Read the conversation between Luiz Camillo Osorio, PIPA Institute’s curator, and Josi, one of the Awarded artists of PIPA Prize 2022:
1 – Josi, I’ve noticed that you combine your academic training, first in languages (Federal University of Minas Gerais), then in art (Escola Guignard), with your personal and family experiences of growing up in Jequitinhonha Valley, a region from which you say you carry inside you the dust of pequi, twisted bush and darkness dotted with prayers. Tell me a bit about this formative process.
I’ve been thinking, my germination in Carbonita, in Jequitinhonha Valley, inhabits me in the ways I embed myself and move through the world. Like my need to have my feet on the ground, the affective touch of materials, the eternal prayers, festas and blessings interwoven in the complexity of poverty and cultural wealth. It’s a background that spreads orally, through gestures and habits, through narrated memories. In Memórias da Plantação (“Memories of the Plantation”), Grada Kilomba problematizes the way the margin is activated as a place of creativity, an almost romanticization of oppression; but then she cites bBell hHooks, who speaks of the margin as multiple places: oppression and resistance. So when I speak of the dust of pequi, twisted bush and darkness dotted with prayers, I’m talking about this combination of turning the yellow pequi round and round in your mouth, living with the thorns, the tortuous nature of the cerrado, which finds its own way of reaching equilibrium, about the faith that lights a candle in the pitch black of power cuts. My grandmother Maria Thereza de Jesus never learned to read or write. My mother, Alice Concessa Pereira, and my father, João de Souza Pereira, had five years of schooling. Josiley Francisco de Souza was the first one to clear a new path and go to university, and this was what prompted the family to migrate, kindled by the desire to be able to study. I and my sisters, Josilene Aparecida de Souza and Josimeire Lourdes de Souza, also came to think of possibilities other than the ones that had been shaped before. Because even though at home we were told how important school was, what we girls witnessed in our everyday lives was training in how to serve, whether as a domestic worker or, in the best-case scenario, at least for me, some paid craftwork or sewing jobs. The academic experience I had later, at the Faculty of Letters, ended up also being permeated by oppression and resistance, because sometimes I was called out for being void of baggage or culture, and other times I could glimpse strength and courage in the “lived-writings” burgeoning there. Before I went to Escola Guignard [the art school of the State University of Minas Gerais], what also nourished me on this journey of mine was the courage I forged and learned in my everyday work in school libraries and as a state schoolteacher in Belo Horizonte, until I felt the need to go to Escola Guignard so I could tie up an end that was still loose in me. My second academic journey was when the visualities that had been sun-bleaching inside of me came out; which took place, I should stress, in a context of great neglect by the state towards the university.
2 – Another very important aspect of your work is the combination of different crafts: painting, drawing, writing, pottery, laundering, cooking, sewing. Normally, the manual act is determinant. Which imbues the work with temporality, duration, and a connection with folk traditions from Minas Gerais and Brazil. Were these crafts fate or choice?
A bit of both. There’s a kind of propagation linked to a lineage of knowledge and training that comes in the moulding of postures and places to be occupied. But there’s also respect, desire and appreciation for knowledge that’s often disparaged in the hierarchy of values which are shared, for example, in the hegemonic version of art history. So all this is inscribed in my muscles along with subalternities I want to rid myself of and also cultivate with the utmost respect. Even knowledge from the field of drawing, for example, I absorb through the intelligence of a hand trained in craftwork, an artisan hand that knows the byways of training, whether they’re considered traditional, folk or academic. I understand that that’s the main reason why I insisted on a format of response when they didn’t pass me in the practical exam to study Fine Arts, which was my first choice when I decided to go to university. That was why I ended up studying languages, as a second option. But even so, I had a feeling that those skills weren’t innate, so I taught myself about them, often while I was on the bus, when I was living in Caeté, on the outskirts of Belo Horizonte, and working and studying in the city. Throughout this time I kept sketchbooks to investigate this strand that leads from knowledge about representation, so I set about sketching people in everyday settings, even as I jolted along on my way to and from the city on the 5504 bus. I think there are lots of ways we can elaborate our questions, and what I’m interested in is thinking what I can do with these different strands interwoven in me, collected in different contexts, with their own temperaments, and manage in my own way these different ways of being that I’m made of.
3 – It’s curious how you prepare your paints using natural processes, especially the one made from the liquid from cooked beans. You talk about different cooking times, implying different temperaments for a drawing. In my mind this temperament also has to do with the kind of support for your drawing – on paper it’s more clearly delineated, on cloth it’s more smudged. That changes the temperament a lot. Could you talk about these processes?
Yes. This research into natural pigments really took off in the company of my teacher Thereza Portes, in virtual lessons at Escola Guignard. In these experiments, I noticed a blue in the liquid that seeps out around the weight on the lid of the pressure cooker when you’re cooking beans. I do see a lot of layers of temperaments in the preparation of these paints. There are the seasonings themselves, like rock salt, vinegar, garlic, which work like alchemy as fixatives and preservatives, not to mention the symbology their presence brings. In the case of beans, these seasonings, combined with different cooking times, also lend different nuances and durations of colour, ranging through greens, purples, blues, browns… And as you mentioned, there’s the way these pigments mingle with the different supports. Sometimes the liquid is really more delineated, sometimes it spreads along the different fibres in the warps and wefts and in conversation with different pHs. My palette has also included turmeric, achiote and dirt, which I’ve been collecting from different beaten grounds, and each of these has its own specific mode of preparation. For achiote and turmeric, for example, Thereza taught me the recipe of keeping them in darkness in a sealed pot for a few days together with grain alcohol, and in this darkened hibernation the colour comes together. I’m also interested in the temperament you get from the different positions these encounters come about in, because sun-bleaching/painting/drawing on the ground, on a frame, on a table or on a wall also results in different types of seeping and percolating.
