Work by No Martins that was exhibited at the 21st Bienal Sesc_Videobrasil. Photo: Disclosure.

Read here the first part of the text by Márcio Seligmann-Silva. And then the second part: 

Crossed stories: dialectical images

Making the arts a platform for the construction of new subjectivities and the launch of alternative forms of living together implies an integration of recent histories that still cross and dominate us. In the Brazilian case, the history of our violence is paradigmatic in the sense that it has been and continues to be systematically erased. Grada Kilomba, in his seminal book Memories of the Plantation, states in relation to this imperative of art and writing: “The idea that one has writing, almost as a moral obligation, embodies the belief that history can 'be interrupted, appropriated and transformed through artistic and literary practice'”, quoting bell hooks.[1] Only through a creative appropriation of our stories and narratives of violence can we imagine and shape new futures. As in the image of Sankofa, a bird, whose name in the Twi language of Ghana means “come back and take it”, and which is replicated in the heart-shaped symbol of the Ashanti. This bird, associated with the proverb “It is not wrong to go back to what we have forgotten”, carries a precious egg and is always represented with its head turned back, seeking strength in the past, in stories written in blood and submitted to oblivion, repression, to memoricide.

The task of decolonial and artistic reconstruction of history is fundamental and, here, curatorships and works such as the one we could see at 21a Bienal Sesc_Videobrasil are absolutely fundamental. Art reveals itself here as this second technique that Benjamin tells us about (capable of producing another physical) and as a fabulous technique for generating narratives with the potential to support transformative actions. First of all, this happens through the production of new subjectivities, no longer emptied and artificially filled by Eurocentric histories and incapable of producing authentic political subjects. These works and curatorships allow a new subjective positioning in the face of key, essential questions. When entering the space of the 21st Bienal and delving into the (politics of) immanence of his works, our bodies and our self-image are affected. The narrative that denounces colonial, phallocentric, gender, racist, class and anti-nature violence serves as a counterpoint to official discourses that, in their teleological-progressive structure, always seek to justify the actions of the market and central powers, as if dealt with a second and inexorable nature. These counter-narratives want to be open and aimed at the empowerment of subjectivities that were previously restricted, censored and tentatively eliminated. These new post-colonial and post-national subjectivities also require new responsibilities.

These responsibilities, we can think with Benjamin, go back to the dead (who were sacrificed by the history of Enlightenment and the first technique), their stories and dreams, and also for the living of now and of the future. The artworks promote the “time of now” that Benjamin speaks of: the time of Sankofa. They are “dialectical images” defined by him as “the involuntary memory of redeemed humanity”.[2] That is, the now that is at the base of the knowledge of history structures, for Benjamin, the reknowledge of an image of the past which, in fact, is an “image of memory. It resembles the images of the past itself that appear before people in moments of danger”.[3] Our moment, let us have no doubt about it, is this moment of danger. Instead of the search for the (mimetic) representation of the past, “as it was”, as the traditional historicist and positivist – in a word, representationist – postures of history postulated it, Benjamin wants to articulate the past historically by appropriating “of a reminiscence”. The historian, and this goes for the artist and anyone who turns to recollect these images with pasts that cross us, must have the presence of mind to catch these images in the moments they offer themselves: in this way, he can save them, paralyzing them. -at,[4] like a weather photographer. This history built on the basis of involuntary memory despises and liquidates the “epic moment of the exposition of history”, that is, its representation according to a narration ordered monologically. “Involuntary memory never offers […] a path, but an image. (Hence 'disorder' as the image-space of involuntary memory)”.[5] This image is read and, therefore, is hieroglyphic: a mixture of word and image. In the works and curatorship of 21a Biennial, “disorder” and non-epicity prevail. Each reader also becomes a second-tier curator. Let us quote Benjamin's words:

The image is what happened meets the now in a flash, forming a constellation. In other words: the image is the dialectic in immobility. For while the relationship of the present to the past is purely temporal, that of what has happened to the now is dialectical – not temporal in nature, but imagistic. […] The image read, that is, the image in the now of knowability, carries in the highest degree the imprint of the critical, dangerous moment, underlying all reading.[6]

The danger is also that of falling into oblivion, as well as that of remaining unread and covered by the traditional narrative – epic, linear – which, in Benjamin's view, presents only the triumph of the victors. In the image, instead of what is narrated, we find a densification of the historical that pulls it out of the flow of domination. The materialist cultural-critical artist takes what has happened and plunges it into the now, like a photographer who kidnaps a here and now and drags it to others. chronotopoi. Its tense constellations explode the false totalities of the traditional historical representation that orders us.

Building Solidarity: Sharing Terror and Compassion

With Hans Jonas, it is worth remembering, our responsibility also turns to Nature as a whole, as we read in the wise words of Davi Kopenawa in his testimonial book the fall of the sky.[7] Instead of raising the promise of a future paradise as a banner of struggle, these artistic devices act mainly for the construction of testimonial narratives that shed new light on the past and our present system of domination. In these narratives, it is not so much about instituting new heroes, but about dismantling the logic of the historiography of the heroes and the hagiography of the saints. Now, we start with a new ethics of micropolitical relations, based on a self-image of fragile bodies open to strategies of solidarity.

