"Construção", photograph by Marcela Bonfim taken at Quilombo de Pedras Negras in 2016. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

“Being the most powerful thermometer in each historical moment is the commitment of the art awards. More than pointing out a single path of contemporary expressions, we must reveal the various forks that are constantly being opened in the hegemonic routes and narratives”, defends Luiz Camillo Osorio, curator of PIPA. It was with this in mind that the traditional art award contemporary decided to change its rules. Instead of concentrating on a single name, it selected five winners in its 12th edition: Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro from Espírito Santo, Denilson Baniwa from Amazonas, Ilê Sartuzi and Marcela Bonfim from São Paulo and Ventura Profana from Bahia.

This was not the only change made by PIPA, which as of this year takes on a clearer character of promotion – focusing on professionals with recent careers who, when selected, receive a donation of R$ 10 thousand each, without the donation of a work to the Institute – and puts an end (at least temporarily) to the on-site exhibitions of the award. From September 9 to November 20, Paço Imperial, in Rio de Janeiro, welcomes the works of the 2020 winners, alongside recent PIPA acquisitions and commissions. The winners of this edition will do a digital occupation. “We decided that from 2021 onwards, on-site exhibitions will only be from the institute’s collection and the exhibition of the winners will take place in a virtual environment. The idea is to strengthen the institution, give it more visibility and thus be able to develop other curatorial projects”, explains Luiz Camillo. And he adds: “If we realize in the future that the presential collectives of the selected artists are important, we will do them again. At the moment, we are convinced that the changes have been positive.”

In its 11th edition, last year, for the first time since its creation, the PIPA Award had more than one winner, naming Gê Viana, Maxwell Alexander, Randolpho Lamonier and Renata Felinto. In 2021, the organization chose to adopt this model as a standard. “More than concentrating on a single name, we realized that sharing the prize is fairer, considering a scenario as plural and continental as the Brazilian one, with so many relevant micro-scenes from north to south of the country”, explains the curator. The general award, decided based on the analysis of portfolios and trajectories carried out by a council of renowned professionals in the area, now has five winners annually; PIPA Online, a category whose decision is based on a popular vote, rewards the two most voted artists – this year, Daiara Tukano and Ruth Albernaz.

“The selection of more than one artist also helps to decentralize this figure of the 'winner', as well as softening a little the competitiveness that plagues capitalist and neoliberal society as a whole and the artistic environment in particular”, shares Ilê Sartuzi about the award. general. The artist, however, believes that the category linked to the popular vote is moving in the opposite direction. “If, on the one hand, it could ideally select a production completely different from the endorsement of the award board, on the other hand, it reiterates the competitive savagery added to the promotion of self-image and the free and massive advertising of the award.” For Denilson Baniwa, choosing more than one winner also sounds necessary at this moment in Brazil. “I feel uncomfortable being in a turf war in a place that is already super violent and disloyal like art. So, I think it's cool a choice where more bodies fit, and still have a jury view.”

PIPA 2021 winners

This sieve of the jury has a special weight for the Amazonian who won the PIPA Online two years ago and is now one of those selected for the general award. If the victory in 2019 allowed more people to get in touch with the work of Denilson Baniwa and that he had another look at his work – taking it more seriously and generating an evolution from the conceptual and formal points of view -, this year's announcement brings other personal and professional echoes. “A group of people specialized in the arts said that my work has a good thing, and that was something I asked myself a lot: what do critics and curators think of my work?”. A jaguar artist and cannibal, as he defines himself, Denilson is considered one of the exponents of contemporary indigenous art. In his works, he involves environmental issues and the struggle of native peoples, while exploring an ancestral and futuristic indigenous poetics. In recent years, he has noticed a change in the art scene and in his relationship with it. “I think [in 2019] I was much more exposed to kicking the lock on the door to show my work and to see my indigenous friends and relatives together. The Denilson of now found a key that opens some doors and manages to bring in a lot more people.” In his most recent research, he has focused on the forced displacements that amputate the memory of several indigenous people in Brazil, dealing with the process of affirmation and reaffirmation, the search for a lost identity and the violence against these bodies. It is in this sense that he intends to work on the PIPA Prize 2021 exhibition, seeing the option for the virtual as another possibility of investigating the format: “This challenges me to think about works that are born from the digital. I don't like to think of my work being digitized, I like to think of where it comes from”.

