Renegade Histories: Memories of Indigenous and African Descent

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posted on 11/19/2014
Agustín Pérez Rubio, Ayrson Heráclito and Rosângela Rennó will be featured in the final Public Programs meeting of the Unerasable Memories – A Historic Look at the Videobrasil Videobrasil Collection exhibition. Activities will include an enactment of Ayrson Heráclito’s Batendo Amalá performance

On Saturday, November 29, 2014, at 4:00 pm, at Sesc Pompeia’s Galpão, artists Ayrson Heráclito, Rosângela Rennó and curator Agustín Pérez Rubio will discuss the invisibility and marginalization imposed upon populations of African and indigenous descent by History and Art discourses – and their blatant, yet veiled social marginality. The meeting will wrap up the Public Programs activities of the Unerasable Memories – A Historic Look at the Videobrasil Collection exhibition, curated by Pérez Rubio and held by Associação Cultural Videobrasil and Sesc São Paulo. The exhibition features 18 works from Videobrasil’s collection, dating from the 1980s until our days, and showcasing the power of first-person accounts and of dissent in building the memory of countries marked by historical conflicts – among them Vera Cruz, by Rennó, and Barrueco, by Heráclito and Danillo Barata. Following the debate, which will be open to the public, for the first time in São Paulo, Heráclito will enact his Batendo Amalá performance, inspired by African-based religion. Unerasable Memories will remain open at Sesc Pompeia’s Galpão only until the day after the meeting, November 30 (Sunday).

Spain’s Agustín Pérez Rubio – currently the art director of the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires (MALBA) and the first curator invited by Associação Cultural Videobrasil to produce an exhibition by immersing himself in the organization’s collection –, comments on the echoes of colonization in contemporaneity, expounding on the cyclical neglect of indigenous peoples’ demands and modern-day racism, a leftover from the blemish of African slavery. “It is of vital importance that we also think of how the history of these conflicts is being viewed from the present, where everything seems distant and past, but in which issues of race, gender, slavery, borders, and wars keep on occurring”, the curator points out.

In fact, the issues set forth by the exhibition and revisited in the final Public Programs meeting are particularly current and appropriate. November has been proclaimed “Black Consciousness Month,” with the long-overdue establishment of the National Day of Zumbi and Black Consciousness, in 2011. Celebrated annually on November 20, the day of death of black leader Zumbi dos Palmares, the date elicits reflection on racial inequality and the challenges facing the black population. This year, Courts of Law in different areas across the country have either failed to recognize or propositioned to suspend the holiday, looking after the interests of local retailers, or ignoring its relevance.

Recent episodes involving the indigenous population also had ample coverage by major media outlets, although the full extent of the crimes committed by the repressive, development-oriented policy in place in Brazil remains largely unfathomed. At least on the social media, a new letter, written 512 years after Pero Vaz de Caminha’s, in 2012, by the Guarani-Kaiowá tribe in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, has made history. A large portion of Brazilian society has taken action against an eviction order on roughly 170 tribe members. In the following year, 2013, settlement “Aldeia Maracanã” (Maracanã Village) was cleared by Military Police in Rio de Janeiro during the preparations for the FIFA World Cup. Furthermore, commitment to indigenous peoples was on the agenda in the latest presidential elections, influencing the outcome of the runoff elections, as Marina Silva made this a non-negotiable condition to formalizing her support to fellow candidate Aécio Neves.

The Unerasable Memories – A Historic Look at the Videobrasil Collection exhibition prompts reflection about these issues via a selection of related videos, video installations and recorded performances. Vera Cruz (2000) is Rosângela Rennó’s first video work. Made during the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of Brazil’s “discovery,” the piece is based upon and reinterprets the letter from Pero Vaz de Caminha to the King of Portugal, the first document ever written in the country. Like the history we take as official, the piece enables access only to the Portuguese conquistadors’ version of their encounter with natives from the land that would later become Brazil. “History is always anchored on documents. (…) However, any investigation based on ancient documents and remainders from a time past is bound to contain gaps. (…) Often, institutions and the powers take advantage of the shortcomings and gaps in order to rewrite or edit history based on specific agendas, and this is exactly what must become the object of observation, research and even denunciation,” the artist said in a statement available in full from PLATFORM:VB.

