Conversation between Luiz Camillo Osorio and Marcela Bonfim, one of the Selected artists of PIPA Prize 2021:
1 – You graduated in Economics in São Paulo. And then you went to Rondônia. How did you decide to become an artist? I believe it wasn’t a decision per se. But moving to Porto Velho, in 2010, was. It was the only decision I was able to make in that moment – finally getting away from São Paulo’s lights and the violent shocks between my head and the grounds of that city. The year of 2009 was marked as a season of painful and continuous headbutts, that were even followed by many close friends and distant acquaintances, from several angles; some from the inside, others not so much; others from the outside, and even some from nowhere, just watching the headbutts of a black woman blackening her sense of reality, as if she were waking up in the middle of a shipwreck. Proceeding with the places and senses of that matter, I could assume that the artist came from the moments in which the head jumped in between oscillations that almost drove me insane; while bearing up under trials, at the edge of my own limits. For example, during an interview with my “future boss”, still in São Paulo, I was led to the kitchen after an obvious change of the host’s plans, which was announced in the exact click of our encounter. I’ve turned my experience into images, a repository of heavy weights and distresses; today, touched and reflected under our care, in the field of Photography, with the dignification of our bodies-limits – now expanded to the faculties of reason.
2 – Years ago, in the early 2000s – I believe it was 2004 –, I went to Porto Velho for a project by Funarte. I visited local artists, accompanied by two artists from Rio de Janeiro (Cabelo and Paulo Paes). We promoted workshops and participated in the award ceremony of a local art gallery. The winner was a transgender female artist who made these very interesting drawings. It apparently generated much controversy, since that was a very conservative scene. The city was still marked by mining, with visible traces of extractivism: a few big cars in the streets and no infra-structure; an exponential inequality. How was your arrival and adapting into that context? I can say that process was a dive with my eyes opened – into all these contradictions: mine, the place, and contradictions in the Amazonian perspectives. Converging to my imagination, pronounced detachments and empty spaces awakened with fright, every time I would feel trespassed by the sense of reality, having as mirrors time, space and relationships, and the so-called development; now felt from the inside of the many places that make up the Amazon. To paint a picture, I compare my arrival to Porto Velho to a bang. Only now, unlike a shock against the ground, what crushed my head was the weight of the distortions pressed against my senses. It took me a while to settle the imbalances, so I could notice the dimensions of a time that presented itself closer to my body. Here, I started my life over, without imagining that embracing the shadows would turn out to be so special, as well as figuring out my contradictions, so flimsy to my powers, emerging, little by little, from the confines of my ignorance, reflected here, in Rondônia, in this time. Beyond relationships, I’ve engaged in beautiful and truly affectionate attachments and began to see myself as a fruit of this place.
3 – The Black Amazon is unknown to Brazilians and to people worldwide. Tell me more about your project (Re)Conhecendo a Amazônia Negra – (Re)Acknowledging the Black Amazon. How is it going so far, this dive into such a thin – and, based on what we’ve seen of your work, so powerful – memory? What role does the failed railroad project Madeira-Mamoré play in this black migration you’re researching? If I think of this power as the fruit of memory, and memory, on the other hand, to be somehow the fruit of a picture, I set myself more vigorously inside those spaces; exercising my own images among all these contexts, from the sounds that come to me every single morning – communicating the image of the weather in the frequency of birds – to the absence of their chanting, warning us against undesirable soy stains and air-borne soot; suggesting that maybe the real failure in this story was the very perpetuity of these projects spread in the image of development. In that aspect, having Madeira-Mamoré present in this visual reflection is to have the conscious of failure, of genocide, as well as of the forces allied to earth. They remain to this day a part of the culture, customs and influences that flow like the stream of a river – with its inner memories to the waters that come and go –, but stiff as a fruit-root. So I felt the strength of local imagery, upon being identified as a Barbadian, ascending under my skin the curiosity about pictures often brought by the city. As I associated myself with the families ‘Johnson’; ‘Maloney’ and ‘Shockness’; it would grow in me the need to think about those pictures and the desire to see what they would look like. The first click of that process wasn’t mine. The credits go to Porto Velho. That is, the pictures pointed by the city slowly opened me to the multiplicity of black bodies embedded here, coming from all corners of Brazil, and other countries as well, like those landed families from the old British Caribbean islands. They represent to me both the entrance door to Black Amazon and the beginning of the search for a consciousness of the images I live by, think of, feel inside, and come to be.
