Scene from “Pivete”, 1987, by Lucila Meirelles and Geraldo Anhaia Melo. Photo: Disclosure

É It is likely that we have never used the word “confinement” as much as in the last year. Since the realization that a pandemic was ravaging the world at the beginning of 2020, social isolation has proved to be the most effective way to stop the spread of Covid-19, especially when there is no vaccine for everyone. But it is not this type of confinement – ​​which we are accepting out of necessity and empathy, in the words of researcher Juliana Borges – that the exhibition is about. confinements, on display from May 10 on the platform Videobrasil Online.

Through 14 videos produced from the late 1980s to the present, the exhibition mainly discusses themes related to mass incarceration in Brazil, that is, criminal policy, racism, the colonial past, the civil-military dictatorship, violence police and human rights. Curated by Juliana Borges, writer and scholar of criminal policy, the show also seeks to expand the notions of confinement to which we are exposed. Thus, the prisons imposed by the asylum system, by the exacerbated consumerism, by the alienation of social networks or by the imposition of standards of sexuality and "of what we understand to be functional bodies or not". The debate also expands beyond the national border, with five foreign productions coming from South Africa, Argentina, Australia, the USA and Russia.

Borges’ idea, therefore, was “to broaden the view of prisons, the perception and our understanding of confinement, even without taking away the centrality of the importance of debating prison, mass incarceration and the motivations of the criminal policy in force in our country". This country, she emphasizes, has the third largest prison population in the world (almost 800 prisoners), despite being the sixth in number of inhabitants. “Why the need to incarcerate so much?”, asks Borges in the video shown on the opening page of the exhibition. The testimony, lasting almost 45 minutes, is added to the works on display as a rich material for deepening the discussion.

Scene from “Deriving from my beauty”, 2004, by Fernanda Gomes and Luliana Barros. Photo: Disclosure

In order to understand the roots of the situation and its motivations, Borges seeks – like the videos in the show – to denaturalize perceptions of what is or is not a crime, what is or is not punishable. “Because crime is a free and broad concept. Everything can be a crime and therefore nothing can be a crime. What will define is a series of tensions, conflicts and political disputes within society. There are behaviors that are penalized in certain societies and countries, but not in others”, she explains, recalling the questions posed by Angela Davis in the 1970s: “What is a crime? Who defines what a crime is? And who defines who the criminal is?”.

In the Brazilian case, it would be impossible to detach this investigation from colonialism and slavery that shaped not only our past, but “a modernity that has coloniality as an important trunk”, according to Borges. “Criminal policy is the result of political and economic processes, it is conceived from a conception and organization of the State. And when we talk about Brazil, we are talking about a nation that arises from violence, from a context of ethnic genocide, from the extermination of native peoples, from the kidnapping of African people to the American continent.” 

The operating criminal policy, in this way, would be constituted to meet the interests of maintaining inequalities and privileges of one group to the detriment of others. And that was even after slavery, when new theories emerged to support the idea that there are inferiors and superiors, according to the curator: “And they will build this stereotype that blacks in Brazilian society are inferior, because they are more prone to criminality and to a series of other – considered – moral and value deviations”. This would emerge as a kind of updating and sophistication of the apparatuses of racism, put into practice by a criminal policy to combat certain social groups – “with the creation of what are the internal enemies, which need to be fought”.

Scene from “Bere Life Study”, 2005, by Coco Fusco. Photo: Disclosure

They appear in the curator's speech, from there, we question others that run through the videos of the show. Among them: “Why in certain contexts is the simple exercise of sexuality considered criminal conduct? Why in some societies the use of certain substances is considered an illegal act and in others it is not? On this point, Borges adds: “In the case of people who abuse substances, why not invest in harm reduction and health? Why is there an insistence on thinking that the war on certain substances, or a process of militarization of territories, can guarantee well-being? All the data, from very serious researchers of public security in Brazil, have pointed to the opposite”. In this sense, according to Borges, conflicts that we think will be resolved with prison are actually amplified by it – and could be resolved with other types of mediation.

Propitious time 

confinements is the fifth project presented on Videobrasil Online, exhibition platform opened in September 2020 and which has presented new works or works selected from the vast collection assembled by Associação Cultural Videobrasil since the 1980s – as is the case with the current show. According to Solange Farkas, director of the institution: “If we find ourselves today in an environment that is not conducive to the expansion of partnerships and cultural projects marked by the defense of diversity, freedom, community thinking and the expansion of consciousness, on the other hand we have never had so much certainty of the importance of keeping alive – and active – one of the most significant collections of video production from the geopolitical South of the world. Which is also an invaluable source of research on an artistic production that has as its founding mark and recurring trait precisely a political, combative and libertarian use of video”.

Scene from “Politik”, 2001, by Marcello Mercado. Photo: Disclosure

Unlike the much-discussed confinement due to the pandemic, mentioned at the beginning of this text, the confinements discussed in the videos present in the show seem to continue without receiving the necessary attention. As Borges points out, if we are not “one tenth” close to what it is like to go through this pandemic context in prisons, many of us are realizing what the limitations of coming and going mean and “the possibilities of living what we thought, until then, which was to live fully.”

The moment, therefore, seems to be even more propitious for the questions raised in the exhibition, even if there are no ready-made answers to them. “If this policy of super incarceration is not causing crime rates to decrease, why do we continue to insist on this model? Why do we think that increased ostensiveness and repression will respond to conflicts? Why do we respond to violence with violence when, in fact, we have a series of precarious living conditions for a huge number of people in our country? We are talking about an extremely unequal country, where there are huge social gaps, so why not invest in guaranteeing rights, in promoting rights?”.

William da Silva Lima in a scene from “Senhora Liberdade”, 2004, film by Caco Souza. Photo: Disclosure

And she concludes: “With this criminal policy, as much as we don't want to pay attention to it, as much as we want to think that it has nothing to do with our lives, we are sustaining it - whether in an active or silent behavior in relation to this – a dynamic of social relations and the functioning of institutions that have made precarious, marginalized and been part of a gear of extermination, control, maintenance and expansion of inequalities”.

The curator's speech refers, at this point, to the testimony of William da Silva Lima, one of the founders of Comando Vermelho, in one of the short films presented at the show, lady libertyOf 2004. For the “professor” – as he was known –, who was imprisoned for more than three decades and died in 2019, “the prison, the current prison, is a storehouse of human flesh. Because it has no conditions to enable the resocialization of the prisoner. (…) You don't think about the human being. It is not thought that this will reflect on society itself. Because this has a return, when you throw a ball, it comes back. So it has to be seen if there is a democracy, because I don't think so. It is a dictatorship of the smartest.”

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