Until December 18, the gallery Ilian Rebei presents a body of photographs and videos around the relationship “Brazil, body and democracy”, from the 1960s to today. Interview with its curator, Ulisses Carrilho.
The exhibition title is ‘Você me abre seus braços e a gente faz um país’, which means in English ‘’You Open Your Arms and We Make a Country”, dealing with three main concepts: Brazil, Body and Democracy’. Could you explain it?
The expression comes from the lines of a very popular song in Brazil by Marina Lima and Antonio Cicero, Fullgas (1984), which wouldn’t be listed as a political song at all. I was really fond of how the quest of making a country was addressed in a letter to a lover. The song was composed a year before the end of dictatorship in Brazil, in 1984, a pivotal year for Brazilian contemporary art as well, with “Como vai você, Geração 80?” in Parque Lage School of Visual Arts. Lima is a pop singer while Antonio Cicero is a very respected poet, the two belonging to the queer movement. The title was chosen to push a little the barrier on what is considered political, but also for echoing the metaphor of the arms present in Brazil’s national anthem. In Brazil but also in Argentina, in Chile, regarding the dictatorship years, it’s very common to have exhibitions that present works made by men and especially white men.
I wanted to avoid this specific prejudice bringing the historical nucleus of the exhibition composed of three female artists: Anna Bella Geiger, Anna Maria Maiolino and Iole de Freitas. I wanted to bring women, queer artists, that could bring a special angle on this subject, that tend to think on what is behind the very notion of a body. The influence of colonial history and patriarchy is fundamental to discuss a hypersexualized body, for example. The harsh moments of history, of massive killing, torture, censorship and repression, behind much violence, were also the oportunity for counternarratives to emerge in resonance with many international movements of liberation, as Mai 1968 in France or Stonewall in United States. This reference to Marina Lima and Antonio Cicero’s song also points out their poetry, and how this poetry was deeply intertwined with politics, which might well be a need for democracy or simply despair for the lack of democracy. But also with pop culture and mass media. In fact, when you open the vinyl, there is inside a manifest of them saying their house had no walls, that they didn’t want to obey any morals. We have many mediums in the exhibition, many rhythms, languages and codes which somehow all dialogues altogether, but with no will to make sense or to be cohesive or to explain everything. Since we are facing, as many other countries, the advances of extreme right in Brazil, as far as being very synthetic, the sentence opens the path for the visitor to understand it through their own bodies, their own urges for revolution. The idea of an incorporated knowledge, in contrast to a logocentric and brain centered perspective, presents itself in a recognizable sentence for Brazilian people but also points out the urgent need that all the nations have to face. As Theodor Adorno pointed out debating the advances of nazi-fascism in Germany the very notion of democracy is a promise never completed. In the exhibition, I tend to think that queer perspectives can lead us to the same thinking regarding the concept of body.
Does this exhibition retrace personal research, courses and works you’ve been working on in the past?
Yes. I’ve tried to understand how capitalism and liberal forces get to shape our bodies in our possibility of living. As a gay man, this touched me in a very personal way. I tend to think that I was very lucky fro be able to understand my gay identity in my formative years, it allowed me to get to know a whole other kind of thinking that was under feminism . It was like opening some fields of philosophy, economy and psychoanalysis, through those alternatives to traditional knowledge I could understand myself in a different way. Being outside your country and working on this very country forces you to question the notion of representation, even though I’m not here to represent a whole country, as one person. I’d like to think that both the body and politics are notions shared with the public for them to relate it to the artworks – a sort of dispositive, even though they were ignorant of the particular context of Brazilian political and art history. As far as the correspondences between the works were very much thought, I don’t like to think that the curator’s perspective has to determine the others interpretations in such a vertical way. I think this discovery experience can be more exciting – maybe that’s why the final room of the exhibition, in the underground floor of the gallery echoes the architecture of a darkroom: a place of whispers, discoveries and pleasure.
The exhibition also brings artists from the 1960s to nowadays, with a very large spectrum on Brazilian art.
I knew from the beginning that I had to think of intergenerational dialogues, articulated in the exhibition as a narration, as a sort of non-linear narrative but as pieces related between each other by a certain regard. What determines it is not art history as a discipline, with chronological rooms, but their formal resonances and physical presence – a very straightforward relation between objects and subjects and their affects. A bodily experience. The oldest work of the show is Limpeza de Ouvido com Cotonete, by Anna Bella Geiger, a great artwork from the Visceral series. 1968, when she made it, was the year of the Institutional Act Number Five, one of the harshest moments since the coup d’état which led Brazil to dictatorship from 1964 to 1985. Only in the 1980s, Brazil became officially a democracy again, something that, at this very moment, is being threatened by four years of government characterized by overgrowing inequalities and threats to social justice, with deeper wounds like colonization and capitalism.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Brazil had a very strong oppressive force, with for example a well-developed queer and racial thinking, we could name O Lampião da Esquina, the first gay magazine of Brazil, and the dialogue that Lélia González made in between psychoanalisis and colonial history. Similar uprisings as the ones that happened in France, in 1968, have made possible strategies to deal with the dictatorship through metaphors, symbols, discourse, material creation. All the works presented were chosen for having a political surface, if I could say so, but they also have a poetic surface in them. And my intention was to bring different kinds of political strategies to give the examples that you kindly guessed with me. For example, Anna Bella Geiger uses in her work Passagens I and Passagens II her body and its representation in a sort of looping movement, a graphic and mechanical interaction with the space and society. In O Pão Nosso de Cada Dia her body, as Iole de Freitas, nevers shows itself as a complete image. The Visceral series shows body parts disassembled, and that could be related to the crimes committed during the dictatorship, of the bodies hidden by police forces, but also with the whole history of body representation in art history.
