Paul Setubal, Zeitgeist, 2015

Maxwell Alexandre, Today's Caravelas Train, 2016

What would “sertão art” be? In the perspective proposed by the curator Júlia Rebouças for the 36th Panorama of Brazilian Art, the concept refers more to a way of thinking and acting than to the geographical and cultural place we usually associate with the word sertão. The public that visits the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art between August 17th and November 15th, therefore, will not find an exhibition about the Brazilian semiarid region or with artists born in it, but an exhibition that has “experimentation and resistance”. ” as some of its pillars.

It is, according to Rebouças, “a way of thinking that understands a context and tries to relate to it; that creates solutions from what is available; that does not give in, for example, to the pressures of a hegemonic system, but that will try to find fissures in the classical flows of power”. The curator also refers to an artistic production that “has speculated not only on alternative circuits, but also on other materialities, other authorship relationships and collaborations with different disciplines and fields of knowledge”.

It was from this idea of ​​“sertão art” that Rebouças selected the 29 participants of the show, coming from different regions of the country and mostly born between the 1980s and 1990s. show their work or that they had little place to make their debate happen”, she says, and who raises current questions about, for example, structural racism and police violence, use of public space, indigenous and environmental causes, gender issues and the existence of other possible spiritualities.

With a majority of commissioned works, the exhibition brings together works by Ana Lira, Ana Pi, Ana Vaz, Antonio Obá, Coletivo Fulni-ô de Cinema, Cristiano Lenhardt, Dalton Paula, Daniel Albuquerque, Desali, Gabi Bresola & Mariana Berta, Gê Viana , Gervane de Paula, Lise Lobato, Luciana Magno, Mabe Bethônico, Mariana de Matos, Maxim Malhado, Maxwell Alexandre, Michel Zózimo, Paul Setúbal, Rádio Yandê, Randolpho Lamonier, Raphael Escobar, Raquel Versieux, Regina Parra, Rosa Luz, Santídio Pereira , Vânia Medeiros and Vulcanica PokaRopa. Read the full interview with curator Júlia Rebouças below.

ARTE!Brasileiros — On the subject of this Panorama, you have already pointed out that with “sertão” you do not necessarily intend to address the caatinga, the semi-arid region or the states that make up the Northeast, but rather a “sertão art”. What would this “sertão art” be?

Julia Rebouças — The first point is to think of the sertão not as a theme, but as a concept. Because a theme you illustrate, you react to it, and that's what I'm trying to escape. I think it is important to think of the sertão not only as a place or cultural matrix, but as a way of thinking. And it is in this sense that I speak of “sertão art”, which I think is a way of thinking that engenders experimentation and resistance; who understands a context and tries to relate to it; that creates solutions from what is available; that does not give in, for example, to the pressures of a hegemonic system, but that will try to find cracks in the classical flows of power. That is why to speak of an art that has sertão as an epistemology is also to ask what practices we are talking about. So I'm here speculating about what these ways of thinking and acting would be, but I'm also trying to find in the artists' practice the places to which they point.

Dalton Paula, As Plantas Heal, 2017
Dalton Paula, As Plantas Heal, 2017

And what answers have you found?

It has an aspect that appears in several works in Panorama that has to do with thinking of art as a healing mechanism, returning to some questions and wounds that were left in history, in relationships. They are artists who propose, through their works, either a repair or a process of re-elaboration of historical questions. For example Dalton Paula, Antonio Obá and Ana Pi. There is another aspect of this sertão epistemology that has appeared that has to do with a certain reverence for mystery. An understanding that not everything can be explained by language, that science cannot account for everything, that reason does not reach all things and that there is a set of knowledge, practices and sociability that work from what we do not know and does not explain. This is manifested in spirituality, but also simply in this tacit knowledge of knowing that there are things that we exchange and that will never be elaborated, they are in the subtle field.

And when I speak of “sertão art” I am also thinking of this somewhat indomitable characteristic of the sertão, which is a characteristic that I also see in art. As much as we try to classify, surround, dominate, control or structure in front of the sertão, this is always a failed task, because the sertão always escapes, it is always something different. Just think of all the attempts by Brazilian culture itself to define what the sertão was, from the 1930s novel to the new cinema. And the sertão cannot be defined. There is always a trace of a stereotype, or a specific cut, or a look from the outside. And this I think is a characteristic of art as well. You can conceptualize, delimit, institutionalize and commodify art, but something always escapes. When you realize, the art is further along. And all the time we have to update and re-elaborate what art is, what artistic practices are, how art deals with power, with politics, with the system. So I think that art has this sertão quality, of being somehow inseparable. Although it can be colonized, it has some strength that cannot be grasped.           

Does this have to do with your interest in contemplating a production that also exists outside the established institutional and market circuits? 

