In Pernambuco’s Sertão looking for a more accurate image of our discontent as artists, savouring mugunzá…

José Paiva. i2ADS – Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Oporto, Rua Rodrigues de Freitas, 265 4049-02,1 Oporto, PORTUGAL


Beyond all the critical and institutional paraphernalia which legitimate contemporary art, external to the author, there is a space of intimacy and interiority where the artist plunges into his own space of (dis)satisfaction and recognition of the result of his effort to impregnate his ‘work’ with the ‘sense’ it was meant to bear.

Convoking to this text the enhancement of the necessity of entailing the work of art in the political pulsation of its author doesn’t exclude other points of view, nor is its intention to present them; its only purpose is, taking the individual who makes this statement as a starting point, stress the artist’s continuous and endless search to embed his work in aims emanating from his involvement with contemporary art and the world. Times when an innovative process of formalistic production was supposed to possess a liberating meaning or the mark of its author’s expressiveness have given place to another time in which a politicized involvement with ‘a closed world and yet open to the world’ is pursued. [FOSTER, Hal. Design and Crime (and other diatribes), Londres: Verso Books, 2002], the work of art being constructed as a reflexive and contaminating place, proclaiming the exclusive space from which its antagonistic potentialities emanate.

That necessity makes unique the endogenous moment of conferring on the work the signature that completes it, promotes the artist’s authorial conference, sending the product to public evidence, giving it the mission of broadcasting the ‘sense’ that it breathes.

It is not our intention to isolate the author from his work and fragment or sacralise the ‘moment of creation’; our aim is to defend the unity shared by the author and his time, to prove as inevitable his involvement with the world after the way he himself builds his ideological positioning, the way he relates to his body, manages his contradictions and with them concentrates on his productive activity, establishing, from there on, the relation of social belonging and interfering.

That unique moment of sincere contemplation, reward and anxiety managing is evoked here – that moment which is experienced in different and contradictory ways by different authors – only to underline the conflict – underlying the search for authenticity – between the author’s attitude towards life and art and his capacity to materialize the unity of the artist with his work.

In addition to the evidence that the author’s individuality is the outcome of a plural relationship, of his attention to what surrounds him, of the collected knowledge, there is a field of hesitations, of episodic surrender-assuming, of utopias and expectations-managing that must be recognized.

The awareness of the complex way the author perceives his authorial trajectory, how he confers on his artistic production the aimed sense and, by means of his own self, tries to make it coherent with his own existence led him to create an intercultural laboratory where, in socialized contexts of action-sharing and reflexion, multiple confrontations can be experienced and learning opportunities can be originated, that may be incorporated into the authorial intimacy of those who take part in it; a relational laboratory that will not exclude other sceneries nor overlap the existing spaces in each one´s life; a movement  that accepts to suspend the artistic production, yet prepares it within the complexity of intercultural clashes that always occur when a group of artists move to other places with plans external to their job; a non-hierarchic nor rigid structure, impelling to intercultural projects, the name of which is ‘movimento cultural IDENTIDADES’ which spreads from Porto over a wide geography of Portuguese language speakers. So it is with the goal of pursuing possibilities of incorporating learning that the ‘movimento cultural IDENTIDADES’ defined their action, sending artists to distant places where the belonging to the ‘world of art’, to the time of ‘contemporary art’ and to ‘occidental worlds’ is confronted with communities – deeply forgotten in these times of market globalization – that are clueless about and too far away from that ‘world of art’.

For sixteen years, more than hundred artists, teachers and art students have intensely lived rich plots of intercultural relationships, in geographies that go from Portugal to Mozambique, Cape Verde and the north-east of Brazil. Long-lasting partnerships built on mutual trust were established and made possible through that ‘no hurry’ sharing of spontaneously provided knowledge. Their common interests were designed after the edification of that mutual trust, in a complicity regimen. This way we were able to savour MUGUNZÁ (afro-Bahian meal cooked with maize, used by the ‘quilombola’ community of Conceição das Crioulas and scattered over the whole Brazilian north-east), without the touristic distance of those who want to taste the exotic tastes of unknown places but with the simplicity of a ‘time for family and friends’ where you eat what is put on the table and absorb the joy of who offers you the best they have.

