Gay journalist and activist Jean Willys, a well-known advocate for minorities in Brazil’s house of Congress, surprised everyone by announcing he was giving up his seat, for which he received more than 24,000 votes. Instead of being sworn in in Brasilia, he decided to self-exile in Europe in order to protect himself from death threats made by groups opposed to his way of doing politics. The election of a far right candidate for president in November 2018 seems to have made Brazil more hostile to blacks, LGBTs and other progressive segments of society. Faced with this climate, the question is: Could the movement started by Willys lead to a wave of exodus from Brazil?
C&AL talked to and asked several cultural producers how decisions such as Jean Willy’s have an impact on their practice and activism:
Cláudio Bueno, curator, visual artist and researcher: “No revolutionary intentions”
“Every day, large numbers of LGBT+ people, as well as their political and cultural expression, are being threatened. The Jean Willys case reveals what all these people go through on a daily basis. We’re not here to judge the lawmaker’s decisions, because only those who have endured death threats have the right to decide where to go, or even where to stay, when they have the possibility of that choice. Cases like this and many others have shone a light on Brazilian militia politics and state terrorism. That’s why we’ve never pinned our hopes on institutional politics, which have been contaminated by Brazil’s deep-seated white hetero-cis-normativity from the start. Every day, without any heroics, without polarization, and without a single response, countless names continue to produce the idea of resistance – an idea eagerly awaited and romanticized by international media, who constantly ask us: “How will you continue to resist?” These are people who operate in the complexity of politics, art, and so many other activities, day in and day out, within the limits of their own body and of the world. This isn’t only a Brazilian crisis, but a regime of vested interests and global insecurity. That is the world that must offer us answers, that must offer us a way out, that owes us.” (The title of this testimony is the same as the work of Felipe Caprestano).
Michelle Mattiuzzi, artist: “Migrating is not for everyone”
“Jean Willys isn’t the first political exile, but perhaps the position he occupied could draw international attention to the state of political emergency in which Brazil finds itself in the aftermath of a coup. Primarily, in alerting international human rights agencies about the planned state violence against the LGBTQIA community. In the past three years of this country’s dismantling, social media has been rife with fake news and information. The election of the new president is the restoration of organized slaveholder control. It’s the force of a social group that never lost its power. What is happening is an avalanche, a right-wing coup around the globe. Brazil is not alone in this neoliberal enterprise. In my position, it was no longer possible to reason in that “necropolis brasilis”, but every day I’ve wondered when it was ever possible to reason in this racist, misogynist, LGBT-phobic and exclusionary Brazil? When was it possible to exist peacefully in a country that desires and restores violence against black and indigenous bodies? I’m on the run. For a black person, running is part of their life story in resistance: the Diaspora. Being in motion is complex, migrating is not for everyone, and trying to reason about the political moment of necropolis brasilis is impossible.”
Jota Mombaça, artist, performer, writer: “No possibility of exile”
“It’s hard to speak of exile when you’re a migrant. It’s hard, because migrating as a black, trans person, coming from a previously colonized nation, is painful – because of the boundaries that are reestablished at the gates of each commercial establishment, each institution, and even in the most intimate relationships. After migrating, it’s hard to talk about exile, because the narrative of exile presumes that, once our country becomes unsafe for us, it is possible to find security elsewhere, but the Trans Black Diaspora proves otherwise. Exile is impossible, because the project that has shaped black trans lives as less worthy of respect is adjacent to coloniality, to cisgender fundamentalism, and white supremacy. And these are global regimes which, at this moment in history, are taking on new strength in various national contexts around the world. This does not mean that Brazil today, with the militia occupation of the presidency, is not becoming a particularly brutal territory with respect to trans and black (and indigenous, and poor, and female in general) lives. Yes, we are targets! But the same day Marielle Franco was executed in Rio de Janeiro, the Senegalese street vendor Mame Mbaye was murdered by police in Madrid. Though the ways they were killed are different, this murderous trend of power over trans and black lives cuts across innumerable allegedly stabilized settings around the world. It’s hard to talk about exile knowing that there is no abroad, it’s hard to talk about the brutality overtaking Brazil when we are witnessing a fascist coup on a global scale.”
Aretha Sadick, multiartist: “I’ve got to stay alive”
“As a black trans artist and activist born in the Baixada Fluminense, in Rio de Janeiro, and like a true Aries, I’ve never felt the need to say goodbye to anyone, not even my family. There was always something that kept me from accessing certain places, but for a long time I believed that it was just a financial issue, until I actually saw the filters that still surround Brazilian society drop in front of me, one by one. I never said goodbye, because I always had in mind that I could go back whenever I wanted to, that structural racism, as well as transphobia, would not in fact impede my right to the city. Today, well into 2019, given the symbolic step Jean Willys was forced to take, something he was forced to do by the state, I realize that I and many of my own will have to take similar action. I believe in the legacy of fallen heroes, but my great love for life, for my people, for what I still want to see happen one day, and my distaste for goodbyes, make me think of the bridges I can build, what I can expose, and say. I have a lot to do for posterity, so I’ve got to stay alive.”
Cecília Floresta, artist and curator: “We will stay on the front lines”
“All of us – blacks, indigenous people, the underprivileged, women, dykes, trans-dykes, transvestites, transsexuals, queers, bisexuals – sit at the intersection of identities and conditions that are politically, economically and socially undermined, that have always placed us at risk, on the front lines. And I refuse to waste a single letter naming or giving voice to those responsible for the enormous tragedies we have experienced. I’m here to talk about resistance, which is up to me, up to us. And if I put myself out there as a writer who resists, who fights for the identities I carry, I also recognize the resistance of my mother from Brazil’s northeast, who raised her children on her own; my unemployed black brother; my black sister, who fought tooth and nail to finish her degree; those who struggle for survival each day. I recognize the resistance of those who have been ripped away and of all those who are still here. And there are those bodies that, while on the front lines, get caught in the crossfire, armed crossfire. And then the fight for one’s life is what speaks louder. Bodies that were simply unable to expose themselves to the fire, and that too is resistance. But there is also an awareness that never leaves us, even though we stand farther from the fire, we will continue to stand on the front lines, because that’s where we’ve always been.”
Fábia Prates is a journalist whose work has appeared in major Brazilian media outlets. She currently writes on topics related to culture, behavior and corporate communication.
Translated from Portuguese by Zoë Perry