4 –Another series I’d like to hear you about is “Quara-dores” (“pain-bleacher”). Sun-bleaching is a traditional process of leaving clothes in the sun to make them lighter, which you’ve turned into a process for allowing images to appear. How much in this process is controlled and how much is the work of chance, the designs of time?
I recognised the verb quarar (to sun-bleach) in relation to some natural dyes, especially the ones that come from fruits, seeds and roots. That’s because they carry the movement of a living thing, which became clear to me as soon as I began to make use of these first liquids on paper. Because you have to wait between one layer and the next – not just for them to dry, but for the colour drawing to appear, which depends on light and time, allowing forms to come forth and percolate in this confluence of durations. This reverse of bleaching, which doesn’t aim for the blanching you want for laundry, also interests me as an exercise in reversing the whitening of our beings. So the sun-bleaching works are made from this combination of an intentional brushstroke that draws on our lived memory and the way the liquids react, but always with an eye open for surprises, which you then bring into the conversation. This reverse-bleaching involves procedures that also help you think about what a palette of colours can include: a material that stains can become desirable for this very quality. I braid different crafts together in this process for the images to appear, displacing washing and starching to bring out figuration, like scrubbing, collecting the creases with a brush, starching, ironing… The quara-dores from this series you mentioned are generally artisanal clothes horses set up in back yards, which are used for sun-bleaching as part of the hand-washing process. I realised their potential when I was looking for a specific place to sun-bleach the works on cloth, when I began to think of some of them also in terms of how they would work together with the cloths, bringing times and spaces to these customs.
5 – Tell me a bit about your pottery work, which has more to do with the tradition from Jequitinhonha Valley. How do you deal with this past without it becoming too literal? There’s a work in progress from 2022 which I saw in your portfolio that combines pottery with crochet and writing. Is it about giving this folk tradition a modern twist? How much is the writing to be read or to be seen, by which I mean, is the writing text or drawing?
Clay is a material that’s formed over many years in a process of pulverising and settling. It doesn’t happen overnight in nature, and it has this ingrained memory. Perhaps that’s why contact with it is so special. You get a feeling of recognition, a maceration of dirt and roots. I’m fertilized by desires for images made of clay, but I didn’t learn how to make pottery in the valley; I began to work with it in online pottery lessons with Márcia Seo at Escola Guignard. References like Dona Noemisa, Dona Isabel, Lira Marques, Ulysses Mendes and Ulisses Chaves are all potent waters this study grew from, and the idea of modernising a tradition doesn’t interest me in the sense of changing something that’s outdated, because it isn’t. I like to cultivate myself in the way my teacher Leda Martins says, the idea of walking along paths trodden by our ancestors. She says that that way we can absorb and be nourished by their tones and footsteps, which comes from a spiralled idea of non-linear and evolving time with a dynamic return. Speaking of writing, in this work you mentioned from my portfolio, this is one of the strands I introduced into my work last year, a meeting of strands, meshes and knowledge. When you make pottery by hand, you build it up using rolls of clay, which you fashion into different shapes and sizes. So I brought together three types of strands and meshes that inhabit me: the strand of cotton, the strand of clay and the strand of writing. And those three resulted in three meshes dyed in their mutual choreography, and since writing has this air of deciphering, it can be touched by this gesture, but in the warp and weft of the conversation with the other strands everything gets mixed up and new vistas emerge. These interweaving strands also have a dimension of exchange that can be activated with other people. They took shape in Letícia Grandinetti’s classes at Escola Guignard; they were receptive to learning and exchanges with other hands in a residence with the group TeAto do Amanhã, in Belo Horizonte, and are carrying on here in this conversation, threading in an out.
6 – How is it for you to work with this manual, traditional work with its expanded time in an era that’s so fast-paced and high-tech? Do you feel noncontemporary?
No, I don’t see myself in this time, at all. but I’ve been turning my face against the direction of the worship of linearity and evolution overloaded with future. The signs of destruction from the fastce pace of production are everywhere to be seen, like the global pandemic crisis we’re all survivors of. So a lot of my procedures and research are where this time bubbles up, like cultivating the quest for more sustainable processes for working with materialities, for example, or fermenting the thinking that brews in our interactions and in listening, in returns and reversals, in respect for roots, in working together, on a low heat, letting it dry out and harden… This doesn’t mean rejecting technology, but valuing different kinds of elaborations and relationships. This conversation here with you has pixels for its warp and weft, and could be woven into the conversation together with the clay, the cotton, the writing, for example, provided there are no hierarchies. I’m still inspired by that experience of learning how to slowly turn a pequi round and round in my mouth without ever making a death-bite, which could break the spikes, and also all the flavour it brings.