It is also crossed by the idea of ​​identity recovery that the work of Marcela Bonfim is configured. Graduated in economics, it was only when she moved to Porto Velho, Rondônia, that the São Paulo woman truly understood herself as a black woman. If in the streets of São Paulo she sought meritocracy discourses and saw her image as an obstacle, when photographing in the Amazon city she found a mirror. “I begin to recognize myself in these images and see them as possible here in this place – and I so impossible in São Paulo.” The artist points out that when she arrived in the Amazon she thought only of the indigenous image, “but the black image is part of the context and ends up being just as essential”. Today, she says, “the Amazon and I are recognizing each other”. In recent years, Marcela has dedicated herself to a work of reclaiming the black Amazon, portraying populations that live in places further away from the city: riverside dwellers, traditional peoples, quilombolas. “It is very important to say that they are populations, in the plural, because the word 'black' seems like a dry thing, right? Before being black, they were identities. More than 500 years after [the arrival of the Portuguese], we are here, taking this word, this reduction and amplifying it in multiplicity.” Therefore, for the photographer it makes little sense to address these issues without taking part in the discussion. “The idea is to re-signify this process, being like a layer of this photograph. It is on these parallel lines that I stand in front of the mirror in this black Amazon.”

While Marcela leaves the communities to understand her identity, Profane Ventura part of his particular experience to express another reflection. Created in the midst of a Baptist tradition, it seeks to investigate the implications of evangelicalism in Brazil and its impacts on colonial relations. “I try, through these investigations of Christianity, to understand how the colonial process took hold” and how it is sustained today, he explains in video recorded for PIPA. If, in his view, Christianity acts as a missionary arm for the implantation of colonial dynamics, in his personal and artistic practice Ventura prophesies the abundant black, indigenous and transvestite life, seeking healing strategies. He does so through collages, music, installations, performances and texts. “I always try to bring a message of life to bodies and subjects who have this denied – whether by the government, the system, or the implications of colonialism”, he adds.

Brazilian Castiel Vitorino also seeks liberation from colonial gestures, by showing that some mythologies built for racialized people and transvestites are nothing more than fallacies. “What I do are invitations and reminders that we can live another story than this racial and gender one”, he explains in video recorded to PIPA. Visual artist, writer and psychologist, Castiel builds his productions from the dialogues between knowledge of art, macumbaria, psychology, witchcraft, healerism and “whatever he deems necessary to produce survival”. Not defining herself in a specific artistic technique, in her latest works she opts for installation experiences. “My artistic production has needed to be an experience of incorporation, where I understand my black, testiculated and female body as a place of memory and I use this organicity to produce what I have been calling perishable freedoms – which are experiences both in my existential territory , in the form of a cure, but also experiences of reterritorialization of these geographies that I cohabit”, he declares.

“Quarto de Cura”, installation by Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro at the exhibition of the 3rd edition of Frestas – Trienal de Artes. Photo: Matheus José Maria / Courtesy artist and Sesc Sorocaba

It is by approaching the absence of the body or its idealized image – often fragmented or constructed from different parts – that Ile Sartuzi builds his works, often permeated by the use of unconventional technologies. The idealized image comes mainly from the significant presence of mannequins in his production, often mounted in unlikely ways. “This indefinitely assembleable and reproducible body gives way – materially and conceptually – to a construction in modular parts. This being a condition of the mass production of these bodies, it seemed coherent to me that they could be reproduced and combined in different ways, which brought me closer to the figure of Frankenstein”, he explains. Sometimes, these objects are still moved using automations and accompanied by videomapping, giving them theatricality. However, it is important to point out that this is not a monothematic and linear research, as the artist himself explains. In his body of works, we are often faced with the total absence of a body, especially in the videos made through photogrammetry – the process of building a virtual space through photographs. On this frequent use of new technologies, he highlights: “The use of any technology should not be naive, including traditional ones in the artistic field. Each tool carries unique characteristics that open up possibilities for the elaboration of different ideas. The use, for example, of videomapping, mechanics and automation came from the specific interest of animating objects. Perhaps I would never have explored these techniques had it not been for the necessity of the works themselves”.

A possible portrait of the current scene

For Luiz Camillo Osorio, the choice of Castiel, Denilson, Ilê, Marcela and Ventura in this year's edition demonstrates the moment of great political ebullition and strong development of experimental poetics that we witness in Brazil today. “Each one of them shows works in process, in which the performative, the new technologies, the ancestry, the experimentation, the politics, are all shuffled, fertilely mixed, pointing to the unknown and with a lot of poetic force.”

These proposals will be better understood by the public in the online exhibition, scheduled to take place between September and October 2021. Each artist will occupy PIPA's website and social networks for a week, make an original work available to circulate virtually and participate in a series of other activities. Furthermore, at the end of this year, the new bilingual catalog to be launched by the institute will bring together works by the five winners, as well as by Daiara Tukano and Ruth Albernaz – winners of PIPA Online -, and the other 58 nominees.

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