The “holocaust of slavery” and a performance inspired by Xangô, the orisha of Justice

By the artist from Bahia Ayrson Heráclito, the exhibition features Barrueco, a video made in 2004 in partnership with Danillo Barata. The piece recounts the history of African slave trafficking through a web of material, musical, pictorial and textual references. Palm oil, a recurring element in Heráclito’s artistic output, is used in the film as a metaphor for the ocean, due to its objective and mythical-symbolic connections with the motherland. “It makes me really happy to see an exhibition like this, which is essentially saying ‘don’t forget your pain, turn this hassle into something productive,” the artist declares in a statement available on Channel VB.

The Batendo Amalá performance – set to be enacted after the debate at Sesc Pompeia’s Galpão, inside the Knowledge Zone –, is the outcome of the artist’s research into the heritage and the historical, cultural, social and religious influences stemming from the arrival of Africans in Brazil, and particularly in Bahia. More than just African-rooted traditions, Heráclito investigates the birth of an Afro-Brazilian culture, both within the contemporary art scene and in academia, as a full professor at the Federal University of Recôncavo da Bahia (UFRB).

In this performative action, the artist makes the “ajebó,” a ritual food prepared as a votive offering to Xangô, a candomblé divinity linked to Justice, as he evokes his own personal requests. “Within the context of this exhibition, I hope the ritual will arouse a feeling that can provide some sort of cure to these ills that befell us, especially the African diaspora resulting from slavery. By approaching slavery through art, I yearn to quell the pains of this memory without hiding it. It is part of my goal as an artist to work through this Northeast Brazilian pain through art – aestheticizing the wounds, living with them rather than forgetting,” says the artist. “It’s like a request for Xangô to cast his sense of justice upon the facts that took place,” Heráclito asserts. Batendo Amalá premiered during the seminar “Corpo em Prospecção 2 – Performance art e intercâmbios artísticos” (Body in Prospecting 2 – Performance art and artist exchange), held in 2011 at the Federal University of Recôncavo da Bahia. In that same year, it featured in the Corpo Aberto Corpo Fechado exhibition at the Federal University of Bahia’s Galeria Cañizares.

A video recording of the performance recreated in a studio, in 2013, was donated by Heráclito to the Videobrasil Collection. It is a double-channel video installation that revealed new issues to the artist. “It’s not about having a video show what the performance was; it’s about re-signifying my action,” he ponders. “In this video installation, I intended to bring a bit of the universe and the feeling of being present.” The piece is composed of two screens side by side on a wall, showing a loop that lasts approximately six minutes. In addition to Barrueco, featured in the Unerasable Memories – A Historic Look at the Videobrasil Collection exhibition, and Ayrson Heráclito’s new donation, Batendo Amalá, the Videobrasil Collection currently features three other artworks by the artist: As Mãos do Epô (2007), Buruburu (2010) and Funfun (2012).

Exhibition showcases the diversity and power of a collection of 1300 artworks by artists from the global South