4 – The photography in your work has a documentary dimension and, at the same time, a strong visual power. How do you deal with these two directions? How much do you have to fabricate and fictionalize in order to be true to such a concealed memory? I believe the documentary dimension and visual power are both the pictures themselves. The only thing that is up to me is to position myself before the context I’m inserted in, the closest I can be, operating my lenses as another layer of that image that already exists. Then the questions emerge: Which layer am I in with this composition? Who am I? What am I photographing? How do I relate to this picture? Therefore, I find that aesthetic, politics and geography embody the place itself; that is, they are the very composition of the picture. What about me? What do I represent before all this? These questions are constantly present in the way I undertake photography, inside a world of future relations: body-space-time. In that aspect, I perceive fiction as humanity, and the world emerging from this gigantic imagetic fable – where I find myself whenever I think about the past, the present and the future. It happens every time I take a walk within what I perceive to exist in those symbols, combined with what I absorb as a black image. It’s a real tile board with more consistent pieces, allowing me to better deal with my impulses, now reflected – instead of squeezed –, accommodating and comforting my shards; with me taking care of my mental health.
5 – You have also been working with poetry, performance, theatre. How have these unfoldings been like? Please tell us about the project “Madeira de dentro, Madeira de fora” (Inside wood, outside wood). How is it being developed and how is the community integrated in your projects? Image is doubt, context, smell, desire, occasion, triumph, culture, tenderness, freedom. But also the groundwork of theatre, performance and music – which cruise the night, turning that dark idea into a possible peace scenario just by being played. Why not be the night a true image of peace? This way of thinking leads me to believe that what we see is born in the air, not in the eyes, being the lungs responsible for receiving all this information within every breath, every sigh and every inspiration; having in view always the opposite. Freedom only exists for they invented prison. And all of this happens inside and outside the picture. “Madeira de Dentro. Madeira de Fora” is like the arms of Black Amazon. It’s about getting in touch with varied contexts and places, roots and cultures; multiplicities. At the end, could they be politically reduced to a name? What about the wood and their uncountable species and origins, wiped out in favor of the utilitarian idea of support? We can rethink all that from a picture over time, space and future relations. This process brings the safety of acknowledging the community inside the lenses of the camera, joining me in the visual exercise of the construction of the photograph, which solely depends on my position, and most of all, on the imagery I carry. Within the ephemeral click, when the matter is what is created before the photograph, always at the surface of the picture, the community is this core where energies converge. While I reshape the notion of property, being my body the basis for this discussion, sometimes I still recognize I don’t have domain over what I would like to expose regarding my sensations. This leads me to acknowledge the community that is present in the authorship of those creations, opening myself to the possibility of images which can, at last, set free my very own idea of black images; because it’s all about relations…
6 – How has the pandemic affected you and your work? What will not remain the same? I tend to think everything is changing all the time. Therefore, nothing will ever be the same, especially in times like these, in which it’s very hard to measure and to communicate even what we can see with the naked eye. Not to mention the restricted angles – like the ones that marked my position as a black woman –, living this moment of chaos inside a house, located at a community on the banks of the Madeira River, in Porto Velho, Rondônia. Although aware of those limits, I already understand that I do not occupy the same space I did yesterday – consequence my daily pursuits. Due to the constant reshapement of ideas, body and senses the pandemic has triggered, here I am, on the inside and the outside, rearranging myself…