But this body was disassembled. It was in part as much of the fragmented bodies or body parts. And then, of course, we can relate to the crimes during the dictatorship and the bodies that were being hidden by the police forces. And that works, like many others in the exhibition, also relate to the universal. In 1968, France or Hungary were also shaken by uprisings, by revolts. In Brazil, we had students and workers just like in many parts of the world. Anna Bella Geiger came to Paris in 1969 and brought a manifest to French artists asking them to refuse to participate in the Sao Paulo Biennale of 1969. Iole de Freitas showed her work in 9th Paris Biennial. That being said, there is a will to not reduce them to a geography or medium, to not consider them from a geopolitical and reductionist perspective.
You mentioned a manifesto and the exhibition also displays another manifesto, which related to a porn movement. What is it about?
It’s the Movimento da Arte Pornô’s manifest “Manifesto escrito nas coxas” [Mannifest written on the thighs], that lead us to understand any political gesture as happening in the body. Eroticizing it, with humour.
These artist collective, among many other works, would go naked and make some appearances with their bodies in the beach as a way of shocking, a tool for dealing with morals, but also in the very tradition of happenings. Iole de Freitas was related to the Arte Povera on Lucy Lippard’s essay on her work, she was living in Milan with different perspectives of being Brazilian. The exhibition also includes another manifest, a visual poetry, that states without lust you cannot make a revolution [Sem tesão, não se faz revolução]. The erotic power as a drive for transformation.
Those manifests or the mixed media photographs by Luisa Brandelli could maybe summarize a very specific use of gender and morals in Brazil. Whether how you should be using or not using a swimsuit, or a bikini, in a very sexualized society, or even hyper sexualized. Many artists in the exhibition are part of the queer community. They are active in the queer community. They have trans, gay, lesbian lives and that’s enough. We did not think that they would have to represent their own bodies or to make their identity a theme.But we avoid to present many works that dealt with their bodies or with their sexuality. Most of them use their bodies like a thought on democracy. It’s similar to the first Brazilian gay magazine O Lampião da Esquina which was non-erotic but which was the voice of a community, which questioned sexuality and politics. And that gay movement was backing black diasporas in Brazil, as we can see in some documents in the exhibition. Even if it was not a mainstream movement, I like to think that those specific takes on history underlines the possibility of creating alliances, or creating interconnections between our horizons. The exhibition is built on the same principle, trying to bind relationships between artists works, between images constructed by activists and artists.
Since 2018, Brazil has had an elected president and a government that have publicly manifested the idea of going back to the order pointing back to the dictatorship years, citing AI 5, costed the lives of many people. The presence of violence, of police forces was also well living in 1976, when Anna Maria Maiolino shot the voyeuristic images of soldiers in Rio de Janeiro. And I believe the presence of this violence, both in metaphorical and explicit ways, could relate to a younger generation of artists, dealing with the state power combined with precariousness like Allan Weber, whom I was lucky to meet at l’Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage when I was his teacher. In particular ways, they all felt the urge to relate to their own reality, to their home country, in many different ways. Those four years in particular were a turning point in the cultural and intellectual thinking in Brazil, it is nonsensical to think of strategies to develop a country that undermines indigenous people, the Amazon forest, education and culture.
In the first year of the Bolsonaro government, we had an exhibition in Porto Alegre, in the South of Brazil, [Queermuseu] and then Museu de Arte do Rio, decided to bring it to Rio. And the Mayor of the city did not allow it. We decided to host it at the Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage. And even though we did not have the means to do it, we were lucky to do it through a collective force, the biggest crowdfunding in the history of cultural projects in Brazil, more than a million. Exhibitions of contemporary art tend to be very niched for privileged people, they do not tend to become mainstream news, yet happily it was. It is not possible to romanticize a history marked by violence, but humanity through different times found the possibility to somehow give bigger answers. Of course I’d rather prefer a State that would back the creative industry, that would understand its importance in the economy… But we still have a long path to go to share this idea. We will need many open arms.
Você me abre seus braços e a gente faz um país’
[You Open Your Arms and We Make a Country: Brazil, Body and Democracy]
Galerie Ilian Rebei
From October 15 to December 18 2022
50 Rue Chapon, 75003 Paris
Open from Tuesday to Saturday, 11 am to 7pm
More informations online