Do you know Gê Viana‘s photographs? And what about the digital collages, are you into it?
Welcome to the Finalists takeover 2020! Each week, an artist opens his or her studio to the virtual audience of PIPA Prize, with videos, photos, and texts exclusively produced for the takeover. Randolpho Lamonier and Maxwell Alexandre have shared with us their recent works, plans, and interviews.
Now, From Monday to Saturday, Gê Viana occupies the website and PIPA Prize social networks with original content. Each day, new material will be made available, including videos, photos, and interviews. Keep an eye on and follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook platforms.
The idea of creating an online show arose because of this period when the exhibition of the finalists of PIPA 2020 would be on display at Paço Imperial, in Rio. Until November 14, the artists will fill our platforms and website with original content. Next week, we will receive Renata Felinto for the takeover. We do not aim to replace the postponed exhibition due to the pandemic but to create a possible exchange between the PIPA finalists and the virtual public.
Day 6: In the last day of the takeover, Gê shares the critical text written by Beatriz Lemos. Read the full text:
Capelobo’s legacy is to make trees sprout in our navels
Leave signs of a struggle.
Leave signs of triumph.
And leave signs.
Memory is treacherous. We record memories, shared with experiences and set in different times, on the surface of the skin. Collective, ancestral memories that don’t allow us to forget. Sometimes pain or the act of silencing penetrates our bodies more deeply, creating layers of trauma inherited for generations. But we also retain smiles on this same skin, meetings, musicality, the power of love, memories that are sometimes barely accessible in the light of the traps of these ruins in which we live. Because the scars intrinsic to the structural mechanisms of racism, which divert us from ways of life that would allow us to construct concepts of collectiveness, belonging and presentification, are also treacherous.
“The very serious function of racism is distraction,” says Toni Morrison. When we have to constantly respond to a history of subalternization, we are forced to forget that escape routes and disobedience of the mechanisms of control and death have always existed – and more importantly: they were created by us. Of course, there are the urgencies of denunciation, which cry out for measures of reparation. But there are pathways, within the subtleties of the imaginary, on which we can elaborate memories that are yet to come or letters that were already sent. Where we can define the linearity or otherwise of our histories. Memory can be treacherous, but it also holds the power of choices. And so, we will no longer leave our albums empty.
The fabulation of the archive
The incompleteness of what is usually propagated as archival truth attests to the great failure that are historical narratives based on accounts and inventories of images. What is left out of the historical record denotes political choices based on power structures, racism, ethnocide, and cross-sections of class and gender. The untold stories point towards the directives of the colonial project that infer, at their core, the de-subjectivization and dehumanization of the bodies which inhabit the broad spectrum of dissent, and the dismantling of memory and its epistemologies.
Collections are narratives organized to recount specific, predetermined stories from points of view, value judgments, the mouths and eyes of those who occupy the privileged position of the record. Historically, these representations have been constructed by the white, patriarchal imaginary and carry with them all the authorizations conferred by the system of symbolic and intellectual access. Over the course of time, western memory has been constructed from archives. Words and images are presented as historical proof that something existed. Thus, the documentary and imagetic inventories of a culture, according to Eurocentric criteria, colonially known as universal, prove existences and deeds.
And en route to the demolition of universal standards of knowledge and existence, we have worked tirelessly to develop a systemic and radical thought that provides due support for the insurgencies that manifest themselves in the decolonization of bodies and the unconscious, so that such insurgencies can codify and corrupt the colonial procedures of coercion and erasure.
Attention to symbolic production as a space for the perpetuation of power relations, which constitute the dominant field of the recognition of identities, has been demanded by artists and intellectuals who, in insisting on the autonomy of their subjectivities, have swept away the conditions of entry intended for the prototype of corporeal coloniality and given permission to invent. This requirement has nothing to do with the demand for failed regimes of representativity, manifesting itself, by contrast, as conjuring, witchcraft and the ritual of reconstructing a common genealogy between different space-times.
In the documentary Orí (1996), Beatriz Nascimento introduces us to her atlantic condition, taking her black body as individual in the same way that it is constituted in collectivity, as a place for recording her history and migrations. The loss of the image mislaid in the diaspora is a central theme of this work, where Beatriz associates image and body with the construction of identity, not only that of the individual, but of the collective body, by introducing the notion of memory that is revived in rhythm and movement, in the establishment of any grouping or spatiality of black bodies, resignifying the concept of the quilombo or runaway slave community. The author states: “[…] memory is the contents of a continent, of its life, its history, its past. As if the body were the document”.