IDENTIDADES, intercultural movement of shared action and reflection, elects complicity and permanent art/development interconnection, leaving to an inner personal search the responsibilities, the choice of processes and sense of those who intervene, blending artistic energy with citizenship-exerting, and choose to plunge their creativity into life, thus deciding to devote their artistic activity to public involvement and social commitment. It is in the scope of human relationship, created around the shared participation in artistic interventions, reflections on culture, moments of life, fears and utopias shared together, that the limits of the artist’s solitude become gradually decipherable and the energies germinated in the collective participation in problems, joys, anxieties and fights for a better life and world emerge.  From that overflowing stream of action and intercultural relationship, with the fluency of information that experience provides, all the pieces of learning susceptible of being captured, incorporated and transposed to the ever solitary activity of the intervening artists are put in relief. This implies the conscience, progressively constructed, that cultural relationship enhances, evidences and challenges the big dilemmas of contemporary art, if understood not in the isolation of its own fears, sophisms and conventions, but faced in the outside, in the discomfort of their exposure to people and populations. In the same sense, the terrestrial globe is better understood as a whole if we consider the diversity it contains and, in that dimension, if we question today’s dilemmas and the forces that the successively built presents weave in it.

IDENTIDADES cultural movement does not pursue opportunities of artistic intervention, nor did it ever intend to produce the ‘artistic object’. It suspends those possibilities to play its role as political intervention in contexts where populations get involved in their own development, revealing its protagonists the field of tension where the search for creative authenticity and autonomy takes place, which the declared attitude of engagement with the search for a destiny for humankind anchored on self-protagonism requires. In each place, the search for diluting the strangeness of the presence by means of the knowledge provided by each one’s artistic repertory, the permanent effort to gain a place of fully accepted belonging to the communities, the understanding of the directions of their fights, the solidarity with their dreams, the language sharing, the exchange of ideas and utopias define the programs of intercultural relationship, determine rhythms and create routines. Those routines determine the paths of action, which can take the form of projects privileging the video as language or the web as form of sharing information or artistic workshops as creative activity or the populations-shared intervention in the public space as interference in their territory; or the epistemological shift as method of searching for new solutions-; or in schools as a place of cultural production; or in art schools as places of emanation of community belonging; or the simple perception of how the body dances swallowing the music around it…

In this pluridisciplinary dimension the involvement in development programs is determined in the search of models that may overcome existing fragilities and offer creative opportunities and contemporary utopias. Development models are worn out, especially those submitted to interests opposed to narrowing the inequality gap, and need new stages where populations can be motors of progress and managers of the processes, where creativity breathed in the fight for survival may create intelligent territories where, in agreement with the local identity, the endogenous will and capacity to generate competences and cooperation commit themselves to a sustainable model of creative economy.

The situations experienced promoted the artists’ involvement to an outstanding role, accepted because of the way they made themselves available to the incessantly search for new ways of thinking, their openness to social changes operation and new conceptual paradigms, their experience in dealing with project methodologies and their creative irreverence.

After more than fifty years of persistence and shared memory building, of close relationship with communities, students and art teachers, we believe to be now entitled to begin a process of study and analysis based on action. This reflexive impulse led to the creation of a Group of Action and Research (ID-CAI), where experience is assembled and systematised and collective processes of investigation are elected. Owing to this recent initiative we are present in the meeting, where we will try to present an analysis of our experience, introducing one first plan in a global view– our ‘movement’. We will circumscribe our presentations to the analysis made on our presence in Conceição das Crioulas Quilombola Community, an enchanted and enchanting land for the degree of democratization, tenacity and wisdom of its population. My fellows will introduce specific views on particular aspects of our intromission in this settlement, isolated in the Brazilian sertão of Pernambuco.

In Brazil, a world economic power, owner of enviable natural resources, an endless cultural map and blessed touristic paradise, we picked the riches of its history, observed its art, devoured the innovative artistic answers we found, from its anthropophagic modernism and ‘tropicalism’ to its presence in the world of contemporary art, breathed its sweet and perfumed air. With that global legacy we made our way to the sertão where we shared the hopes of a poor but optimistic population, perseverant fighters for the progress of their territory and for better life conditions for their community.

