View of the VII International Seminar: Culture, Democracy and Reparation
View of the VII International Seminar: Culture, Democracy and Reparation. Photo: Anderson Rodrigues / Courtesy Sesc Vila Mariana

In its seventh edition, the International Seminar held by arte!brasileiros marked another chapter in our struggle for culture and education. With the title Culture, Democracy and Reparation, urgent topics in the Brazilian and world sociopolitical scenarios, the 2022 meeting had its first in-person edition after two years, due to the health restrictions of the pandemic. With the partnership of Sesc SP, the seminar had, between the 22nd and 23rd of September, at the Vila Mariana unit, with a captive audience, recurring in our events, formed mostly by students and academics, in addition to representatives of the most important cultural institutions in São Paulo, such as Jochen Volz (general director of the Pinacoteca), Cauê Alves (curator of the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo), among others.

In his opening speech, Danilo Santos de Miranda – philosopher, sociologist and Director of the Regional Department of Sesc SP – highlighted the partnerships made with institutions in the field of culture and public interest, which enable initiatives and events such as the VII International Seminar. Then Patricia Rousseaux, director of the magazine and platform arte!brasileiros, stressed that “we are no longer in a position to exercise only contemplation: art and culture are intertwined in a democracy.”
The theme of the first day's table was The Abyss and the Sewing, a reference to the bottomless pit into which Brazil seems to have fallen in the last (almost) ten years, since the so-called June Journeys took place in 2013. The vilification of politics, the seizure of power by the extreme right and the The resurgence of attacks on the environment and on minorities – blacks, indigenous peoples, the LGBTQ+ community – has marked the last four years, all exacerbated by the pandemic.

At the same time, some initiatives that have as a principle solidarity, empathy and respect started from these targets, which have been weaving forms of resistance, creating new cultural practices, new utopias for the present. To discuss these splits and the potential sutures, professor and psychoanalyst Christian Dunker and researcher and curator Sandra Benites, member of the artistic commission of the Museum of Indigenous Cultures. The table was introduced by Paula Macedo Weiss, PhD in Law from the University of Tübingen and President of the Foundation of the Museum of Applied Arts in Frankfurt, Germany. Weiss read excerpts from his book Democracy on the Move.

On the second day, the theme was Farsa and the Community. Its objective was to rethink the primacy of the individual over the collectivity, a movement exacerbated by neoliberalism, and to point out that resistance actions have been developed, inside and outside Brazil, as a counterpoint. To this end, it brought together important figures of today in order to deepen the reflection. To talk about their experiences, the artist, curator and member of the MAM SP art commission, Claudinei Roberto da Silva; the Indonesian artist Farid Rakun, a member of the ruangrupa collective, responsible for the conception and execution of documenta fifteen, and the artist and educator Graziela Kunsch, a Brazilian invited to participate in the exhibition that took place until September in Kassel, Germany. The opening was in charge of Professor Ligia Fonseca Ferreira, who presented a case on the representation and visuality of the black body in the History of Art, based on the book An African in the Louvre, by Anne Lafont, which Ferreira has just translated into Portuguese.

The meetings had simultaneous translation and were accessible in Libras. The Seminar will be made available online on the digital platforms of the arte!brasileiros and Sesc SP. Read the coverage of the VII International Seminar on the following pages.

Democracy on the Move

Born in 1969, at the height of the civil-military dictatorship, daughter of an opposition politician, Paula Macedo Weiss was able to experience very closely the process of redemocratization and the resumption of full democracy in Brazil with the advent of the 1988 Constitution. Today, she defends : “Democracy is not just a political regime, but a way of life.”

It was with this speech that Weiss set the tone for the opening of the VII International Seminar: Culture, Democracy and Reparation, promoted by the arte!brasileiros and by Sesc São Paulo on the 22nd and 23rd of September. PhD in Law from the University of Tübingen, president of the Foundation of the Museum of Applied Arts of Frankfurt and member of the International Advisory Board of the Bienal de São Paulo, Weiss has been engaging in projects in favor of democracy in different formats, through literature, cultural projects and, more recently, as co-founder of Netzwerk Paulskirche, a German civil society group that aims to encourage political participation and create positive democratic practices and experiences in everyday life.