The videos by Rosângela Rennó and Ayrson Heráclito converse intimately with other artworks in the Unerasable Memories exhibition. The works of Luiz de Abreu (O Samba do Crioulo Doido), Mwangi Hutter (My Possession) and Dan Halter (Untitled – Zimbabwean Queen of Rave) address different claims made by the black identity. Luiz de Abreu’s performance won the 18th edition of the Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil, in 2013. For its part, the social invisibility experienced by indigenous populations and their insufficiency when faced with big political and economic interests are also the subjects of Vincent Carelli and Dominique Gallois’s A Arco dos Zo’é, and Aurélio Michiles’ O Sangue da Terra. Michiles took part in the opening panel of the exhibition’s Public Programs, on “How to fight historical amnesia through art? Responsibility and artistic commitment.” A Arca dos Zo’é, a film by Vicent Carelli and Dominique Gallois, was shot by indigenous filmmakers from the Waiãpi tribe (in the state of Amapá). The piece documents a trip of Waiãpi tribe chief Wai Wai and his film crew to the village of the Zo’é, in Pará. Wai Wai became aware of Zo’é culture on television. They seemed to uphold traditions his own tribe had already lost due to frequent contacts with the white man. His intention was to show the Wai Wai youth the habits of their ancestors, using film footage of the Zo'é’s daily routine. One of the tribe’s contacts was with a team from the non-government organization Vídeo nas Aldeias (Video in the Villages). Founded by Vincent Carelli in 1986, the NGO provides the natives with support and access to equipment, and distributes their video works, democratizing audiovisual production and allowing them to become active subjects in portraying their reality. "In Brazil, a series of investigations are reassessing how this history is made (...). It is not enough to have the natives alternate between the role of passive victims and heroes who fight to preserve their culture, understood as an unchangeable essence. One must reconsider the indigenous way of thinking and making history, a different history,” wrote the anthropologist Lilia Schwarcz in her essay on the piece by Carelli and Gallois, published in the Unerasable Memories – A Historic Look at the Videobrasil Collection exhibition book, released in October and available for sale at Sesc São Paulo’s units and from Sesc’s online store

However, the exhibition also features other works from Associação’s collection that help revisit episodes and conflicts oft interpreted through official discourse, of history as told by the victors, but which nonetheless resist in eyewitness accounts and are disseminated through art. The September 11 attacks, apartheid in South Africa, the Tiananmen Square massacre and various civil wars are re-examined in first-person accounts by artists from countries such as Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, USA, Morocco, Kenya, Lebanon and Zimbabwe in the artworks selected by Agustín Pérez Rubio. They are: Akram Zaatari, Bouchra Khalili, Carlos Motta, Coco Fusco, Enio Staub, Jonathas de Andrade, León Ferrari & Ricardo Pons, Liu Wei, Rabih Mroué, Sebastián Diaz Morales and Walid Raad.

Made between the 1980s and our days, these pieces provide a small sample of the diverse, rich universe of Videobrasil Collection artworks. According to Videobrasil founder and director Solange Farkas, although it incorporates international video art classics, the big strength of the Collection resides in the fact that it contains the memory of audiovisual production from the geopolitical South of the world, which is the target area of the Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil’s Southern Panoramas exhibition – spanning countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, part of Europe, Asia and Oceania. “The rich discussions elicited by the Public Programs meetings and the essays in the exhibition book, alongside the feedback we have had from spectators and critics, have underscored the relevance of the subject matters and the power, currency and diversity of productions by these artists whom, despite living in such different areas, share a common engagement with the political and social realities of their countries,” says Farkas.

In addition to the exhibition works, visitors to Sesc Pompeia’s Galpão will be able to watch Videobrasil Collection works from the Video Library, available on computers at the Knowledge Zone, the area where myriad educational and Public Programs actions take place in a bid to activate and enhance the exhibition experience. The Video Library features approximately 1,300 videos, video installations and recorded performances, as well as 254 edited recordings and 7 documentaries from the Videobrasil Authors Collection, amassed by the Associação over the course of 30-plus years. These are productions that contemplate the vast, ambiguous contemporary context of the geopolitical South, and became part of the collection as per an acquisition policy focusing on the artworks shortlisted every two years for the Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil  (organized by the partnership between Sesc São Paulo and Associação Cultural Videobrasil), and artist-donated artworks which are relevant to Videobrasil’s artistic orientation.


WHAT: Panel “Renegade Histories: Memories of Indigenous and African Descent” – with artists Rosângela Rennó and Ayrson Heráclito and curator Agustín Pérez Rubio + Batendo Amalá performance by Ayrson Heráclito
When: November 29, 2014 (Saturday), 4pm
Where: Knowledge Zone | Galpão at Sesc Pompeia (Rua Clélia, 93, Pompeia, São Paulo)
Free admission

WHAT: Exhibition Unerasable Memories – A Historic Look at the Videobrasil Collection
Opening dates: until November 30, 2014 | Tuesday - Saturday, from 10 am to 10 pm, Sunday and holidays, from 10 am to 8 pm 
Where: Galpão at Sesc Pompeia (Rua Clélia, 93, Pompeia, São Paulo)
Free admission