A victim of a tuberculosis outbreak in Rio de Janeiro’s prisons, placed under house arrest in September 2017, Rafael Braga Vieira has been incarcerated since 2013. After leaving prison in 2016, he was charged again and returned to prison. Young, black, born in 1988, garbage collector who was working when the 2013 demonstrations in the city occurred, he was arrested for carrying two plastic bottles containing cleaning products.
From the outset, seen by the judges and prosecutors as dirty and dangerous, the only witnesses to his case were police who accused him of possessing explosive material. Braga’s story summarizes what several studies of Brazilian racism call genocide of the Black population. The strategies of this long-standing genocide began with the enslavement of people, turning them into objects over the period of three centuries. And they persist. They continue, from the period following the abolition of 1888, with the exclusion of Black people from modern rights, to the spatial segregation, to the underemployed and the methods of turning these people into easy targets of police violence, hunger and misery.
Considered an emblematic case, the hatred of Rafael Braga gained high visibility with social movements in and out of social networks, mobilizing collective forces in favor of his rights and of his family, against a selective justice that consistently ends up criminalizing poverty. At ArtRio, Rio de Janeiro’s Art Fair, in 2017, artists Joana Amador, Lourival Cuquinha, Mariana Lacerda and Mariana Sgarione drew their inspiration from him to create the work One and Three Minus One Crimes, whose money from the sale will be given back to the young man’s family.
The campaign for Rafael Braga’s freedom put his face all over the Internet. Stickers, buttons, t-shirts, posters, cartoons, collages made him an iconic figure, updating visual protest strategies, like those created by Emory Douglas, Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party between 1966 and 1982. In this way, Rafael Braga came to occupy, in the field of imagery, the same position as the philosopher and activist Angela Davis and one of the leaders of the BPP, Huey Newton (1942-1989), occupied since their unjust arrests. Davis herself appears on the Internet holding a t-shirt with Braga’s image.
The exhibition “OSSO Exposição-apelo ao amplo direito de defesa de Rafael Braga” (“BONE Exhibition-plea for the full rights to defense by Rafael Braga”), at the Instituto Tomie Ohtake, in São Paulo, between June and July 2017, accompanied by parallel programming, was inspired by this environment of demonstration against selective justice. With curatorship by Paulo Myada, the exhibition was carried out in partnership with the Instituto de Defesa do Direito de Defesa (IDDD/ Institute for the Defense of the Right to Defend). The works of the action-exhibition were made with minimalist elements, some of which are quite precarious, as if to say, against the consensus that kills, any opposing civil attitude is a gain.
Among the 29 artists of Bone, some are Black. The theme of racism, therefore, is sustained – as is the case with Rosana Paulino and Jaime Lauriano. These two artists are interested in Brazil’s past history, in that they rely on what can be called revisionist practice. In other words, they revisit the past and offer interpretations of events, not only to offer a new version, but inviting us to observe the persistence and continuity of violence that has not ceased.