Invited to the event, she read an essay from her book Democracy on the Move, released by Leaves of Grass Editions in 2022. The publication brings together short texts, which mix literary chronicles and journalistic essays, in which Weiss uses his personal experiences to comment and reflect on aspects of contemporary life. The test The Rules of the Game is no different: the writer focuses on her own experience of understanding the Democratic State of Law during her time in college, a few years after the end of the dictatorship, and highlights: “A society cannot live in peace if each group plays only for their individual interests, leaving the other participants abandoned”. Here is the transcript of the essay in its entirety:

You know that person who crosses your path and becomes decisive for you to see the world in another way? This experience has exponential power if you are still at a stage in your life where, as Paulo Leminski accurately describes, “the flavor of the meat / has not yet been spoiled / by the everyday brine”.

My turning point was a professor of General Theory of Law. He had just returned from a postdoc in Constitutional Law in Germany. Idealist, he had the ambition to form a new generation of holistic jurists, interested in the common good, at a significant moment in Brazilian society: the resumption of democracy through our new citizen Constitution, which holds all the fundamental and necessary rights for the construction of a just and egalitarian State and society; a phratry, in the voice of Caetano Veloso. This professor managed to ignite our group's imagination and captivate us with the beauty and complexity of the structure and functioning of the modern Western State: the Democratic Rule of Law.

By unraveling the concept of the Democratic State of Law, my dear professor handed us this greater good, the newly acquired democracy, like a newborn, in our hands. Terra Brasilis was still in its earliest democratic infancy; this political praxis was still inexperienced and subject to trauma and imbalances, but constitutionally robust, and had been showing its capacity for development and learning since its birth. Understanding this newborn in all its complexity was a conditio sino qua non for overcoming the social traumas and fallacies imposed by 21 years of dictatorship and the real and legal opportunity for a dignified, plural and promising future. We citizens had the obligation and the right to get involved in this arduous task of stopping the countless open wounds that still throbbed in our Brazilian society. With the resumption of democracy, we also rescued our full citizenship and with it the premise that we all participated in the same democratic game.

There were, however, some drawbacks. Considering that we are all equal before the law, do we, citizens, have the same rights, in fact, if we decline these in equality of chance and participation? Are there other mechanisms that influence the rules of this democratic game? José Saramago considered that “true democracy” does not exist, because governments would respond to the interests of economic power. The philosopher Ortega y Gasset, although conservative, had a dynamic view of the individual. His famous phrase “man is man and his circumstance” reveals that it is not possible to consider the human being as an active subject, without simultaneously taking into account everything that surrounds him, starting with his own body and the historical, political and cultural context. society in which it belongs. Those who never had the opportunity to participate or those who gave up or were excluded from the game for reasons that were adverse to their will will have the same chances and cards in their hands as those who have always been privileged by their social class, ethnicity, phenotype, belief. ? Faced with these contingencies, do we all play the same game with the same rules?

"Democracia em Movimento", by Paula Macedo Weiss, published by Folhas de Relva Edições in 2022. Photo: Courtesy Folhas de Relva Edições
“Democracia em Movimento”, by Paula Macedo Weiss, published by Folhas de Relva Edições in 2022. Photo: Courtesy Folhas de Relva Edições

I remembered the cult and complex film by Jean Renoir, The Rules of the Game. The film is a collective game, with several narratives and clear rules. It is noticed that the work is related to the idea of ​​Court/State, brings a series of human interactions, in addition to brushing questions about democracy and the political game in the prelude to the Second World War. Just like the human being, society is not something static and insusceptible to change. Faced with these structural transformations of the postmodern world, art is an important means of understanding multifaceted cases, in which it is necessary to carry out a broader and more critical analysis so that there are fairer and more democratic solutions at the political level. 

Politics has to permanently shape and balance disturbances of affectivity – the result of the dispute over conceptions of the world and social existence – in contemporary societies. Recognition became currency and rejection, a topic of extreme relevance in this political game. The improvement of a certain group cannot mean the material and cultural devaluation of the next. Economic losses, the fear of decline, the feeling of having no place and no value in society are key points on this board. Themes like hope, trust, fear, freedom, equality, justice, security determine the match.

