Debate with Júlia Rebouças and Durval Muniz discusses the sertão and the idea of ​​“sertão art”

Event held by MAM and ARTE!Brasileiros raised relevant discussions on the construction of concepts in society and on the curatorship of the 36th Panorama of Brazilian Art

With the participation of Júlia Rebouças, curator, researcher and art critic, and the historian Durval Muniz De Albuquerque Júnior, master and doctor in Social History from Unicamp and professor of the graduate programs at UFRN and UFPE, it took place last Friday fair, the 5th, the debate “Sertão: experimentation and resistance”, at the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo (MAM). The event, a partnership between MAM and ARTE!Brasileiros, is linked to the 36th Panorama of Brazilian Art, which is curated by Rebouças and is scheduled to open in August this year. The debate was mediated by Patricia Rousseaux, publisher of ARTE!Brasileiros.

With the theme “sertão”, which will be the curatorial axis of this edition, the 36tho Panorama does not seek to portray what we usually define as the Brazilian sertão, nor even to deal with this concept in a closed way. On the contrary, as the curator explained in her speech: “I do not necessarily or exclusively want to deal with the states that make up the Northeast, nor the caatinga, nor the agreste or semi-arid region. I think with this project I want to think about a certain Brazilian art that has resistance and experimentation as its foundations. Based on that, I take a poetic license, and also a political license, to call this certain Brazilian production a 'sertão art'”.

Construction and Deconstruction of the Sertão

Contextualizing and deepening the discussion, before Rebouças presented his project for the show in detail, Durval Muniz spoke about the historical construction of the concept of sertão and about the national imagination related to the Northeast region. author of books The Invention of the Northeast and other Arts; History, the Art of Inventing the Past; e Prejudice Against Geographic Origin and Place: The Borders of Discord, the professor highlighted that the word sertão refers us to a set of images and themes that were built throughout the 20th century and that involves several clichés and stereotypes.

“There is a set of themes, events and characters that are linked to this word. When we hear about the sertão, we think about drought, withdrawal, coronelismo, cangaço and religious movements”, said the professor. We also think, according to him, of the Northeast region, despite the fact that the word sertão predates the very definition of what the northeastern region is. In this sense, the historian stressed that sertão already appears in Portuguese vocabulary in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries and refers to “an uninhabited place, a place of emptiness, a silence”. “And insofar as it is this void, it can be given different meanings”.

“Northeast is a regional cut that only appears at the beginning of the 20th century. Before, Brazil was divided into North and South. And the Northeastern regionalist discourse was very efficient in capturing the concept of the sertão”, said Durval. This took place either through sociological, historiographical or artistic production, and it was remarkable “to the point that other Brazilian regions do not have the hinterland, but the interior”.

Another aspect highlighted by the historian was the idea that the sertão refers, in our imagination, to another time, usually from the past, “a time before civilization, progress, urbanization and development”. “It's this idea of ​​the sertão as confines. The sertão is a distance, a physical and temporal distance”, he said.

The construction of this sertanejo imaginary, also associated with poverty, craftsmanship and tradition, violence and masculinity – the figure of the “male goat” – is closely related to the construction of the northeastern imaginary, and has to do with a series of political aspects. and cultural. According to Durval, “the Northeast is an invention of an elite that lost ground at the national level. From elites that were defeated in the process of implanting urban, industrial and bourgeois capitalist society in Brazil.” In this sense, “the Northeast is a reactionary invention to this process, which tries to preserve the estates, patriarchal and aristocratic society of when the region was the center of Brazilian politics and economy”.

This also involves, in different ways, writers, filmmakers, artists from different fields, historians and social scientists, not just elites. Citing important names such as Euclides da Cunha, Luiz Gonzaga, Cicero Dias and Glauber Rocha, among others, Durval continued: “The Northeast exists because it was invented. And it exists with great force because of the quality of its inventors, the power of the speeches”. “That's why the Northeast is such a difficult construction to deconstruct. And I think it's the arts that can help in that sense, more than the academy.”

Deconstruct, he says, because “this stereotype around the sertão does not allow us to see its complexity and diversity”. The sertão should not be seen only as a place of backwardness, violence, poverty, drought and so on. “The sertão is a multiple experience, although it tends to be narrated from certain clichés.” It is today diverse, modern and post-modern, it houses large cities, huge contrasts within itself. “It is crossed by all economic, cultural and symbolic flows that cross any space in the world. The sertão is global, it is globalized. It is complex, multiple, ambiguous, conflicting”, concluded the historian.