An impeccable gesture of speculation in relation to this body freed from the racist demands that operate based on epistemicide can be seen in the film The Watermelon Woman, by Cheryl Dunye. Also produced in the 1990s, the work is an important reference in studies of black lesbianities and cinematic cultural history, denouncing invisibility and marginalization precisely through the creation of an archive. Dunye creates a fictional film disguised as a documentary to construct an imaginary out of fabulation. Through a fictitious archive, the film (re-)claims the lives of black and lesbian women and their stories which certainly existed but were never documented. In this way, she presents collective memory based on a fabled imagetic series, affirming belonging, legitimation and recognition.
Fabulation thus leads us towards the transition between different temporalities, effecting healing processes in the present to restore the body from the past. We need to see ourselves, but no longer performing the other’s desire for us. The reforestation gesture of this image of representation is well contextualized by Geni Núñez, who brings us the image of violence as a broken mirror, in which, although we see each other clearly: “[…] the image that the colonial mirror returns […] is distorted – it splits the process of (self-)recognition. Our mirror should be that of the flowing waters, reciprocal and alive. Reforesting our imagination, our relationships, is a fundamental part of restoring health.”
In the shard of time, we see the same loose ends, the same urgencies of the encounter with self-image and the rewriting of our stories. There is an imminent aspect in every black and indigenous body, in the dyke body, in the dissident bodies. We sail at high tide in the gloaming due to the requirements of creation, historicization, archiving and documentation that are responsible for the imagetic legacy we wish to conjure.
Stuck in her inheritances, the artist Gê Viana affirms that the memories of all times, and which have always existed, are present but which were hidden by compulsory heterosexuality or erased by the effective project of whitening in vogue in Brazil, which does not recognize the possibility of indigenous existence in urban environments. In the process of creating inventories, through collage, photography, performance and dance, the artist integrates the iconographic repertoire of the narrative arts of life into bodies that, in the context of a Euro-white History of Art, were represented as subalternized and exoticized. Her work represents the victory of the image, a mechanism of recomposition, both physical and material, symbolic and spiritual.
Creating the memory of the future
Paridade (Parity) is a series of large photomontages, developed since 2017 for execution, preferably in the Wheat-paste format, establishing a dialogue with the street as an inherent part of its conception. This is because the work operates as an explicit testament to the recognition of indigenous identity, evidencing the broad effects of the colonial necro-project, which in its genocidal plan for the indigenous population, combined with the fallacy of the Brazilian program of miscegenation, stole their birthright to belonging as a people and ethnicity. The work is based on overlapping portraits of people photographed by the artist in various locations of Maranhão, which are placed on the same level as photographs of indigenous leaders, evidencing the constant presence of indigenous phenotypes in urban and rural centers.
The ethnocidal plot resides in this complexity. From the forced confinement of indigenous peoples, who are separated from the centers of power and decision-making, sometimes due to environmental incompatibility with their cosmologies, sometimes because they have been legally confined by the State; the implementation of racist and epistemicidal ideas through a project of whitening the nation, which are approved by miscegenation implemented as a political strategy; to the association of the racialized body, commonly designated as brown, restricted to a biracial conception where the presence of the white is always presumed, sequestering an afro-indigenous epistemological understanding, for example, when the racialities contain multiple nuances unsubmissive to binary or homogeneous thinking.
As such, Paridade represents an ancestral return that institutes itself as pact in the artistic practice of Gê Viana, by reinforcing collective processes through the movement of (re-)claiming her afro-indigenous identity, validating the peoples and culture of the territory known as Maranhão: a gesture ritualized in Retiro de caça (Hunting Retreat), a subseries that forms part of Paridade and which, through the fictionalization of legends and popular secrets of Maranhão, becomes a protective spell for the thousands of indigenous and black women raped under the aegis of the narrative of being “caught in the lasso”, romanticized by the patriarchal system.