A society cannot live in peace if each group plays only for its individual interests, leaving the other participants abandoned in their anxieties and impotence, as this creates a structural political dilemma. The characteristic and promising feature of the political game is that it never ends and the rules can, within the principle of legality, always be adapted to new social developments, to the different narratives that are being constructed at the same time now. What if the game was not competitive, but cumulative? We would win if we understood that we are one, that we are all. As Vicente Mateus, the legendary president of Corinthians, would say, “the game only ends when it ends”.

In a democracy – on the move – we don't always win, but when we lose, we have in the next election a new possibility to fight for our convictions and win. This is the wonderful and sober game of democracy. This is my cue: we have a real chance to determine a new narrative for our country through the exercise of the right to suffrage. So, Brazilian citizens, onward!

And, along the way, a phrase from the patron of Brazilian education, Paulo Freire, hated by the extreme right in power: “No one frees anyone, no one frees themselves alone – men free themselves in communion”.

The abyss and the seam

Paulo Freire's speech reverberated in Sandra Benites' presentation. The curator, educator and doctoral student in social anthropology at the UFRJ National Museum brought to the table The Abyss and the Sewing more than your individual experience. As a Guarani Nhandewa indigenous woman, she shared her collective journey: “What I carry most strongly is my collectivity, where my ancestral wisdom is. If I didn't listen to these memories of our ancestors, I wouldn't be here today talking about my resistance”.

Bringing these memories also goes through a history of silencing started in Brazilian colonization and still present today. according to IBGE, there are currently 305 indigenous ethnicities in Brazil and around 274 languages. As Benites puts it, however, this number was once higher. “Many have lost their spoken words, their mother tongue. Today some are being resumed after several processes that prohibited indigenous people from speaking their own languages, because they were not so important for that system that was imposed.” Invisibility goes beyond the linguistic character: “Today, we [indigenous people] are called invaders, and this is very revolting. My relatives were literally massacred because the current government says we are invaders. Relatives were murdered, leaders were murdered, children were murdered. This was not disclosed”, says Benites.

The curator refers to the crimes that occurred with the Guarani communities, but to that we can add the fact that the murders of indigenous people increased by more than 60% in the first year of the pandemic, according to the report by the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI). Between September 3 and 13, 2022, just before the International Seminar, six murders took place among the Guajajara, Guarani-Kaiowá and Pataxó peoples. In April 2022, the President of the Yanomami Indigenous Health District Council, Júnior Hekurari, reported that the Aracaçá Indigenous Land, in Roraima, was burned to the ground, after the accusation of rape and murder of a 12-year-old indigenous girl by miners. In 2021, 32 indigenous leaders and four civil servants working with communities received death threats, according to a report by the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT).

“Then I ask: where is democracy? Where is the repair?” asks Benites. For the curator, in order to discuss the central theme of the seminar — culture, democracy and reparation — it is necessary to understand how we deal with the “border” that exists between the self and the other. “How are we going to discuss democracy if there is no listening?” In contrast to this scenario, she brings the Guarani perspective: “Politics develops from meeting, listening and understanding the other. We have our disagreements, difficulties and challenges, but we don't try to erase each other because of this difference”.

Benites stitches, then, this lack of listening to the art scene, based on his personal experience. On May 17, after Masp decreed the suspension of one of the nuclei of the collective Brazilian Stories, due to the declared impossibility of exhibiting a series of photos about the Landless Movement (MST), Benites resigned from the museum, where until then she was assistant curator. The core, entitled resumptions, was curated by her and Clarissa Diniz, and after a series of manifestations from both of them and from other figures in the artistic world, Masp's decision was revoked and the nucleus was reinstated (learn more about the discussions surrounding the show and the Masp stance).

“From the moment we occupy a space with different bodies, we add, we expand. But these expansions require a lot of listening,” says Benites. “When I decided to leave, I think my silencing was also my resistance. This place where I cannot add, I cannot stay.” With this example, the curator delves into the ideas of democracy and reparation, which shows us that merely inviting spaces and positions, without a real listening and opening to the culture of the other, is useless, does not lead to a legitimate occupation by bodies. different, but an attempt to mold them to the system. “Many times we do not fit in these spaces.”