I think that artists have speculated not only about alternative circuits, but also about other materialities, other authorship relationships, collaborations with different disciplines and fields of knowledge. And I think this is, by concept, what I mean by “sertão art”. Of course, there are artists who work in galleries, with more classic supports, but I don't think that simply because he's in the gallery he can't be questioning and looking for other ways of existing and acting. Maxwell Alexandre, for example, is an artist who is engaged with galleries, exhibits in museums and institutions, but at the same time is always straining, looking for other ways to exist outside these environments – in the community where he lives, for example.

And there are artists who are at university, others who sometimes do not even recognize their practice as an artistic practice. So I think this is a very interesting place to observe, very pulsating with what we are calling a production of experimentation and resistance. Which is not necessarily an opposition to the system and the market, because I find it interesting to make things cross all the time. And it is part of this sertão practice to seek other ways of existing that are not subjected. That's what I think is important, that you are not subject to the dictates of the market, institutions or the wishes of curators.

Professor Durval Muniz says that the sertão is a multiple experience, although it tends to be narrated from certain clichés. Does his proposal have to do with fighting clichés and stereotypes around the idea of ​​sertão?

Yes, because it is not “about” the sertão. When we talk about the sertão as a theme, it has this place of reiteration of an image and an identity that are part of a political project, largely made for the submission of the sertão itself or the Northeast itself – since the sertão and the Northeast are often treated almost synonymously. So it's critical to escape that, not reiterate these clichés. To some extent, I think it would be important to talk about some fundamentals of a production from the Northeast or of very important artists who are in the semi-arid region, but I resisted that. Because I thought that would be the easiest way, trying to reflect this direct production, this direct image. And when we look, for example, we have the exposure Northeast, which I even joked is like the theoretical foundation of Panorama. We have Durval's book, the play The Invention of the Northeast, which won the Shell Prize, the book The city, by Mailson Furtado, we have Flip also dialoguing with this theme. So I think that these clichés and the need to deconstruct them, this is in place, is in the debate. And with Panorama I wanted to take a step in another direction, to think of the sertão not as this set of images and affections, but as this way of thinking and existing.

Mariana de Matos, Vai, 2017
Mariana de Matos, Vai, 2017

And speaking more directly about the artists, how did you choose these 29 names?

I tried to identify artists who already had a “sertão practice”, rather than choosing people and making them react to a presented theme. Of course, all selection is partial, limited. There are a number of other artists I could be working with. But, anyway, I wanted to have some regional diversity, because I think it's important to do the exercise of looking at less obvious places, and there was an exercise to try to break a little this structure in which the exhibitions are mostly made by white men. So there are more non-whites than whites and more women than men. That wasn't exactly a goal to meet, but I think everyone who acts these days has to worry about another kind of representation. And I think in those places, which are less visible or less represented, that's where normally, by nature, there's more experimentation and resistance. More of this “sertão art”.

When you talk about resistance, it's impossible not to think about the political context we're living in, with a conservative government and very forceful speeches against art and culture. Is Panorama's curatorial line also a kind of response to that?

I think Brazil is at a very critical moment in political terms, in its social relations, in the way it builds its places of affection and the possibilities of meeting. Not to mention the more structural issues with regard to culture. But I don't think Panorama is an answer, because it's all very old and very new at the same time. Especially since the election period, it has become very clear that it is necessary to reorganize itself, that any strategy of opposition to this government needs to be re-elaborated, because many tactics and practices have been overcome, defeated. And I think this concerns art too, to think about how art will react. I think any immediate reaction will be pamphleteering and superficial. Which is sometimes necessary, in the heat of the moment, but I think that perhaps this Panorama tries to discuss more what would be a tactical thinking or strategies for the reorganization of this resistance than to bring answers or offer a frontal and direct confrontation. Many artists are making a diagnosis of what is happening in the present, but many are speculating on ways to exist. They are talking about how dissident bodies will be able to exist from now on, how they existed until that moment, how historical reparation is made, how practices of violence and oppression are deconstructed. I think that, in this sense, it is also a desire for it to be a purposeful exhibition, not with solutions or answers, but with notes, trying to organize a little these affections of a renegotiation and the need to exist in the face of dismantling.

Do you fear some kind of negative or violent reaction, considering what we've seen happening in Brazil in recent years? 

We don't work in fear or with any kind of restriction. Of course, any reactionary structure is afraid of art. They are the ones who are afraid of creation, imagination, critical thinking. This is very clear when the focus of attack is not just art, but education, science, universities. Only an extremely reactionary project needs so much to disqualify and dismantle the possibilities of creation. In fact, it is very logical that this government is afraid of everything that generates the new, that sets us in motion. And we already understand that in the face of factoids and lies, terrible lynchings occur. So I'm dealing with very powerful, very rich content, but I don't think they are more dangerous to be attacked, more likely to be censored, because anything can be attacked and censored, especially the lies created. Many of these questions created around art are false questions, invented polemics. So we can't work thinking about it, we have to work thinking about what needs to be done.

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