C&AL: In your last exhibition, Baixa dos Sapateiros, you also incorporate sculptures made from shoes and books, using gold leaf. What was it like to engage in this other process of representation, beyond performance?
TS: Baixa dos sapateiros (in English, literally “Shoemaker’s Hollow”, and the name of an area of Salvador, Bahia) was an exhibition that dealt with the way shoes were a precarious symbol of a freedom proclaimed to the black population, but which never quite reached us. And it never reached us, because the very idea of citizenship is an exclusionary concept, which does not fit with non-Eurocentric ways of living. I wanted to expand my world of experimentation, to observe how this often exhausting pursuit of citizenship affects us in so many ways. It was the first time I made non-ephemeral sculptures. In one of the works, for example, I made plaster replicas of stalks of sugarcane, which was rooted in my desire to fossilize this organic material, something always present in my already purified work, in the form of granulated sugar. Turning these stalks into fossils was a desire to think about how the asymmetrical relationships caused by the systems of sugarcane farming remain. It’s a way of calling attention to the preservation of something that perishes over time as a foodstuff, but remains as a wound.
C&AL: The Sugar Shoes series combines two inquiries: the first one on sugarcane and the latest one on the symbolism of shoes in the colonial period. How did this encounter between your two investigations take place in your work?
TS: This series opened the exhibition Baixa dos sapateiros. It was as if you exited my other exposition, Casa de purgar (“Purification House”), continuing to grasp my view on the history of sugar, but going a little further, realizing what this system resulted in for black people. In Casa de purgar, I was investigating black labor and holdovers from farming systems. I visited ruins of old sugar mills in Recôncavo da Bahia, the region where I was born. And at these building ruins, I carried out a series of interventions that reference relationships of labor, such as ironing clothes and sifting. Sugar appeared in abundance, diametrically opposed to its significance as “white gold” in the colonial period. So I wanted to make these shoes of sugar as a double bind. First, to give attention to the shoe itself as an object, but one made of a material that was the driving force of whiteness in exploiting black people, and then, to symbolize the fragility of this freedom. Because the sugar shoes, in the photographs, are about to be dissolved by sea water.