The psychoanalyst, author and professor at the Institute of Psychology at USP, Christian Dunker, followed up on this speech by Benites when he expressed that democracy can expand because it includes those who were excluded by it at a given moment, but it can also contract. For him, it is in these moments when we realize that democracy is not free, “episodes of rupture that, in a way, represent the entire process by denying the process” and in which the image of the abyss appears. “The allegory of the abyss, or the precipice, arises spontaneously when we think of the history of democracy in Brazil, as an index of inequality, of difference, of the insurmountability between races, classes, genders, the result of a colonization marked by a relationship in abyss, in which the passage from one side to the other is prohibited”, proposes Dunker.

But, after all, what do we talk about when we talk about democracy? In an article published in issue 58 of the arte!brasileiros, the psychoanalyst expands the question: “Some will say that the idea of ​​democracy originated in antiquity was realized in institutions of modernity. Others will argue that this is an incomplete achievement, as democracy remains the ideal, that is, the idea of ​​a community to come, capable of being-for-all and including all. Still others consider the application of the idea of ​​democracy to people and ideas to be a falsification of the term. Democracy never existed, therefore it never will. It's just a name we give to certain non-autocratic political regimes. The Brazil of the years 2013-2020 has been described as a country in regressive democracy, that is, marked by the precariousness of institutional functioning, retraction of the free use of the word and violation of human rights”. In this sense, Dunker adds to the experience of democracy a constant task of “remembering, repeating and elaborating”, but not only that, for him it is still necessary to repair.

“So if we want to think of a Brazil capable of repairing and reinventing itself, in a sense not only of forgiving, transposing, but of sharing something, it is necessary to look at the abyss and see in it more than mere negativity, more than mere hiatus. insurmountable, but to see in this abyss a common to come, which can bring us closer”, declares the psychoanalyst. For him, “there are artists such as Anselm Kiefer, Alfredo Jaar, Nazareth Pacheco and Itamar Vieira Júnior who have dedicated themselves specifically to the work of mourning and reparation, as well as there are ethical witnesses of unspeakable disasters, such as Sojourner Truth, Primo Levi or the compilation of dreams made by Charlotte Bernhardt, but her message really becomes a commitment to the future when it implies a kind of deal between the living, the dying and the beings to come”.

The farce and the community

It was exploring one of these efforts of reparation and commitment to the future that Ligia Fonseca Ferreira, associate professor at the Department of Letters at UNIFESP and PhD from the University of Paris 3 – Sorbonne, began the reflections of the second and last day of the VII International Seminar arte!brasileiros, more specifically the exposure The Black Model from Géricault to Matisse, which took place at the Musée d'Orsay in 2019. The show featured works from the abolition of slavery in France (1794) to the modern day and, according to the Musée d'Orsay, was designed to “provide a perspective of long term” and “focuses mainly on the issue of models and on the dialogue between the artist who paints, sculpts, engraves or photographs and the model who poses. It notably explores how the representation of black subjects evolved in major works by Théodore Géricault, Charles Cordier, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Edouard Manet, Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse, as well as photographs by Nadar and Carjat.

Curated by Cécile Debray, Stéphane Guégan, Denise Murrell and Isolde Pludermacher, the exhibition, “in addition to its proposed beauty, highlighted the value and determining role of research on the representation and representation of black men and women in Western art” , says Ferreira. Among such research is Denise Murrell's own doctoral thesis, entitled Seeing Laure: Race and Modernity From Manet's Olympia to Matisse, Bearden and Beyond and defended in 2013 at Columbia University, USA.

