Sao Paulo art festival gives voice to resistance in times of darkness

A photo taken on September 2, 2021 shows a work by Brazilian artist Jaider Esbell during the press day ahead of the opening of the 34th Sao Paulo Biennale at Ibirapuera Park in Sao Paulo. – AFP Photos

A meteorite recovered from a fire in 2018 at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro symbolizes resistance to the destruction of culture in times of darkness – a spirit at the heart of this year’s Sao Paulo Contemporary Art Biennale. On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the exhibition, one of the most important of its kind in the world, reflects a reaction to the far right embodied in Brazil by President Jair Bolsonaro, as well as to the environmental crisis and to the pandemic.

“Faz escuro mas eu canto” (“It’s dark but I’m singing”): the curators recovered this verse from Thiago de Mello, a message of hope written during the military dictatorship of Brazil from 1964 to 1985, to summarize this Biennial of more than a thousand works by 91 Brazilian and foreign artists, including indigenous creators. The darkness has become more tangible with “new fires, hate speech (…), acts of explicit racism, signs of institutional fragility and finally the pandemic,” said Paulo Miyada, one of the conservatives , during launch. “The voice of artists becomes more important in states of emergency like the one we live in,” he added.

After coming to power in 2019, Bolsonaro eliminated the culture ministry and reduced it to a secretariat within the tourism portfolio, with a reduced budget and alleged censorship complaints. Since then, the art world has resisted. “The way to respond (…) to the dark days of far-right movements was to adopt a political approach,” Italian guest commissioner Francesco Stocchi told AFP.

Work by Brazilian artist Daiara Tukano.

Past and present
Thus, the Biennale proposed a concept of circular history that dates back to the colonization of the country and approaches the present from a historical perspective, drawing certain parallels. There is “a clear awareness of the gravity of certain current situations”, declared the conservative general Jacopo Crivelli Visconti. As an example, he cited the work of Brazilian Regina Silveira, who portrayed disproportionate shadows as symbols of dictatorship, such as an army tank similar to those recently used in Brasilia in an unprecedented military parade in which Bolsonaro, a former army captain, attended.

Her compatriot Carmela Gross exhibits a large figure covered with a canvas, a sculpture that she had already exhibited at the 1969 Biennale during the military junta, a context which according to the organizers “imbues her with a feeling of threat and danger “. This perception was reinforced by marches last Tuesday during which many “Bolsonarists” called for military intervention to prevent justice from investigating Bolsonaro for, among other things, spreading false news. A phrase by the philosopher Antonio Gramsci, embodied in another of the works on display, invites the visitor to reflect: “The old world is dying. The new takes a long time to appear. And in this chiaroscuro appear monsters ”.

Works by American photographer Mathew B. Brady.

Ecological emergency
Outside, two inflatable snake-shaped sculptures on a lake in Ibirapuera Park attract the attention of visitors. But Jaider Esbell, a Makuxi native and author of the work titled “Entities,” says his participation in the Biennale goes beyond that and other of his works on display. “My best job is politics, not those colorful drawings or the cobra in the lake; these are elements to attract attention and spark discussion on issues such as global warming and the ecological emergency, ”Esbell told AFP.

“This is a key moment because everyone is fighting, but no one is fighting for the ecological emergency,” said the artist from the Raposa Serra do Sol indigenous reserve in the northern state of Roraima, a land marked by territorial conflicts and threatened by illegal mining. . Under the Bolsonaro administration, deforestation and forest fires set records in the Amazon, essential to stabilize the global climate and home to many indigenous peoples. The exhibition, which opened on September 4, will run until December 5 and aims to attract, as in previous years, around one million visitors. – AFP

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