In Conversation with Igor Simões

A Look at Latin American Women’s Art

One of the curators of the Mercosul Biennial, postponed because of the current pandemic, reconstructs the history of the exhibit and talks about how notions of art and Latin-American identity were being negotiated in each of the earlier editions.

C&AL: Could you talk specifically about this edition of the 12th Mercosul Biennial, and how its opening was impeded by the current Covid-19 pandemic?

IS: Among the focuses of this new edition is a greater emphasis on the value of education as an important agent of social transformation. This in a time when some institutions are breaking up, when some educational sectors are closing that have historically had a very strong presence in Porto Alegre. The Biennial seeks, in a way, to rearticulate a network associated with the educational aspects of institutions, but also with the public. For this edition, thinking about the planet from the perspective of the South was decisive. In light of the unexpected Covid-19 pandemic, some of the artists are going to be featured on the Biennial’s website.

C&AL: Could you also comment on the names that were selected for this Biennial?

IS: The absolute majority of selected artists is made up of Latin American women. Among them, there is a very significant presence of Brazilians and, among them, black women. It’s worth mentioning that Rosana Paulino, one of the women being honored, and the Chilean Cecília Vicuña are among them. These are artists with long trajectories, not always necessarily known for the visibility of their works. But there are also young artists like Priscila Rezende from Minas Gerais and Renata Felinto from São Paulo. Among the men, is Helô Sanvoy, from Goías, for example. There are also indigenous artists who negotiate this theme in their production in different ways. I think it’s also important to highlight the non-binary presence among the selected names. There are Cis artists: women and men; gay artists: women and men; trans artists, but also artists that don’t deal with sexual categories. Important names include Jota Mombaça and Élle De Bernardini – two artists whose work is distinct, but whose work is helpful in thinking about the place of trans art in contemporary Brazilian art. Another point is the discussion about the resignification of practices which for a long time were associated with women’s work. In this sense, the concepts of weaving, thread or fabric appear in works like Rosana Paulino’s Tecido social (Social Fabric), Chilean Cecília Vicuña’s Quipus or the works of the Argentinian duo Chiachio & Giannone.

Another interesting example is the Arpilleras women’s collective. This is a group who uses embroidery to denounce dictators, like the Chilean dictator, and other issues involving State violence. Their work is as delicate as it is strong. In addition to the Latin Americans, there are also African artists and artists with a very presence on the European continent. Lastly, it is important to stress that this Biennial looks mainly at the production of Latin American women, without seeking to reduce them to a single totalizing notion. Rather, these women are burdened by different issues of gender, race, territory and class.

Igor Simões holds a Ph. D in Visual Arts, with a specialization in History, Theory and Art Criticism. He is Assistant Professor at the State University of Rio Grande do Sul and one of the curators of the 12th edition of the Mercosul Biennial happening in Porto Alegre.

Alexandre Araujo Bispo is an anthropologist, critic, independent curator and educator.

Translated from Portuguese by Sara Hanaburgh.