In an objective case of reparation, the professor points out that some of the models were identified through research and “many of them went from simple extras to individuals. It was even possible to rescue the biography of some of them. [With this] the Musée d'Orsay finally gives its name to the forgotten and forgotten by the History of Art, and opens a reflection on the ever-present conflicts of representation”. Not only that, but some works also had their titles revisited to eliminate pejorative and racist expressions. As an example, Ferreira points out the case of portrait of a black woman (1800) by Marie-Guillemine Benoist, reformulated to Portrait of Madeleine. She also brings to the debate the work of Anne Lafont, a professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales, in Paris, whose book An African in the Louvre was translated by Ferreira and will be released by the publisher time bazaar still this year. Finally, transporting the questions to the national scene, the teacher recalled the work Where are the Blacks?, created by Frente 3 de Fevereiro and displayed as an intervention on the facade of Masp on the occasion of the exhibition Afro-Atlantic Stories.

The teacher, curator and visual artist Claudinei Roberto da Silva seems to echo this question. Current member of the art commission of MAM São Paulo and co-curator of the 37o Panorama of Brazilian Art promoted by the institution, the panelist wrote in article for issue 53 of arte!brasileiros: “In a Brazil deeply committed to its slavery past and, therefore, to structural racism and the practices it enshrines, what do we talk about when we talk about Afro-Brazilian art?”. In the same text, he suggests that we talk about “the need to build a new design of history, including art, which in its constitution is based on anti-racism and imposes a debate on whiteness”.

At the VII International Seminar, Silva reaffirmed: “The idea that we have of democracy cannot do without culture and cannot do without reparation. Especially in a country that, like ours, has a history of violence and exclusion”, pointed out Silva. In this sense, the curator extrapolates the discursive idea to highlight the importance of practical actions and a direction of the policies of our country: “The defense of our incipient democracy necessarily involves the defense of institutions of culture, education and art”. Then, Mário de Andrade resumed: “Culture is more important than bread, because without culture we don't even make bread”.

In the artist's opinion, however, this would involve a reformulation of the cultural and artistic environment itself. “It is necessary to create any lexicon and ethics to deal with this unavoidable reality, this emergence of a peripheral intellectual and symbolic production”. He makes the proposal when remembering the constant criminalization of popular movements: “It is necessary to admit that our capitalism is a capitalism of slave quarters, which still does not qualify its consumers, which does not want the peripheral populations to frequent the malls, it is a capitalism that prohibits the rolezinho, which criminalizes popular movements.”

For the curator, however, far from favoring reparation, the current sociopolitical moment raises concerns, such as the frequent exchanges in the Ministry of Education in the last four years: “We are experiencing a tremendous attack”.

documents fifteen

Complementary, the participations of Farid Rakun and Graziela Kunsch illuminated the curatorial foundations of the documents fifteen, which ended in September. An artist, Rakun is also a member of ruangrupa, an Indonesian collective from Jakarta, which was in charge of conceptualizing and assembling the show. Artist, mother and educator, Kunsch represented Brazil in the project in Kassel, Germany, with her Public Parental Nursery.

At the beginning of his speech, Rakun showed, on the screen, one of the first meeting points of ruangrupa. Created and active between 2016 and 2017, this space he called an ecosystem, in which he and his companions began to deal with the notion of lumbung itself, of being a collective composed of collectives, where one of the objectives was the sharing of diverse resources.

“When we were invited to documenta, we decided that we didn't want the project to be extracted from Jakarta and taken to Kassel. We didn't want to do things that weren't in line with our agenda. And the European agenda is Western. documenta wanted to be part of the trajectory that we have followed for almost 20 years, so we returned the invitation to documenta, to show, there, what we have been doing in Indonesia, which is, indisputably, the product of a failed state”, said the curator.

Rakun said his country has failed to provide the infrastructure for the arts and culture, or at least the kind of art and culture they are actually interested in. He argued that they are not an alternative group, because there is no such thing as mainstream in Indonesia, something for the general public.

“What we are actually doing is building, first and foremost, infrastructure. And from them try to understand if what we collectively create can originate not just a sum of parts, but something that in fact has artistic and aesthetic results”, he said.

The curator also stressed that the work done in documenta XV was not based on a theme — lumbung, he recalled, literally means granary of rice, in his language — but of an open, limitless set of practices. “We are not looking for artists who would illustrate a concept. It was very much something tied to a way of doing things,” he explained.

