A few months ago, the artist, curator and art educator Claudinei Roberto da Silva led a small group of friends on a walking tour of São Paulo’s city center, offering a sort of architectural history of the city center and brief presentations about contemporary art –murals, graffiti or works that are hidden in commercial spaces such as bars and restaurants. The tour was unparalleled, as is the following conversation.
C&AL: You are a visual artist and, at the same time, have curatorial and pedagogical experience. When and how did your artistic practice give way to your curatorial processes?
Claudinei Roberto da Silva: Long before I imagined myself in an academic career, education occupied an important space that was central to my priorities and thought. For concrete reasons, education and art have always intersected with my practice. I lived my entire childhood and youth under the civil-military dictatorship, established by a coup in Brazil in 1964. I was born in 1963 and lived in the remote outskirts of São Paulo’s north zone. However, sincere respect for the figure of the teacher was still a reality in which, luckily, I participated.
During my adolescence, part of the youth to which I belonged was compelled, more or less, to act against the regime. This militance was exercised in the most diverse ways and through somewhat surprising institutions. For example, my oldest brother, Clóvis Roberto, was fully aware that his “black power” hairstyle was a symbol of opposition and that listening to James Brown challenged the white “status quo” and the repressive apparatus of the State. My father, Gumercindo Roberto, was a gafieira singer at community balls. In these settings too some type of resistance to the regime developed.
Usually, when we talk about militance, we tend to think about a single aspect of it, generally determined by people belonging to the white middle class. But the oppressed people from the periphery developed the most diverse strategies; and preserving their cultural identity was one of them. It was in that context that I met young people who, like me, living in the periphery, were searching for some kind of activity that would give more meaning to their lives and work.
Our education was in general driven by ideas that involved some sort of “social transformation” set in motion by a public activity. A samba dance would do. This ideal(ism) was always collective and we didn’t have access to engaged literature or revolutionary political theory. And clearly, we didn’t have the tools of the virtual world. People were actively involved in amateur theatre, which was “pedagogical” in nature, just as music and plastic arts were.
We believed the artist played the role of protagonist, in a process that did not intend to distinguish him from the public. We thought of education, formal or not, as a necessary instrument for the transformation of the communities in which we lived and the arts were, therefore, “a tool to forge the path.” At the time we believed that the artist should have control over every aspect of their work, including and perhaps mostly in the way it was “distributed,” making it accessible to everyone. We didn’t have a sense of the size of the market – we were perhaps ignorant, but this innocence was beneficial to us and I believe that that beginning carried over to what I developed afterward.
So I never distinguished, in my work, the making of art from pedagogical and curatorial practices. See, for most minorities, education is as vital as art, festivals play a pedagogical role, and through them the oppressed exercise their humanity and project their subjective importance. I understood very early on that the various aspects of the market had to be confronted by an artist and s/he could not participate passively in this environment.
C&AL: So was that how you became and art educator?
CRS: The decision to opt for an Art Education program, which gave me the opportunity to teach, was in the cards. Education and art go together, or should, since the relationship of belonging comes from the knowledge and familiarity with the object of our interest, whether it be art or any other. Becoming a teacher was a political move, but was also motivated by my incipient work as an artist. The importance I saw in art made me teach it.
The first attempt I made in this respect was through the Art Education program at a private university by the name of Marcelo Tupinambá, the name an homage to a great Brazilian Modernist musician. At that institution, I developed a fondness for dance and from then on I started and sustained an experimental dance theatre group called Paris 68, which included names like Maria Mommenshon, Anabel Andrés, Sueli Andrade, in addition to Adalberto Dalba, Caio Babel, Marcia Madalone and a dozen others who were part of the group over the ten years it was in existence. That was a very significant experience throughout the 1980s. Through dance we could found/formulate a thinking about the body that would not have otherwise existed. I believe that some of the choices I make as a curator are also grounded in what I feel artists are (or are not) saying about the body.
C&AL: Ten years in existence is a very significant amount of time for a group, isn’t it?
CRS: Yes. That was a very significant experience throughout the 1980s. Through dance we could found/formulate a thinking about the body that would not have otherwise existed. I believe that some of the choices I make as a curator are also grounded in what I feel artists are (or are not) saying about the body.
C&AL: So, in the process of your training as an art educator, you developed a practice in experimental dance theatre, as a visual artist and as a curator. Speaking of your curatorial practice: the gallery space O Oço/Galeria Cine e Sol plays a major role in the history of contemporary art in São Paulo. How did this come about?
CRS: The OÇO gallery project came “naturally” out of the ethical, aesthetic and economic demands on our education. The OÇO was the way I found to respond to certain demands and concerns that became concrete during my time in the Universidade de São Paulo’s Art Department. It was there that I had my first curatorial experiences working with young artists who formed a group called Olho SP.
But well before that experience I was already carving a path and it was as an artist that, observing and participating in São Paulo’s culture scene, I realized that people from my social and racial background would have a great deal of difficulty integrating into the art world. By the “art world” I mean a broad range of relationships that run inevitably through the production of the work and the “survival” of its author, education – training the public –, enjoyment of the artwork through museums or public and private galleries, collections, etc.
The OÇO gallery had its many moments and several addresses. It was born out of the need to exhibit art that had difficulty emerging. More than that, to promote debate and research on that production.
The objective for the space was always to bring dignity to the works exhibited which also allowed the public greater access to the artist without the restrictions most museums and galleries imposed. Classes, workshops and discussions with artists, curators or educators were part of our everyday work. Many artists came through, over 80 between 2009 and 2015, the project’s most successful years. It was during that period that I carried out more systematic research on Afro-Brazilian – or Black Brazilian – art.
The OÇO gallery, which was maintained without ever being funded, was an exceptional laboratory, research platform and independent haven which made it possible for some to gain experience and for me was indispensable.
A visual and performing artist by training (and in practice), Claudinei Roberto da Silva has extensive curatorial experience, having worked on projects such as the Sidney Amaral exhibition, Melancholy, Love and the Home Kitchen, Museu Afro-Brasil, São Paulo (2014), Concrete Audacity – the Works of Luiz Sacilotto, Museu Oscar Niemeyer, Curitiba (2015), the symposium African Presence in Brazil, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, São Paulo (2015), and the 13th Brazilian Naïf Art Biennial, Sesc Belenzinho, São Paulo (2017), together with Clarissa Diniz and Sandra Leibovici.
Fabiana Lopes is a New York and São Paulo-based Independent Curator and a Ph.D. Candidate in Performance Studies at New York University, where she is a Corrigan Doctoral Fellow. Lopes is interested in the artistic production from Latin America and is currently researching the production of artists of African descent in Brazil.
Translated from Portuguese by Sara Hanaburgh.