Review 20th Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil

Spreading the South

Since its 8th edition the Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil has focused on the rather underrepresented artistic scene from the geopolitical South. Now in its 20th year the festival not only broadens its open call towards artists from the Middle East or Greece. But it also widens its perception of an artistic concept – beyond geographical boundaries.

Although videos still have a predominant role, they remain harmonically balanced with other media in the spaces. The exhibition design smartly explores unconventional sites for subtle installations such as Ana Mazzei’s ballet barres (A Barra de ballet está livre, 2016), displayed in the hall of the theatre. Also interestingly placed is Icaro Lira’s Museu do Estrangeiro (Foreigner Museum, 2015-17), an ongoing project the artist is collaborating on with refugees and immigrants in São Paulo. At the festival it is presented at the studio’s workshop shed, in dialogue with the original proposal as a place of creative exchange between different working groups.

One of the six curatorial axes devised by Solange Farkas and guest curators Ana Pato, Beatriz Lemos, Diego Matos and João Laia is memory and invisible histories. A concept shared by Ícaro Lira and Portuguese artist Filipa César, who presents one of the strongest works of this edition. Awarded with the Sesc Art Collection Acquisition prize, César’s essay film Transmission from the Liberated Zones (2015) sheds light on an obscure episode of Guinea-Bissau’s war against Portuguese colonial power: footage made by Swedish filmmakers testifying to the African Liberation Party PAIGC guerillas’ declaration of independence. Combining different kinds of archival material with interviews, with a young boy narrating these facts from his perspective today, César constructs ‘archives of the present,’ as she defines them, exploring visual elements that reinforce such aspects. Following the same line, the artist presented a public screening and performance with Sana Na N’Hada.

The two artists have been working together on the restoration of a decayed archive from Guinea-Bissau’s National Film Institute (INCA) that includes an unfinished documentary that was shot after the country’s independence in 1974. N’Hada was among the filmmakers who made the footage after anti-colonial leader Amílcar Cabral had sent him and other members of the liberated areas to Cuba in the 1960’s to be trained at Santiago Alvarez’ institute.

Dealing with similar issues about African colonial pasts and a transnational cultural dialogue, the Beninese artist and French resident Emo de Medeiros is another interesting surprise of this 20th festival. His appealing video installation Kaleta/Kaleta (2013-2017) reenacts the ritual of this local cultural festivity, bringing together elements such as masks and afrobeats music, while creating a parallel with the Brazilian carnival. The historical connection between Brazil and Benin is a familiar fact: the African country was the origin of the most frequented route of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to South America’s coast.

From the Brazilian artistic scene, Jaime Lauriano and the duo Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca stand out as the strongest names – although none of their works displayed here are a surprises for the local audience. Also awarded with the Sesc Art Collection Acquisition prize, Wagner and de Burca’s Faz que Vai (2015) brilliantly discusses cultural reinvention and the circulation of mass culture in documenting a young generation of Frevo dancers.

In their performances, this once traditional manifestation of the carnival in the northeast of Brazil is revealed as already contaminated with other popular rhythms, such as Rio de Janeiro’s funk. It therefore questions the very idea of traditional local culture’s permanence as resistance or a conservative posture – a sensitive topic in the debates about the Global South from a cultural perspective.

Nathalia Lavigne is a curator, art critic and journalist based in São Paulo (Brazil). She is currently a PhD Student at the School of Architecture and Urbanism at Universidade de São Paulo (FAUUSP).

The 20th Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil runs through January 14, 2018 at Sesc Pompeia, in São Paulo, with exhibition of works, video programs, open lectures, meetings and talks with artists and curators.