The Panorama of Brazilian Art

After Durval Muniz's speech, Júlia Rebouças spoke in more detail about the curatorial project of 36o Panorama and the concepts that guide it. Even so, according to her, no matter how “tied up” the project and the list of participating artists are, it is only when the show begins to take shape, be mounted and experienced that it is possible to perceive whether the “project worked or not, whether a concept is potent or not and whether it handles the production of a moment”. Even if somehow precarious, however, the previous reflective exercises are fundamental to building a body, said the curator.

“The project starts from this sertão concept, which I take here as an evocative term, which brings with it affections, forms, ideas and fictions. The images of the sertão are present throughout Brazilian culture, although none of them covers everything that sertão can mean. The elements of a certain geography are not sertão, the semiarid region is not sertão enough, the caatinga, human occupations are not sertão. Nor are the telluric forces alone. There is not an enterprise, a monument or a manifestation that can fully symbolize the sertão, not even these manifestations of the sacred and the festive.”

For the curator, if, on the one hand, the common sense imaginary treats the sertão as emptiness, aridity, harshness and infertility, on the other hand, the meanings of vitality, strength, resistance, experimentation and creation also arise, “gestated from an order of knowledge and practices that challenge the colonial project in its repeated attempts at submission”.

Rebouças stated, in this sense, that there is a very rich condition for “contemplating a production of contemporary art that can also exist outside the canons of established institutional and market circuits, although it can and should infiltrate them”. To treat sertão as a way of thinking and acting, Rebouças also establishes a dialogue with the debates on “Southern epistemologies” and “orientalisms”, which escape a hegemonic western worldview.

Regarding the process that led her to the concept of Panorama, Rebouças also said that she was inspired by the contact she had with the ASA (Articulation in the Brazilian Semiarid Region) – a network formed by associations, cooperatives, social movements, rural unions, etc. The ASA proposes “coexistence” with the semi-arid region, “as opposed to an economic and social policy of colonial origin that exploits and controls the people of the semi-arid region with combat projects: combating drought, the climate, and nature. And with a promise of plenty that never returns to the people,” she said.

“And for me it has been very exciting to think about art from this vocabulary of agriculture and farmers. Many of the most interesting debates on our relationship with nature come from the countryside and from the experiences of the countryside, on climate and environmental issues, on food, on the social movements that are one of the most forceful resistance forces in the political debate today”, defended the healer. “So I think it has been very exciting to think about the sertão and 'sertão art' from a lexicon that finds and starts from this debate about planting, about agriculture, about this relationship between man and nature in this most founding and fundamental condition of existence of homo sapiens.”

for the 36o Panorama, therefore, the sertão is understood “through art as an affection, as a model, as a quality from which poetic creations, triggering images, rearticulation of language, new social arrangements, encounters of knowledge from different matrices, management of natural assets, engagement with the surroundings, multiple manifestations of the sacred, ability to celebrate”. According to the curator, these are speculations about what this “sertão epistemology” would be, seen from the point of view of contemporary art production, and how these characteristics constitute the practice of a counter-colonial or “decolonial” art.

Finally, in a line similar to the speech of Durval Muniz, Rebouças cited the power of the imaginary about the sertão in the arts, from the music of Luiz Gonzaga, the writing of Guimarães Rosa and the cinema of Glauber Rocha, among many others. “There are many examples of approaches to the sertão in Brazilian culture, but what I am intending with this project is, recognizing this legacy, to add another point of view, so that this approach here from 36o Panorama distances itself from this symbolic imagery and distances itself from this attraction of folklore and representations of regionalist clichés. So the sertão here should not be understood as a theme, but as a way of enunciating. It is not about sertão, but a sertão way of existing as art”.

Finally, the curator spoke briefly about the 29 artists chosen to compose the show: Ana Lira, Ana Pi, Ana Vaz, Antonio Obá, Coletivo Fulni-ô de Cinema, Cristiano Lenhardt, Dalton Paula, Daniel Albuquerque, Desali, Gabi Bresola and Mariana Berta, Gê Viana, Gervane de Paula, Lise Lobato, Luciana Magno, Mabe Bethônico, Maré de Matos, Maxim Malhado, Maxwell Alexandre, Michel Zózimo, Paul Setúbal, Radio Yandê, Randolpho Lamounier, Raphael Escobar, Raquel Versieux, Regina Parra, Rosa Luz, Santídio Pereira, Vânia Medeiros and Vulcanica PokaRopa. “I think they are artists who are working from a set of transforming concepts, values ​​and affections. They make this 'sertão art'”.

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