​​the Art & Memory Gallery. “When I came, it looked more like a ghost town, it was completely abandoned.”

His relationship with art, however, predates the course itself, as he became involved with mail art in the 1980s, which led him to participate in the 16th Bienal de São Paulo, in 1981, when Walter Zanini was the director responsible. and, in his management of the USP Museum of Contemporary Art, he encouraged conceptual art.

Zacariades graduated in 2001 and, in the same year, moved to Igatu. His first year there was without electricity, not because there was no possible supply, but he refused to install a conventional concrete pole in the middle of the stone ruins, listed as national heritage. His house is practically the last one in the city and, after it, there are dozens of small abandoned stone houses, as miners built their homes in front of the rocks where diamonds were found – the cycle lasted a hundred years, between 1844 and 1945. 

To convince the energy company employee, he even called him for lunch, and insisted on the importance of maintaining the original iron poles of the telegraph network. “I would stay without power for longer if necessary,” he says.

The option to leave a city with as many cultural facilities and artistic life as Salvador, became an effective strategy to create one's own identity, far from the competition that metropolises usually create. This isolation did not prevent him from being awarded by Taipei Artist Village with an artistic residency in Taiwan, in 2007, and by the Rockefeller Foundation with an artistic residency at the Bellagio Center – Italy, in 2013.

At the same time, by installing a gallery in such a private and precarious place – in the early 2000s there wasn't even a health center there – Zacariades became more than an artist he became a cultural activist. 

Much of his work, in fact, involves city inhabitants, many of them related to mining in some way. This is the case of site specific “Penitents of collective memory”, from 2007, an installation in an old diamond mine, Gruna do Brejo, less than a kilometer from the center of the village. There, he invited four miners who were trying to reopen the mine, which had been deliberately flooded due to disagreements between former owners, to model 44 bodies in clay, creating a memorial to the miners who worked there until 1950.  The quartet's original mission was never accomplished, but they were paid minimum wage for two months to create the installation. “A lot of people from Igatu were remembering the names of their ancestors when we opened the installation, it was very moving,” says Zacariades.

Besides everything, the place is very special, a lake with Coca-Cola-colored waters – this is the standard in Chapada Diamantina, surrounded by rocks and plants welcome the visitor, who needs to walk crouched for a few tens of meters in the cave (so if calls for excavation for mining) until reaching an area of ​​about a thousand square meters, with a height of at least ten meters. These clay bodies have been there for 17 years, now quite decomposed. “Creating this was difficult for me, but if I didn't do it, it wouldn't exist”, he says while lighting dozens of candles to illuminate the space, in a ritual that is repeated every time a visitor enters there. The candles, in fact, are included in the R$20 fee charged by one of the installation's creators and caretakers, Badega, who lives a few meters from the cave's entrance.

In these 22 years in Igatu, Zacariades provided many experiences to its residents, always concerned about his surroundings.  During the Iraq war, which took place between 2003 and 2011, Zacariades decided to create an installation called “For a child in Baghdad. Year 2003 AD”, using eucalyptus ticks and asked the children to help him collect these small pieces and then everyone would go have ice cream in the gallery. Within a week, he had 19 children on the project. “My idea was that the production process would be a game  and that one day they would remember the humanitarian purpose of the work, even if it was through the playful memory of ice cream.”

This type of community activation is a rare practice, but it is what makes Zacariades' career original, as well as the gallery itself, which tells the history of this territory through objects collected over the years. The historic part, in fact, is located in the middle of ruins and without the original thatched roof, but with sophisticated exhibition design and lighting.

Wine and art

The spectrum of the artist's production is quite broad, in addition to non-commercial works like the one seen so far, he also works with video and sculpture. His three-dimensional work is marked mainly by materials found in Igatu itself, such as wood scraps. In his gallery there are two rooms dedicated to contemporary art, one that permanently shows his work, the other for temporary exhibitions.

It was there that, three years ago, he welcomed Fabiano Borré, from Rio Grande do Sul, who has lived with his parents and uncles in Chapada de Diamantina since the 1980s to produce food. They tried everything, but potatoes and coffee became the family's mainstays, until they decided to explore a new field: wine, previously unheard of in the region.

With the support of Embrapa, they created an ambitious winery project, with almost ten years of experimentation and 53ha planted. The winery opened in 2021, in the middle of the pandemic. Today with wines that include varietals and blends, UVVA offers from sparkling Nature and extra brut, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noire, Cordel (blend) and Diamã (blend) in a production of already 120 thousand bottles for national and international sale with second harvest of 2020.

In the midst of the project by architect from Rio Grande do Sul, Vanja Hertcert, which can be compared with traditional wineries in Mendoza, California or France, Borré comments that when he got to know Zacariades' work, he had no doubt that it should also be part of the project, concerned about give it an essentially Brazilian emphasis.

In an initial conversation, the artist would occupy a free space with an installation. “I explained that I wouldn’t be able to carry out a huge piece of work in a short period of time and, in dialogue, we decided that an exhibition of finished works would be held”, he explains. Zechariah. That's how it came about “Mirrored time”, that Paulo Herkenhoff visited last year, having written about it to ARTE!Brasileiros. Since then, the curator has been preparing a book about Zechariah and was in the region again when we were there.

The exhibition, initially scheduled to last six months, has already lasted a year, but it should not last long. It occupies an area originally intended for wine storage. With a project whose installed potential is 260 thousand bottles per year, the spaces will no longer provide space for the exhibition. This does not mean that Zechariah will be left without works there. “Our relationship will be permanent, art here is here to stay”, says Borré.

Fabio Cypriano and Patricia Rousseaux traveled by invitation from UVVA Winery

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