It’s in that tiny little point lost in a wide map that we fully understand Brazil’s dimension, its political, economic and cultural complexity. About the sertão we learned from Glauber Rocha’s films and João Guimarães Rosa’s literature the history of the fight against slavery, the resistance of the poor to an adverse world, we heard about a group of slaves who escaped to Quilombo dos Palmares and their leader Zumbi’s becoming a symbol of black resistance against slavery.

We were lucky that among nearly eight hundred quilombola communities registered in Brazil, we were introduced by Luiz Freire Foundation to Conceição das Crioulas Quilombola Community. Conceição das Crioulas is a village belonging to the municipality of Salgueiros, about 600 km away from the sea and from Recife city. The village is the result of six free black women who, guided by an escaping slave, settled there in the beginning of the XIX century. Owing to their work on the fields, cotton production and commercialization, early in 1802 the residents received the deed of landowning, meanwhile acquired. The community went on growing, forming groups in several places of a wide but scarcely productive territory (over 300m2).Cotton decadence led the population to live on a subsistence economy in such a state of poverty that wealthy farm holders and colonels, taking advantage of political protection, started to take the ownership of the best lands, leaving the infertile ones to the populations. This usurpation of the land is nowadays the main fulcrum of their revolt and the agglutinating motive of the fight for the restitution and legal possession of the lands by the communities. Nowadays the community is composed by around 3.800 dwellers and the area they occupy is confined to the unproductive lands of the territory.

Since the first contact made by the intercultural movement IDENTIDADES we perceived this community as a pioneer in its democratic organization, with a deep awareness of its problems and a generalized participation in strategy  finding and decision making. The course of their action in the defence of having their lands back and the way they were able to generate the population’s unity around the enthronement of their identity, condition and history were consolidated in the Conceição das Crioulas Qilombola Association (AQCC), a group where strategies are defined and solidarity is strengthened. This Association, born from the need of intensifying the fight for common welfare, promotes the community development in the concern of dignifying their history, enhancing the potential of their black people for building a fairer society and for breaking the barriers of racial prejudice and discrimination.

IDENTIDADES fell for this reality from the very first moment (2003). The fascination of our progressive involvement with its story and the friendship bonds with the population have turned into fellowship. Today we are part of the community, share the optimism that results from the recognition of their strength, capacity and persistence in pursuing their fight for causes they consider to be just and deserved.

It was in this territory of poverty, in the middle of sertão, where we made acquaintance with AQCC and this optimistic and brave population, that a group of artists, teachers and art students, eager to understand their own dilemmas – those of contemporary art and world – decided to settle and share the community destiny, to face the cultural confrontation which there takes place.

The first steps taken were the creation of ‘art and design’ and ‘theatre’ workshops, which was decisive to strengthen links and evidence interests that soon were consolidated. Tired of seeing visitors producing reports about their case, the community want to be able to produce their own personal accounts, to weave their own speeches divulgating their fights. This evidences the interest of creating a ‘video workshop’, which we helped to organize. Training a group of young people in video will bring about a movement in the community that starts with the production of a first documentary and goes on with the creation of a group – the Crioulas Video, that begins to represent the community outside and nowadays supplies video training to communities, multiplying their knowledge. In local schools, created after the population’s will, aware of the importance of education for a better future building, art workshops start to operate (ceramics, printing techniques, drawing, dance, visual education) with their teachers and their learners. The workshop experience will give birth to a program that aims at introducing ‘artistic education’ in schools (José Néu, José Mendes, PETI e Sítio Paula), a process which is still in course and makes part of the collective effort to design a ‘differentiated curriculum’. Internet, with a weak signal, gains importance and its use is promoted. In one of the places (Vila União) there is already a population-participated program of creative intervention.

From these experiences we will present next four analyses on 4 four of our intervention areas, sectioning points of view that can only be understood in this torrent that completes and makes them make sense.

