The Brazilian artist speaks about her indigenous and black roots as trademarks of her work and explains her particular love for transitioning between different languages.
Corpografia do Pixo (Corpography of graffiti, 2019). Photo Miguel Salvatore.
“Sobreposição da história” (Overlapping history). Performer Kerolayne Kemblin, sugarcane plantation in Lindeia, Minas Gerais, Brazil (2019).
Gê Viana lives in São Luís in the state of Maranhão, but she always returns to the village of Centro do Dete, where she was born, to spend time with her relatives and with nature. Much of her art comes from this revisited source that reappears in photomontages, collages, graffiti art, installations, and urban and rural interventions. Nominated for the Pipa Prize in 2019 and 2020, the artist brings her confrontation with the persistent traces of colonization to the streets and to galleries.
C&AL: You have already mentioned in interviews that the discovery of your indigenous ancestry was made through artistic research. Could you speak about your positioning with respect to these roots? Would you say this is an inexhaustible source in your work?
GV: The word “discovery,” that you use, carries the weight of colonization, of this false discovery of Brazil, Pindorama. There are generations of indigenous great-great grandparents, great-grandparents whose identities were suppressed, but not erased. When we encounter such a vestige, it is like sifting through each detail, putting it back up and hugging it. The research comes to affirm what I have always been. When my grandfather, Paizim, used to tell stories about capelobo (a folkloric being of indigenous origin), he was constructing part of me in that being. So I got behind the camera to portray people of various origins, in a process of delicate construction. I don’t go out of the house with a camera and say: today I’m going to photograph someone. The paths taken trace back to my history. To think of the end, of this source’s depletion, is to imagine an extinction of our identities.
C&AL: In addition to your indigenous roots, you also have black ancestry. How did you address this theme in your work Sobreposição da história?
GV: I come from an Afro-indigenous family. My paternal great-grandmother, mãe Dica, was a dark-skinned black woman with African customs. I am a capelobo (wolf’s cape), a mixed light-skinned indigenous and black woman. The ancestors on my maternal side, the Anapuru- Muypurás, lived on farming. My father built the house that I was born in with two rice farms. So these were the openings to put that work together. Participating in the Bolsa Pampulha in Belo Horizonte, in 2019, which resulted in the work Sobreposição da história, was like if someone had taken me by the arms and played that game of spinning me around where, once you land back on your feet, you’re dizzy. That is the translation of going out of Maranhão, and that is reflected in the research that I did. Everything was very different, very urban. I had to travel to areas further away from downtown Belo Horizonte, wander around until I saw sugarcane in the yards and became inspired by them.
It happened as a “miração” [Ed.: spiritual vision that occurs in a state of expanded consciousness with the use of Ayahuasca], that I had in relating the sugarcane with the moonstone crystal. The two materials have very similar surfaces, with shiny fibers. I used the moonstone to wash away the suffering that black bodies endured in the cane fields. Since moonstone provides nutrients and cleanses, I put it in into sugarcane juice and massage the feet and hands of the people invited to this act/ritual. This is in the videos that comprise the work, together with the photomontages and texts glued onto the raffia sacks.
C&AL: Your works have a political slant insofar as they rewrite the tragic past with the tools you have at your disposal. How do languages and media help to compose this confrontation together?
GV: Many of my works deal with delicate themes due to colonization and slavery of black and indigenous people. These issues are not resolved in the final image. It’s like my co-being Daniel Munduruku’s thinking: “It’s about the past, but while rewriting the future within the present.” In referencing confrontation, I think about the media that I use, which are like prosthetics of decolonization.
I set out newsprint for Paridades (Parities), because I did not want a “white” paper. Similarly, in Sobreposição da história, the raffia sacks that I use signal the backs and exploitation of black laborers who, as they did in the past, are unloading products from the slave plantation, still present in many places today. I overlaid these surfaces with photomontages that dislocate the official historical narrative and become a mechanism for bringing voice, power and protagonism to those bodies. We are rising shining, alive to protect ourselves and others.
“Paridades” first layer: Raimundo Mutirão Santa Luzia, Maranhão. Photo: Ge Viana. Second layer: Elder of the Botocudo people, Marc Ferrez. Photograph/ photomontage (2017).
Many of my works deal with delicate themes due to colonization and slavery of black and indigenous people.
C&AL: In the work Corpografia do Pixo, you propose a sort of translation of languages. What is the idea behind transposing the orthography of graffiti into bodily movements and recording them in photos and videos?
GV: Corpografias do Pixo, more than dance, is a micropolitical action that brings into focus not only the phenomenon of graffiti*, but also the individual’s body that has left its mark. The symbols created by the graffiti artists are subjective, just like the aesthetics of each graffiti mark is going to define this wonky and crooked way of dancing opposite them. The act of creating graffiti is performative in and of itself. It is putting oneself at risk, as is the act of two women throwing their bodies into the street during the performance. Graffiti is disturbing, because we have cultivated the idea of the comfortable white façade and, when we’re going to corpograph [write with our bodies], that is more visible in the provocations and risks the people are emitting. There are various openings to think about how we can occupy the city.
[Ed.: The Portuguese terms “pixo”, “pixação” and pixar, written with “x”, are relative to the type of illegal and transgressive graffiti, often times legible only by its authors and their groups].
C&AL: You have participated in a series of artistic residencies. What is the importance of these spaces/experiences?
Each residency is a phase of maturation and growth. The purpose of residencies is to break with one’s own idea of art, to understand it as a practice of everyday life, which doesn’t turn on and off. You go walking along and creating, in bursts; it’s fluid. I was literally struck dizzy in in each residency, by blows that make you walk lighter and step with respect for the earth, carefully with the next step and with the way you’re creating.
C&AL: Has isolation imposed by Covid-19 interrupted your artistic process?
GV: I was going to expand the work Sobreposição da História to the city of Alcântara, in Maranhão, a territory made up of more than 300 quilombos, where the population is being threatened by the installation of a rocket launch base. We fought together, so that this potential eviction did not happen. This project of mine was postponed. The quarantine made me slow down and revisit my grandmother’s memories. Now we are building something together.
Tânia Caliari is a journalist. She lives in São Paulo.
Translation: Sara Hanaburgh