C&AL: What desires motivated the curatorial design for Frestas, given that each of your paths in curation has been characterized by the presence of discourse which is critical of normalities defined by Eurocentric, patriarchal, and imperialist models?
Diane Lima: Since we work collectively, our greatest challenge was embracing that what motivated us was the desire to take the very process of producing an exhibition, its agreements and disagreements, as a critical and conceptual object. Looking closely at the strategies and negotiations that we made during the process, we realized that they opened up a reflexive framework that did not end with us, but that grew both from and beyond us.
C&AL: Collective curation allows for the amplification of different perspectives. Could you talk a little about your work as a trio?
Thiago de Paula Souza: All curation is collective to some extent, which doesn’t preclude hierarchies from forming. This isn’t always very apparent, but any exhibition of this size goes through a never-ending series of conversations, negotiations, and studies that no single person is capable of doing alone. Understanding the contradictions inside us, our common interests, not silencing conflict but negotiating it, whether that’s through arguments based on scientific data, or tarot readings. One of the first things we did was ask to work with a team that wasn’t dominated by white people, as is the general rule in Brazilian artistic institutions.
C&AL: Pluralism is one of the show’s propositions – where did you look to and what layers did you delve into to establish this pluralism? Which bodies will be visible, given the raciality that hierarchizes knowledge and ways of producing knowledge?
TPS: The three of us bring very different worlds to the table, both in relation to our practices and our interests. And that was the initial idea of pluralism for the project. From there, we started to expand on our conversations with artists – whether they’re from Sorocaba, São Luís do Maranhão, or Johannesburg. As far as visibility goes, you have to always be careful with the tactics you choose, as we also have to reflect on who is watching and how that gaze is mediated. We learned that we need to complexify what we understand about visibility and how we want to be seen or represented. But opposing the commodification of knowledge, agendas, and experiences is not an easy exercise, since being visible produces recognition, which produces wider circulation, and powers the whole game.
C&AL: A country of continental dimensions like Brazil has regional singularities. What was it like seeking out artists from far and near, and putting together the curatorial team?
DL: We decided to take a research trip precisely to allow us to get to know places that would have been unlikely otherwise. We traveled for about 40 days through the North and Northeast of Brazil, visiting places like the Raposa Serra do Sol indigenous lands and the city of Boa Vista, in Roraima; Belém, Pará, Manaus and Careiro Castanho and the area around the Tupana River, in Amazonas; Alcântara and São Luís, in Maranhão; Serra da Capivara, in Piauí.
TPS: In addition, from the outset, our engagement with Sorocaba was and still remains our primary challenge. The interior of São Paulo state is a very complex region, marked by a silencing of the Black and indigenous presence and the glorification of the Bandeirantes. How could we revisit the city’s dark past, celebrated there to this day? Our initial steps were to listen, to try to understand how groups were organized, how these local actors dealt with issues that were so dear to us. So, we traveled to places that hold symbolic, political, and historical value for Brazil and for the world. They are hotbeds of resistance against the relentless threats they’re subjected to, and very emblematic places to think about for other global projects.
C&AL: In recent years, Brazil has experienced multiple precarities which have been brutally exacerbated by the pandemic. How can you make this visible in a show like Frestas?
Beatriz Lemos: Bringing to light discussions on policies of access and how they operate in a way determined by markers of class and race in the context of Brazil, has been one of Frestas’ critical underpinnings – understanding it as a platform for creation, not only in the development of the exhibition, but in its broadest and most complex sense of action.
TPS: Most of the artists we work with live in precarious situations and this permeates their choices to some extent. Many of them have already fabricated in their work ways of living beyond the controls imposed both by the violence that characterizes us and a lack of funds. The pandemic hasn’t necessarily made us focus more on this precarious system, as it already haunts the research of many of the participants and therefore the exhibition. Perhaps now, with the pandemic, some discussions have been made more visible. Still, we aim for the project to function as a kind of portal that can project participants’ artistic practices beyond the constraints often imposed by a lack of financial structure. And that this helps us to feel, even if fleeting, some relief or respite.
C&AL: The idea of a “crack” [“fresta”, in Portuguese], as conceived by the institution, is as follows: “a passage, a split, a rupture, i.e. an opening to a new democratic place of activity”. Does this resonate with the movement you created to frame this curatorship?
TPS: From the very beginning, we discussed ways to open up and play with the format. Fortunately, Frestas is just at the start of its story and this opens up space for experimentation. One experiment was our invitation to a group of 15 artists, participants in the project. We created a sort of study group that went on for about two months, and the idea was that we could reassess the curatorial design, the exhibition, discuss each artist’s individual projects as a group, how to link them together in the exhibition space, and in dialogue with the educational program. In general, this is already the work of curators, but we took the opportunity to expand a little and question those boundaries of performance and participation. Although hierarchical, it’s an attempt to really imagine organizational and curatorial work in a more plural way.
BL: Seeing Frestas as a platform, blurring the centrality of the exhibition as a device, as much as possible, has been our exercise in collective framing, both among the three of us as curators, and in dialogue with the institution, the teams invited to the project, and with participating artists. We’re interested in critically mapping the boundaries of the non-negotiable, the trapdoors of codes of power, performances of what goes “unsaid”, and the inherent potentialities when you dwell in contradiction.
C&AL: We have witnessed the ruthless advancement of conservative discourse in various Brazilian institutions, which affects, to a large extent, the enjoyment of art. Particularly in Brazil, there is a tendency to replicate moderate discourse that is sympathetic or even aligned with the hegemonic structures. Curatorship, however, can broaden horizons when it shatters creative monopolies and production circuits. I’d like you to address this issue.
TSP: Brazil is a prime example, where cultural extraction happens all the time. Some discussions have been more present in recent years, even in a more conservative context, but I always take them with a grain of salt because of the way they’re conducted or appropriated by institutions. Jota Mombaça and Gabi Ngcobo, and others, have both been talking a lot about the appropriation of critical or decolonial discourses by art institutions, or rather, I should say, by Brazilian whites who occupy positions of power within art institutions without being responsible for structural change. What good is a progressive exhibition program when all or most of the curators in your institution are white? I think that’s why it was so important for us to focus, at this moment, on the ways of doing things, and our own ethical stumbling blocks along the way.
Frestas – Triennial of Arts is a triennial initiative – a project, program and exhibition – organized by SESC São Paulo. It is primarily a trans-disciplinary platform that promotes new actions and reflections in a broader field of the visual arts, engaging the public and the circuit in a more decentralized way. The project takes place at the SESC facility located in Sorocaba, 100 kilometers from the São Paulo state capital. For its third edition, the institution invited Beatriz Lemos, Diane Lima, and Thiago de Paula Souza to form a horizontal curatorial team.
Luciane Ramos Silva is a dance performer, anthropologist and cultural mediator, who lives in São Paulo. She is the co-director of O Menelick2Ato magazine and project manager for Acervo África.
Translation: Zoë Perry