In Conversation with Jaime Lauriano

History and violence

In his work, artist Jaime Lauriano tackles both the military dictatorship, which ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, as well as subjects such as land disputes and abuse of power. His work results from in-depth research at libraries and public archives. “The essence of my work is to investigate the issue of violence in Brazil. I look to the past for answers to what happens in the present,” he says.

C&AL: Does the issue of blackness come out most strongly in the work in your solo show “Autorretrato em Branco sobre Preto” in 2015?

JL: The issue of blackness has always been present in my work, but in 2014 it emerged more firmly and since then I have been trying to understand what it means to be black in Brazil. In that exhibition I speak about the Lei Áurea [‘Golden Law’ that abolished slavery in Brazil] as a mechanism of the oppressor to mask the trauma of slavery, which has not been discussed in Brazil, nor have reparations been made. What results is that this reality of oppression and inequality in the black population remains the same. Brazil leads the world ranking in homicides; more people are killed here per year than in the wars of Syria and of Iraq combined. And out of every 100 people murdered, 71 are black. Violence and racism have been internalized in this country and we’ve got to touch on this wound if we want to build a more just society.

C&AL: What was it like being part of the Bamako Biennial in Mali in 2015?

JL: It was a really powerful experience, where I opened my mind to a new way of thinking about Africa. After visiting Mali and Morocco, I realized that here [in Brazil] we have a processed Africa, because Africans needed to reinvent themselves and create another possibility for their existence when they came to Brazil to work as slaves. I want to go back and stay longer, travel to other countries and investigate the similarities and differences between that continent and ours.

C&AL: Throughout history, prizes such as Marcantonio Villaça, which you recently received, have largely been awarded to white artists. The same goes for the selection process for major exhibitions in this country. Is this likely to change?

JL: I usually say that I didn’t win this award on my own: it’s the result of a three generation-long struggle of contemporary black artists, punctuated by names like Emanoel Araújo, Rubem Valentim, Eustáquio Neves, Rosana Paulino, Sônia Gomes, Paulo Nazareth, Ana Lira, Michelle Mattiuzzi, Moisés Patrício… This struggle has made progress in recent years, we’ve been gaining a voice at events like the Venice Biennale and I think it will be hard to silence it now. But we can’t ignore that, like the Brazilian Congress, we still have an art circuit that is mostly white, male and does not represent Brazilian society as a whole.

C&AL: Is it possible to create work with social and political content while being part of a cog in the culture industry, in this case an art gallery? How do you deal with this contradiction?

JL: Yes, from the moment you understand that an artist’s work does not just happen through a subject-matter. I see the work as an intermediary so that I can access other places, such as major media outlets, and thus get my message across. Not to mention that I also display my work in more accessible spaces, like on my website and on social media. So, the gallery is one instance and not “the” instance.


Ana Paula Orlandi is a journalist and has written about culture and behavior for over two decades. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree at the School of Communications and Arts at the University of São Paulo.


Translated from Portuguese by Zoë Perry.