Referencing the article, The Universal Right to Breathe, published by Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe, the project Breathing Prohibited was developed as a series of conversations with artists from five countries which were particularly affected by the pandemic, namely South Africa, Italy, The United States of America, Brazil, and China. The subject is antithetical to Mbembe’s essay, aiming to stimulate debate about the pandemic and the positionality of art in this context. Brazilian Luana Vitra represents Brazil in this debate.
C&AL: Could you comment on the situation of the pandemic in Brazil in light of Achille Mbembe’s essay?
Luana Vitra: Thinking about the Brazilian context in relation to Mbembe’s article, I think it’s important to look at the continuous relationship with nature that indigenous cultures and quilombos practice. These are cultures that do not observe nature as a “natural resource,” but instead as part of themselves. In this way, they weave a relationship of reciprocity, where nature cares for them and at the same time they care for her. The basis of samba, for example, is to learn the importance of giving as much as you receive. Not in the same currency, but rather in the same amount, measured by a thermometer that each one brings intuitively. Indigenous peoples and quilombo communities know that air needs to enter and exit. Unfortunately, exploitative capitalist culture alienates us from this. The current president of Brazil, motivated by this same exploitative force, also ignores this fact. So, it is not by chance that Jair Bolsonaro attacks quilombo and indigenous communities. Nor is it by chance that he disregards the importance of the virus. Afterall, from an exploitative perspective, death means profit.
C&AL: Speaking of vulnerability: the world faced the coronavirus, and each State activated its defense system. How do you see the distribution of vulnerability in health in the context of Brazil, of South America and of the Global South?
LV: In Brazil, each state organized itself in its own way, because there was no deployment of care for the population on the part of the president. We went through the pandemic without a Minister of Health who was capable of establishing action plans and guidelines to fight the virus, because in our federal government we have a president who is clearly genocidal, interested in the rising number of deaths in the country. It is a fact that the financial resources are distributed extremely unequally in Brazil. During the pandemic, Manaus, in the North of the country, was the city that experienced the most severe impact with respect to the virus with a devastating number of deaths. Bolsonaro refused the first vaccine offers, which slowed down the entire process.