Conversation between Luiz Camillo Osorio and Gê Viana
1 – Tell us a little about your training: did it take place in São Luiz? At an Art School?
My training took place in the State’s education system, in the interior of Maranhão. Shortly after my mother got a job as a domestic worker and moved to the capital, and there I had the opportunity to do technical training at the theater, where I had more contact with art history, which I enjoyed more than acting. I studied at the Federal University of Maranhão – UFMA, taking the Visual Arts course.
2 – What is the art scene like in Maranhão? What’s the institutional circuit like? What are the powers and challenges of this marginal context?
Maranhão is a huge settlement. It has productions that come out of events and festivals like bumba meu boi, when master singers compose songs, and others create sculptural objects of the masks of Cazumbá and embroidery for clothing. The religious festivals, the quilombos (Brazilian hinterland communities founded by enslaved people of African origin), the popular festivals, the riches of our culture produce lots of emerging artists in the creation of narratives, mixing different languages from the visual with the audiovisual arts, so-called contemporary with the events and festivals. I have observed that our generation continues this legacy of recording the daily lives of our people due to the need to show its beauty and offer testimony. We have mixed and created independent initiatives, like Reocupa, Chão, and NUPPI that operate in the circuit, in the absence of public policies. There’s the help from bid notices, but the funds are limited and that is the great difficulty. Due to the nature of our history, the concept of the ‘periphery’ (marginalized, low-income communities) here has other characteristics – the ‘periphery’ is found in the rural area, but also in the city center. For us, it’s perhaps different: we have other bases of knowledge, of indigenous people, of quilombos, of terreiros (traditional Afro-Brazilian religions places of worship). We need to open our eyes to the discourses that represent us as marginal. The power comes from our collective processes, because we alternate tasks and do things organically, circumventing the lack of ideal conditions and staging actions in the city.
3 – Your relationship with the street was, and is, very important. How do you regard the relationship between tagging and performance? How do you see the relationship and the conflict with the audience?
Tagging was the first contact with art that I was able to have in my neighborhood. People in society share ideas and common interests, and they also differ. I always regard tagging as being outside of this body stuck in the ordinary. It is in our nature to want to be different. When I go out to tag, it’s a collective performance activity, but it’s all done out of sight. There are no starring roles in our bodies. A mark is left; that’s what matters. Tagging itself has a subversive power. When Marcia and I went out to bodygraph these symbols, we drew attention to this environment by raising political issues within a mapping of the city. These are two women who are putting their bodies at risk in the complex dance of tags, in the same way that the tagger risks this place of perfection of the space of appreciation. I believe that when we perform in front of the tags, we are setting the local population a language translation test. The individual seeks the agreeable; tagging mostly goes against an ideal of good taste, of beauty and socially shared admiration. It does not arouse pleasure, but when we are in this process, people begin to reflect on this tagging, performative bodies.
4 – Knowing the political power of your artistic philosophy, what are the differences for you between operating in the street and in art institutions?
It wasn’t a choice. When I thought about creating something with photography I thought; if it’s not going to be in the street, where am I going to design my work? Not to mention that the dynamics of interaction are different; the institutions follow rules and standards that come from the dawn of the history of Greek art, even though much has been changed and updated. The institutions are an important environment due to the value of preserving our image, written, and oral memory. But in the street, there is a lack of control. We can’t control the reactions and questions when the people pass by and appreciate the street art. Who are the people in Brazil today that have constant access to museums and galleries? I want the people who are in my works to be able to circulate and see themselves. This is beautiful and another expositive social dynamic comes into play here. But you don’t need to stop putting your art in the street just because you received an invitation from a gallery or museum. It is the street that takes me to these institutional spaces.
5 – The photomontage is an important tool in your series Sapatona e Paridade [Dyke and Parity]. There is an overlapping of heterogeneous bodies and times. What is the production process of these series like? Is printing essential? Do you have an artistic process related to social networks?
There’s a lot of feeling in both series because it was the awakening of my ethnic and gender identity, and this is broadened into a historic reclamation. I like the term used by the indigenous poet Márcia Wayna Kambeba when she speaks of resumptions and refers to “the way back” in one of the Parities. It is a return to forgotten, untold stories. I draw with images to manufacture a time that comes out of the encounters. If you ask me for more than 20 images, I won’t have them, because I don’t leave my house with a camera in my hand and say: I’m going to photograph a Parity today. There is a maturation of the relationships. Only later do the portrait and final assembly happen. In the series Sapatona, I undertake a “faction”-style clipping of images of heterosexual couples. I was afraid to kiss my girlfriend in public because we’ve suffered abuse and we have no way of defending ourselves. These lesbophobic reactions made me think of scenes of happiness and pleasure. I always see reactions of prejudice and racism in relation to these bodies, so printing and pasting are gestures that serve to demarcate our indigenous and dyke place in public spaces. The Internet helps in the dissemination of these processes and in changing perceptions.
6 – How many bodies inhabit a body? I see a very strong relationship between the affirmation of bodies that don’t conform to the norm and the manufacture of alternative historical imaginaries, that is, between the present and the past, between bodies and images. Does that make sense? How do you think about that?
Bodies interweave the memories of each individual in a story of erasure and death. We were never alone. The black and indigenous bodies that Debret froze in his lithographs are updated in love scenes. Indigenous, black, and lesbian couples are not strange images. This vision is the result of coloniality. We were raised to think like this. The work foregrounds these bodies because I want people to be able to transcend racist thinking so that we can receive respect. I seek to work with self-esteem, and I’m careful with the images of our people.
7 – The revision of 19th century Brazilian iconography has interested many young artists. Especially in the effort to symbolically deconstruct our colonial and slavocratic past/present. Debret is “cited” today almost as often as Oiticica. What is the importance of these rereadings and what are the limits of this revisitation?
The modification of the lithographs is intended to update certain everyday scenes from this database of history. I only modified a few of them, the most visited ones. They carry a lot of cruelty and suffering. And I want a happy present for us, where the most vulnerable people can have the power to speak, to represent themselves, to be alive. There are problems with this foreign gaze which permeates our educational books right up to the present. The traumatic updates of Debret are intended to enhance the self-esteem of our people. Education has always influenced the understanding of our history. If I have tools that enable me to reassemble and remix this suffering, then I’m going to use them. The only limitation is in the desire and urgency.
8 – How do you imagine and what do you desire for your work in the future?
My work deals with the traumas of colonization. It is likely that three generations ago my great-great-grandmother performed the traditional tasks of the Anapurus Muypurá. After so long, this is still evident when Aunt Raimunda makes babassu coconut oil, or when my grandmother shuts herself in the kitchen so as not to spoil the making of the coconut soap. She claims that her great-grandmother was indigenous, but she is cut off from this origin and this is a reflection of the destruction of our traditions, and of our culture. I speak of these details because the works I create are not enclosed in the final image. This is an understanding of life. I want my art to increasingly enter public and private schools, and to prompt reflections around the identity, social and gender policies of the present.