*By Mariana Tessitore
Symbol of Campaign for Freedom by Rafael Braga is on display Afro-Atlantic Stories. Instituto Tomie Ohtake, which hosts the exhibition together with MASP, promoted in 2017 the exhibition Osso, andexposition-appeal to Rafael Braga's broad right of defense. Remember a conversation, published at the time, by journalist Mariana Tessitore with academics, curators and artists to find out what they think about the relationship between art and politics today:
“Art is the science of freedom”, said Joseph Beuys. But how to interpret this sentence by the German master in light of the democratic crisis that is ravaging Brazil? This debate gains momentum with the opening of the exhibition BONE: Exhibition-appeal to Rafael Braga's broad right of defense. Made in partnership with IDDD (Institute of Law for the Right of Defense), the exhibition discusses the case of Rafael Braga, a young black man who was arrested in the 2013 demonstrations for carrying disinfectant and bleach. Braga was the only person convicted in the context of the protests, as he became a symbol of the struggle of social movements.
On display at Instituto Tomie Ohtake, the exhibition features 29 works, gathering from established names such as Cildo Meireles and Anna Maria Maiolino, to young artists represented by Moisés Patrício, Paulo Nazareth, among others. Along with the works, there are also documents about the Braga case. According to the curator, Paulo Miyada, the artists participate in the exhibition as if they were signing a petition.
“Rafael's case is paradigmatic as it is an example of an institutionalized situation. It reveals how much citizenship, in Brazil, is unequally attributed, depending on the social group, race and so on”. Miyada says that there is a “consensus that everything is not well in the country” and that it is necessary to understand the “relevance of art and culture in this context”.
With a clear rhetoric, already stated in the title itself, the exhibition marks a position, without having to resort to pamphleteering or “verborragic” works, as the curator defines it. “We favor works that are not so discursive. The word 'bone' refers to what is most acute, sharp and concise in contemporary art. It is as if each work is equivalent to a gesture, a direct action made by the artist”, he explains.
One of the participants in the show, Carmela Gross, believes that the works should “sharpen” social issues: “Art is always political. Of course, we cannot understand politics in a narrow sense. It is, above all, to produce a sensitive event that can reverberate in others”. Nuno Ramos, who exhibits the work Ballad, composed of a book shot by a bullet, agrees with her colleague.
“Politics is not made only when it comes to an engaged agenda. I mean, there is politics in every work. Bossa Nova, for example, had great political power, despite not being an explicit intention of the authors”, says the artist. He also draws attention to the risks of “biased readings”: “Not necessarily the most engaged works will be those that will remain, taking care of their time. We need to interrogate the works very richly so that we don't get caught up in their content”.
towards the impossible
For the philosopher and professor at USP, Vladimir Safari, the strength of the work of art cannot be reduced to its discourse. “The fundamental political dimension of art is not in its explicit engagement, but in its ability to give shape to what is considered impossible. And this is not simply a utopian function of art, it is its most concrete dimension, it allows the creation of new forms of sociability”. He explains that aspiring to the impossible means, above all, thinking about other ways of inhabiting and feeling the world. And for that, it is necessary to create new languages.
“Today, if you look in art galleries, there are many works that directly address social problems. But what perhaps we need is something of a different nature. One of the reasons for the blunting of our political imagination comes from the fact that we adopt the grammar of what we are fighting against. We ended up speaking the same language, albeit to make different sentences. And it is obvious that, within this process, the game is already lost. Perhaps art is one of the few discourses that can remind us of this. There is no political establishment without the creation of a new grammar”, he points out.
In the exhibition at Tomie Ohtake, one work in particular brings the idea of art in search of the impossible. It is the record of an exhibition that the artist Paulo Bruscky mounted in Recife, in 1974. Entitled Nothingness, the show was not composed of any works, the gallery was completely empty. The public was invited to appear with an ironic pamphlet: “People come to the room and nothing happens. (...) Nothing and only the nothing that disturbs so much. But then nothing is something. If it disturbs so much, then it's not just something, but a lot. Nothing is too much”.
The encounter with nothingness, proposed by Bruscky, disarms the spectator, inviting him to reflect on the unexpected. For Paulo Miyada, it is indeed necessary to think about politics in a broader way. “As a curator, I try to de-automate the ways in which I bring the agendas to my projects. It is a way of revaluing the idea of politics as something that must be conquered and not an a priori keyword”, he points out.
Looking at the past can help to understand the relationship between art and politics today. According to Francisco Alambert, professor of the history department at USP, modern art was based on two forms of revolution: the social, guided by the examples of transformations in France, in 1789, and in Russia, in 1917, and the formal, associated with to the artistic avant-gardes. “Contemporary art, in turn, is born under the sign of the post-revolution, when the prospect of a radical transformation in things and in art, even if it does not disappear, is no longer seen as necessary. Hence the challenge of contemporary art of having to look for its political place”.
In this search for a new grammar, as Safatle says, perhaps one of the biggest impasses is the relationship between artists and the market. Alambert argues that, unlike modern art, which initially opposed official parameters – Picasso's paintings, for example, were censored – contemporary production already emerges in dialogue with institutions.
“Contemporary art policy is very contradictory because, on the one hand, artists have completely broken with traditional languages. Art went to the street, the body, the installations. In that sense, she is very free. However, this freedom is limited by the condition of merchandise and by the fact that the works are always within an institution that legitimizes them: museums, biennials, galleries. Very rarely is the production of contemporary art associated with larger social movements”, defends the historian.
Even if within an institution, the show BONE represents this attempt at dialogue with other sectors of civil society, being a partnership between art and justice. According to the curator, the exhibition works as a “social call” for each sector to collaborate by bringing reflections. “This dialogue was fundamental for the project. And maybe it's something more or less rare because generally the art system itself feeds back and has all its internal dynamics and reflections”, points out Miyada.
Nuno Ramos also considers it important that the exhibitions are able to “increasingly dialogue with other parts of society”. Even so, he comments that the relationship between art and politics must be seen from its nuances: “At a time when everything indicates that the artist’s role is to assume ethical questions for himself, perhaps what we should do is betray this expectation. and not assume any role. And that in itself is a political stance. Basically, it is thinking a little about art as a form of solitude, something that is not identified with the functions of the world”.
*Mariana Tessitore is a journalist and historian