Art and Activism in Latin America – year II
The black, white, feminine, masculine, queer body gains violent, eloquent, plastic, festive or even mystic outlines in the propositions developed by Mariela Scafati, Carlos Martiel and Cristiano Lenhardt. These artists come respectively from Buenos Aires, Havana and Recife, cities that are so distinct and particular in their forms of cultural manifestations and their relationship with the colonial past, the current political instability and with a future filled with uncertainties.
In the heart of the XXI century, the plasticity attributed to men is taken to the limit of what is bearable in politics and nature, tensioning notions of the future and challenging social convention patterns, in a perverse power game that is inevitable in the course of the historical process fought by the West in its epic narrative of conquest, power and destruction.
In this context, the body is the minimum cell and maximum political organism, it is at the same time the instance of resistance, pleasure, pain and transcendance, capable of carrying all human history, be it individual or collective. The body is put to test – it demands and offers the dimension of what is possible and impossible in the daily battles of life, defying the very rules of our survival.
Mariela Scafati, during her stay in Rio de Janeiro, went in search of interlocution with other activists – feminists and transfeminists – to develop her practice of queer silk screen (a project she has been developing for many years) in collaboration with the collective which is organizing a street manifestation that will gain body in the end of the year at “Marcha das Vadias” (Slutwalk). In parallel, the artist presented performances and led workshops in which she explored the body (including her own) as a public platform for communication, understanding “fashion” and the t-shirts as political flagships and itinerant vehicles of ideas that need to be expressed, rejected or incorporated into the collective debate.
In her final action – A Vida se Impõe (“Life imposes itself”) -, Mariela presented a “fashion show” in which the word is inseparable from the body, its movements constituting the articulation of a political repertoire that calls the people to publicly manifest themselves. While the outfits with pony-tails bring an animality and give unity to men, women and trans people, the performances on the catwalk are followed by Scafati’s text change, an action that she articulates in a kind of Kamishibai Japanese theatre through words. Humor and irony gain strength in the artist’s works – which mobilizes bodies that speak (or opt for silence), bodies that exist and have to be recognized in their physical, aesthetical and political integrity. Life is the grand political experience, coexistence is the great strategy of survival and the body is a party!
Carlos Martiel, Cuban artist who lives between Cuba and New York, developed three performances throughout his residency in Brazil. Giving continuity to an artistic research – that parts from his own body to question the manner in which we relate with the black race and its past of physical and economical domination – at Despina he also investigated the indigenous issue in “Lamento Kayapó” (“Kayapó Lament”), a subject constantly put to second plan by Brazilian political agenda (even by the left); the servile aspect of black labour in “Fonte de Energia” (“Energy Source”); and the violence practiced by the State in its constant attacks to this ethnicity – in the name of the fight against crime and the preservation of social order in “Bala Perdida” (“Stray Bullet”).
His performances take our pain tolerance to a limit, as well as our capacity of observing, dealing and coexisting with the atrocities routinely committed against marginalized, vulnerable and neglected groups by public power and affluent sectors of society. In this sense, the plastic and graphic aspect of his actions ensure that contents sublimated by the collective debate are ineradicably recorded in our short and selected memory so that they become images impossible to shove away from our puerile political conscience, which shapes combative and inflammed speeches – despite the violent and atrocious reality imposed on the everyday life of the more vulnerable sectors of the social body.
In “Fonte de Energia” (“Source of Energy”), Martiel becomes an artist absent from the vernissage, reproducing the invisibility of the blacks in Brazilian society, by assuming the role of a servant who offers snacks to the public while they celebrate the opening of a new exhibition. In the act of hiding himself from the public behind a wall, and allowing only for his black hands to be seen holding a tray, the artist confronts us with the daily relation that the country establishes with its black population, neglecting the individualities behind the labour force that moves our country and the world, transforming the ordinary act of consumption into a perverse and embarrassing activity.
In the context of political discussions on the body (or the bodies) proposed in this second year of Art and Activism at Despina, Cristiano Lenhardt turns the key of the political speech – casting a new gaze towards the body, seeking to incorporate other shades to a usually unidimensional debate – that has its most concrete expression in the carnality of the individual, treating the body as the only possible dimension to speak about life. While thinking about the affections that move our bodies and the spiritual dimension of lives that go beyond absolute materiality, Lenhardt signals the emotional charge that mobilizes and orients our individual and collective search for happiness or for a sense of meaning to our precarious existence.
In a musical performance – “Declaração” (“Declaration”) – which combines bodies and images into a collective action, the artist seeks to attain a spiritual “nirvana” that connects body and soul, that gives voice to the unnamed urges of human species, relativising genres and corporealities, constituting an astral battle so utopic as detached from earthly and finite things, commodities that are manipulable by market, speech, medias and other spheres of power.
Bernardo José de Souza
To learn more about the artists and Art and Activim in Latin America – year II, click here.
PICTURES GALLERY (horizontal scrooling)
by Denise Adams and Frederico Pellachin