Next, Rakun said that the curatorship of documenta fifteen tried not to follow the logic of a classic art direction, in a position of power play, choosing to delegate decisions to people. And even before the beginning of the show, ruangrupa sought to bring together artists, so that before its opening they got to know each other and build affinities, acquire trust and, this was the hope, they could participate in order to make collaborative projects as well.

The curator listed some of the highlights of the 2022 edition of documenta, among them the lack of competitiveness among the participants — Graziela, he said in his speech, could be an example of someone who, despite being taken by a certain “fever lumbung”, due to the enthusiasm with his project, he never sought the spotlight. Another fruit of documenta fifteen is the lumbung gallery, one of the many developments of his experience that should follow. He recalled that about 95% of the contributors — around 1500 names — he invited are not represented by galleries.

“We are trying to think of a gallery form, for lack of a better word, more connected with our values. Pricing, for example, is something we've been thinking about a lot. How to acquire as a collector, how to collect collectively, how to collect works that are not conceived as objects”, he explains. “It's not just about buying, but thinking about contracts that include a political or ideological commitment, from the buyer to the artist.”

One of the most talked about projects of documenta fifteen, a dynamic community structure that translated well the lumbung proposal of ruangrupa, was the Public Parental Nursery, by the mother, educator and Brazilian artist Graziela Kunsch, which closed the VII International Seminar. In his presentation, Kunsch recalled how his project was born. In a letter addressed to ruangrupa, he talked about “Chão da Manu”, or the project for a parental day care center, which would then be just a piece of floor (or a huge cloth rug), with open play materials on it. ”

“This floor exists today and has been set up a few times in the Goetheanlage, my favorite park in the city. But the original project grew – to occupy a room in the Fridericianum – and was, from the beginning, strongly rooted in the city of Kassel. From my local research, I met Elke Avenarius, who became a great working partner. Together, we designed the space that occupies approximately 200 square meters, on the ground floor of the museum”, said Kunsch, in reading his letter.

According to Kunsch, the space she designed for documenta fifteen was divided into reading and viewing rooms and a parental day care, with free admission through the museum's funds. The daycare area had care spaces – such as diaper changing stations, a kitchen, breastfeeding chairs and a sleeping room, where adults take care of babies. And the day care center had play spaces, where babies were able, as Hungarian pediatrician Emmi Pikler (1902-1984) would say, to take care of themselves. Adults were there, present, explains the artist, but they didn't need to teach children how to play or how to move their bodies.

After the end of documenta fifteen, Kunsch explained, his desire was to rebuild the parental day care center in São Paulo, sending furniture and play materials by container. “But many families started to come to me, advocating for the project to remain in Kassel. They asked me if there was anything they could do to keep the project going in the city. I limited myself to replying that they could self-organize. Well, they self-organized, ”said the artist, in the text she read during her performance.

According to Kunsch, several families sent letters to local politicians, and the demand she received from the group was to list everything that would make up the work, in the case of its purchase by the Kassel City Hall, through the lumbung gallery.

“I am preparing a small dossier on the work, but, in general, my proposal, and that of my partner Elke Avenarius, is that the city hall can designate a new space for the daycare to be installed, which assumes a basic renovation of the space ( if this is necessary for the space to be inhabited - for example, a bathroom and electrical and plumbing care), and we will both take care of adapting the project to the new situation, using part of the sale value for this production / construction ", continued the artist. “Of course, these proposals raise the biggest challenge for the continuity of the project, which is: who takes care of all this?”.

To answer this question, Kunsch continued, she told how she enjoys working as an artist: “Instead of thinking and deciding everything alone, I always try to leave the initial idea as open as possible and involve people from outside the context of art in this construction. The very meaning of art is constructed collectively, expanding the understanding of what art is and the very notion of art”.

In closing, Kunsch stated that the continuation of the proposal could imply a change in the German title: “Instead of Eltern und Kleinkinder Krippe [parents and babies day care], it will be called Öffentliche Elterliche Krippe [Public Parental Day Care] , marking the transformation of the artistic project into public policy that, as a seed — to use the vocabulary lumbung — or like the trees of Beuys, may spread and open up new landscapes. Both for life and for art,” he concluded.

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