“You know, I thought I was black, I wouldn’t make friends with anyone… I had a problem; I was ashamed of my colour, because I was black… I often happened to feel under my skin that people despised my colour… I was afraid, I was totally unable to make friends in any circumstance, I was like a lone wolf. Then I met these folks, you know, I felt they cared about be, gave me much attention, and then I started to feel like somebody who mattered”. (Cida, woman, ‘bóia-fria’, black) in SILVA, Maria Aparecida Moraes (1999) Errantes do fim do século, São Paulo: Fundação Editora da UNESP, p. 273

I travelled so many times to Conceição das Crioulas that all the landscapes across the Atlantic are now familiar, as well as the night spent in the ‘ônibus’ along the ‘rodovia’ from Recife to Salgueiro, the unrivalled sunrise and the ‘go as you can’ journey until you get there. In each arrival there are always new things and surprising changes waiting for us, and even being a simple return, the hugs solder the reciprocal joy that pours from the bodies to show up in the complicity of lives. No doubt do we have about the possibility of experiencing community life, what it is actually like, with their people’ s political speech of confrontation with the political violence they undergo, in the cosy circle from where cultural agitation is faced in openness to socio-cultural changes that are gradually absorbed and desired.

In this socio-cultural reality we learn the distance – persistently amplified – that separates art (in the erudite and cosmopolitan concept, common to urban societies and which builds us) from large regions of humankind. And if art only matters as far as it does, to us, European artists, teachers and art students, being aware of that distance also means, with a high level of complexity, the existing difficulty and lack of interest for diminishing that separation. And it’s as far as a better understanding that knot of incommunicability is at stake, that the travels we made become important in the management of the individual discomfort caused by that truth.

Obviously the experience you may get in this movement does not make individual proposals of artistic production nor miraculous solutions; it only promotes consistency in the inner space of search for an authorial honesty, in the coherence of the being, in the matching of behaviour with convictions, in the matching of speeches with products.

If the presence of art in conflicts that have been generated within the new context of hegemonic organization of the world market – which characterize today the panorama where no narrative sense for humanity is to be found – confers some imprecision on the present, it lies on the density of a moment in which antagonisms mix and contradictions cannot be isolated.

Agents of oppression and social reproduction cannot be identified today in their camouflages, nor does the field of power that becomes  faceless and nameless among  virtual  financial groups and beneficiaries of liberal capitalism, and if paths of resistance are no longer linear today,   last century’s well known dissensions assumed by many artists still persist , intensified by contemporary contradictions and revealing their antagonism towards the dissimulated silence that invades everyday life and appears as if without past or perspective; the interest in disintegrating collective beliefs convert populations to compulsive consumers of the spectacular results of the professional machine of cultural production, faced at the same light as the image resulting from the political marketing and from the dominating ideology propaganda through the mass media .

Dissenting efforts of aesthetic irreverence and approximation of art to populations, effervescent in periods of revolutionary political exaltation, were not enough to weaken the dominating power, which would never accept the engagement of art to order-breaking legitimizations, out of the frames of market and of hierarchies settled in the social structure. The existence of a space of contamination now gets its own character face to a market that makes irreverence and scandal a revolutionary sense-lacking speech.  The search for a stop, demanding a new time of poetic contemplation, challenging the limits of human capacity to exceed itself and feel better as political beings, is assumed nowadays as a new posture of cultural rupture.

Such as in life, the abstract corps of power has the decision and pushes the majority to its applause and legitimization. To those who cannot find their place in this complex and savage social structure, from which ethics completely disappeared to give place to ‘everything goes’ and corruption, nothing is left but complete exclusion, thickening the overcrowded lots of non-inserted, refugees, homeless, …

Here we are, in suspension. Disturbed by the social we inhabit, eager to install in our artistic production the compulsive desire of presenting our artistic works as an insisting focus on difference, questioning the establishment, capable of arise contemplation, and as partners of the social aims of fighting for equal rights to all citizens. These dilemmas suspend that action; they separate it from the promoted political action field, host it in a specific place – widened, involving and globalising but apart from artistic activity, in spite of recognisably closely linked to it. Political activity is carried out by political activity. Artistic activity does not prepare a tomorrow, it deals with what inhabits each one of us, it amplifies the capacity of admiration, attention, reflection, it favours the immanent possibility of action. That is our search.

Year 2011
Type Unpublished Text