On the 16th of April, the 12ª edition of the Mercosul Biennial. In full isolation due to the pandemic, the show could not literally open its doors to the public, but decided to respect the planned calendar and adapt the exhibition to the virtual world. This initiative, at the same time courageous and risky, in a way turned the exhibition inside out. What should have been a great meeting, marked by the physical, palpable presence of a wide range of works – many of them built in loco, in Porto Alegre – ended up becoming a more subtle, conceptual conversation. The notion of chorus, which is often vital for an exhibition, ended up giving way to a series of solo songs, which required more listening time, but did not affect the general lines that had been conducting the research.
titled Female(s): visualities, actions and affections, Bienal 12 – as it has been called – proposes to show a plural vision, incorporating poetic, sensitive, combative investigations with a strong autobiographical component, on the social place of women in the contemporary world. With 69 entries from 24 different countries, the selection is quite diverse. It can be considered as an offshoot of the show radical women, an anthological research on the artistic production of Latin American women between the 1960s and 1980s, co-curated by the Argentine Andrea Giunta, who is now responsible for curating the Bienal 12. In addition to including renowned artists already present in the historical exhibition – who passed through the Pinacoteca do Estado in 2018 – such as Carmela Gross, Vera Chaves Barcellos and Liliana Porter, female(s) takes a close look at the most recent production, incorporating issues such as the need to overcome the binary concept of sexuality, hosting a series of works that question stereotypes, denounce any form of violence and make room for identity and gender rescues. And, as its core strength, it brings a wide range of contemporary black artists from different origins, such as Africa and the Caribbean, but above all from Brazil.
Fabiana Lopes, a researcher who has been following this production for more than six years and was invited to be one of the assistant curators of the 12th Bienal do Mercosul, made a wide selection of more than 20 Afro-descendant artists, with very different ages, issues and poetics, many of them still little known in the national and Latin American circuit. Even in the face of the impossibility of verifying what would result from the articulation of these works in the same space (an issue that, according to Fabiana, was central throughout the selection process), the careful examination of the proposals and works reveals a powerful and promising production. There is an overall strength, a strong weight of aspects such as memory, ancestry, decolonization and criticism of racism, as well as poetics and own and particular issues, such as the plot created by Aline Motta combining her experiences in Nigeria and Vale do Paraíba; the use of color as an expansion of meaning, proposed by Juliana dos Santos; or the “Jardim da Abolição”, a project by Musa Mattiuzzi that would bring together 111 vases with power plants from Afro-Brazilian culture, as a way of reactivating knowledge.
There are many works that start from the idea of plot, embroidery, ball, aspects linked to femininity and also to the need to rescue and build an identity. Helô Sanvoy, one of the few men present in the selection, records his mother telling stories while braiding her. In “Bombril”, Priscila Resende uses her own hair to shine kitchen utensils, in a bitter irony against racial prejudice. And the South African Lungiswa Gqunta covers meters and meters of barbed wire with fabric, covering them and neutralizing their power to hurt, in a process that has a lot of protection and healing.
In short, they merge in the Bienal – which requires time and patience to be visited virtually – a source of questions, which have served as guiding threads for the work of the educational sector, under the coordination of Igor Simões. If it already had a central importance in the Bienal 12, the educational ended up acquiring an even greater protagonism due to the isolation circumstances. Igor insists on emphasizing that the educational work is for the general public and not just for teachers, in an action that radiates to the most different audiences and taking different forms, such as proposals for intervention and reflection shared by the website; organization of lives; the virtual newspaper that gathers texts by the artists and is available online. “We are still betting on the idea of a meeting”, he says.
“We made a great effort to create new tools”, says Andrea Giunta. According to her, this decision stems from the fact that we are not sure what will happen. There is evidently a desire to make some concrete exhibition experience possible, either with a late opening, or through more punctual meetings or itinerancies. “But I think the art world now has to take responsibility for the present. Normality will not return anytime soon,” she concludes. ✱