Also a mechanism of protection and defense, Sobreposição da história (Overlapping History) consists of the ritualistic dressing up of black and indigenous women portrayed in environments with an Afrofuturist influence, as part of the photo-performances in a composition showing historical images of black people on sugarcane plantations, in situations of enslavement or precarious working conditions. From the visual similarity between the sugarcane and the crystal selenite, Gê creates a historical relationship, which also moves in different temporalities, between two of the main contexts of enslavement in Brazil – sugar plantations and mining. The healing properties of crystals used medicinally in communion with the characterization rites instituted in the preparation of the photographs, the making of shields, tools and weapons with plant and mineral elements, lead the work in a process of regeneration of the wounds resulting from colonial traumas. The work, conceived as an installation for the exhibition at the Pampulha Museum, Belo Horizonte, deriving from the Bolsa Pampulha 2019 artistic residency, includes photomontages printed on raffia bags, performance practices on video and large-scale selenite.
The visibility of the fluid body in the imagetic field of art is revealed in two series of collages: Atualizações traumáticas de Debret (Traumatic Updatings of Debret) (2020) and Sapatonas (Dykes) (since 2018). The first presents anticolonial re-readings of watercolors printed in lithography between the years 1834 and 1839, as part of the album Viagem pitoresca e histórica ao Brasil (Picturesque and Historical Journey to Brazil) by the French painter and designer Jean-Baptiste Debret. The iconographic series portrays the daily lives of black and indigenous peoples, and the Portuguese court in Rio de Janeiro in the early 19th century and created the imagetic repertoire we associate with the colonial period, consequently building the imaginary and visual memory that underpins the formation of Brazil as a nation. Using the language of collage in all its high technical rigor and simple execution, Gê Viana surgically dismantles one of the greatest icons of the colonial discourse and non-representation, and performs a series of reworkings of the scenes, using tools of speculative fiction and achieving the liberation of these bodies, their moments of joy, rest and victory.
Similarly, in Sapatonas the collages made for different media rewrite scenes and everyday events involving lesbian couples to suggest other possible narratives, deconstructing the pain-based experiences commonly attributed to ‘dyke’ existences. Juxtaposing romantic scenes, where initially there were images of straight couples, Gê manipulates the love stories to create a record and archive that contrasts with the patriarchal agendas of the control of subjectivities governed by heteronormativity and compulsory heterosexuality.
Given that the fields of symbolic dispute are delineated by colonial parameters, where patriarchy is present in the constitution of the subject, the identities that escape the confines of normativity, combined with the tensions between race, class and gender, are regarded as bodies that can be discarded and are incisively violated by numerous forms of aversion such as misogyny, lesbophobia, dyke-phobia and transphobia, which are nothing more than mechanisms of fear employed in the name of a supposed order and vigilance.
Sapatonas breaks with the perverse game of invisibility or murky mirrors, in which repeated representations of suffering hijack contrary possibilities of life, which is to say, the possibility of living beyond the spectrum of pain is not reflected as a viable option. And it is in the context of this discourse that the dyke body acquires the curse, in the Catholic molds, of unhappiness, physical and symbolic death, and loneliness. But Gê teaches us how to build escape routes, accessing the body’s ancestral intelligibility by disseminating references of life, healing, and care.
Ge Viana hits the target and does not miss. A relative of Capelobo, she gains his speed as her inheritance, because our time is crying out. Her work is an indispensable tool by which omitted or untold stories can become conductors in the reinvention of epistemologies, in new methodologies of reclamation and in the drawings of new cartographies, where colonial desire does not result in the negation of our fluid ancestralities, in our experiences at the crossroads.
Day 5: After seeing Gê Viana’s photomontages, get to know her series of collages. In these works, she reinterprets the Brazilian colonial past and homophobic narratives. Explored and stigmatized bodies win a new perspective: of liberty and love.
See her collages below:
Day 4: Watch the video specially prepared by Gê Viana to the finalists takeover!
Day 3: On the third day of takeover, Gê Viana publishes the interview she has given to Luiz Camillo Osorio, the PIPA Institute curator. Read the full conversation below:
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.
Day 2: One of Gê’s photomontage works is the series ‘Paridade’, in which the artist places on the same plane photographs and paintings of indigenous ancestors with records – made by her – of contemporary Amerindian bodies. In this imagery cut, it brings the past closer to the present and puts us to face the similarities, the origins, the roots of our history.
Day 1: Her work is developed at the act of photographing bodies assuming several cuts in photo-collage, coming back as a new body, and making wheatpaste in urban/rural intervention experiments. Gê has been in the search for a non-linear artistic expression, throw herself over the research of the performative body and the abject bodies by the hegemonic colonizing culture and its communication and art systems, (marginalized and invisibilized bodies).
Watch the complete interview with Do Rio Filmes recorded this year in which Gê talks about her creative process.