This point is central, since the history of art, as well as the history of politics, can be retraced as the history of the construction of a sharing in society, carried out mainly by the tragic device, as it had already been perceived and described by Aristotle. If for this philosopher the central passions aroused by tragedy are eleos e phobos, compassion and terror, the functioning of the tragic device depends on being able to calibrate the characters and situations that can arouse these passions. In the minimal but essential definition of Poetics In Aristotle, we read that pity “happens with regard to the unfortunate without deserving it, and terror, with regard to our unfortunate fellow”.[8] This “our fellow man” is a fundamental part of the argument: the tragic device reveals itself, with this notion, as a means of construction and training of own. At the heart of the tragic process lurks a mechanism for creating type that both aggregates the “equals” and allows the exclusion of “different”. This device secretes the “self” and the “other”. Therefore, if the concept of “purification” and that of “purity” hover, like a spectrum, this device, it is also because it is this means of tracing group identities.

Not by chance, the catastrophic actions par excellence that must be imitated by the tragic poet are described by Aristotle as those that involve the fight between friends and family. Hence we notice in tragedies the tendency to present the history of certain families, such as that of the Labdacids. This not only makes the actions more easily understandable and terrible, as Aristotle shows, but also, by providing terror and compassion, the cult of these mythical families and of a founding origin is reinforced. The tragic device establishes boundaries between those who deserve compassion derived from terror and those who produce only terror without compassion. A whole policy of friendship and enmity[9] can be traced from the application of this device that, it is worth remembering, operates in practically every work of art. Therefore, the challenge of creating artistic works aimed at breaking the vicious circle into which the tragic device throws us requires a re-establishment of the boundaries of the artistic field, its agents and characters. How to promote solidarity without reproducing terror and hatred? Inspired by Brecht and Harun Farocki, we can think of a non-tragic empathy, of a solidarity that adds, but maintains the “strangeness effect”.

The precariousness itself, which is the mark of contemporary art – with the use of materials considered not noble, often abject, and with its temporality that often tends to the ephemeral of performance – is also a mark of another anthropology in which this new art of memory and oblivion is pressed on.[10] In other words, these new artistic devices, which rebel against the image of the museum as an archive that builds the ontology of its own – or even against the idea of ​​the museum as a prison (already criticized by Flusser) or a morgue of stagnant images –, which demand dialogue with society, which establish new subjectivities and narratives, updating the past in order to institute counter-narratives of resistance, these works cry out for profound political changes. It is not surprising, therefore, if censorship and violence against artists return with intensity at this time.

João Pedro and George Floyd: the traumatic repetition

I conclude these words under the impact of the recent murders of 14-year-old João Pedro Mattos Pinto, which took place in São Gonzalo on 18/05/20, and that of 46-year-old George Floyd, which took place in Minnesota on 25/05. The two were cowardly killed by members of the police forces and in a situation of total vulnerability. These two events repeat the long history of genocide that is Modernity, from the arrival of Europeans in the Americas to the present day.

The works by No Martins that were part of the 21st Bienal, from the series #JáBasta!, can be read as a forceful response to this history of violence.

No Martins is part of a new generation of artists who make up contemporary black Afro-Brazilian art. This series #AlreadyEnough! it works as a catalyst to formulate the anti-fascist and anti-necropolitics political demands that have acted on the black population since the times of slavery. The impressive strength and originality of contemporary black Brazilian art responds to the terrible rise of neo-fascisms that today repeat their genocidal designs. This profoundly decolonial art produces a rupture in the complicity between the “aesthetic device” and the “colonial device”. It says enough is enough for the white cube (too much white) and for all classicisms.

One can no longer speak innocently of “racial democracy” or celebrate our “syncretistic” culture and “miscegenation” without realizing the trauma that is at the origin of this hybridization. With the profound changes that took place in the field of arts in the last decades of the XNUMXth century, there was an ascension of the subject, of the agent of art, who was previously in part still submitted to the field of representation: he was represented. A series of Afro-descendant artists, almost all trained in visual arts, and artistic collectives began to interact in the Brazilian cultural scene from this point of view of the decolonial turn, which No Martins presents to us. These artists will imagine blackness in diaspora spaces. Imagine in the sense of creating images, but also of creating a playful and political field of action.

The #AlreadyEnough! it must be echoed by us and translated into new ways of living together, in which the politics of hate and necropolitics become only part of our history books and where this type of crime can no longer happen. The fact that the murder of João Pedro had a much less intense repercussion in Brazil than it did in the USA with the murder of George Floyd, just shows how much we still have to walk in this path of building an authentically post-colonial society. The Colonial Company, unfortunately, is still strong and robust around here.


[1] Grada Kilomba. Memories of the plantation: episodes of everyday racism🇧🇷 Rio de Janeiro: Cobogó, 2019. p. 27.

[2] Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften. vol. V: Das Passagen-Werk🇧🇷 Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1982, p. 1233.

[3] Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften. vol. I. Frankfurt am: Suhkamp, ​​1974, p. 1243.

[4] Ditto, p. 1244.

[5] Ditto, p. 1243.

[6] Walter Benjamin, 1982, op. cit., p, 578. Cited translation: W. Benjamin Flights. W. Bolle and O. Matos. (Org.). (CPB Mourão and I. Aron, Trans.). São Paulo: UFMG and Official Press of the State of São Paulo, 2006, p. 505.

[7] David Kopenawa; Bruce Albert. the fall of the sky🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2015.

[8] Aristotle, poetics, trans. Eudoro de Souza, São Paulo: Ars Poética, 1993, p. 67.

[9] Carl Schmitt thought of politics as having the friend-enemy pair as its touchstone in Der Begriff des Politischen [The concept of the politician] (1927/1932). He also theorized tragedy, as in his book Hamlet or Hecuba. Der Einbruch der Zeit in das Spiel [Hamlet or Hecuba. The irruption of time in the drama] (1956).

[10] I refer here to my article “Antimonuments: work of memory and resistance”, in Psychol. USP vol.27 no.1 São Paulo jan./abr. 2016, p. 49-60.

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