In Conversation with Thiago de Paula Souza

Telling Stories that Haven’t Been Told

C&’s Deputy Editor Will Furtado talks to one of the co-curators of BB10 about the research carried out in the Caribbean, the challenges he didn’t expect, and the importance of telling stories that remain untold.

C&AL: Is there a residency attached to the 10th Berlin Biennale?

TPS: Not really. We collaborated with different institutions  in some parts of the world. This helped us to send artists to different places. But we didn’t expect what the artists produced to reflect the specific time they were there. We were not asking for new work based on “what you have seen there”. We don’t really think it works that way, at least not for this project.

C&AL: How does it work?

TPS: I think it’s something that maybe takes time. The experience is something that will affect her practice and maybe she will do a different project in the future and she will bring it then. But she might not produce it right now, because sometimes you need time.

C&AL: So, it’s like an investment in a concept or an idea…

TPS: Yes. Portia Zvavahera went to India. Julia Phillips went to Brazil; Mimi Cherono Ng’ok went to the Dominican Republic; Cinthia Marcelle went to South Africa. Tessa Mars, Sam Samiee and Thierry Oussou came to Berlin.But you’re not necessarily going to see this in their work. At least not now.

C&AL: In terms of the final project: if you had expectations about how it would look, is that how it turned out? Even the size and the number of artists…

TPS: I think all of us agreed, since the beginning, that it was interesting to have something small, intimate,  in a “human scale” even in such a big platform. And I think we managed to do that. Especially considering that we have more than 40 artists, I think it’s something relatively small, considering the shows we’ve seen in past years. But, of course, there’s a whole machine behind it. Today, for example, we had a very interesting meeting with the mediators, the people who are being hired. I’m also looking forward to hearing from them about how they’re engaging with the exhibition and what kind of feedback “the audience” is providing. Not that I’m obsessed with the audience’s opinions because we can never really control that, but it’s just interesting to hear.

C&AL: What did you find out about links between Brazil and other Latin-American countries and Germany and Europe? I’m also thinking about the archives and so on…

TPS: When you think historically or politically or even about artistic connections and collaborations, there are a lot of things that connect Brazilian and German history. And, of course, it really depends on what exactly you’re talking about. I mean, there’s a huge German community in the South of Brazil, but I wasn’t really thinking about connections between Brazil and Germany or South America and Europe properly. That didn’t come up in our curatorial conversations.

Of course, we do have some Brazilian partners and participants. There are artists from Latin America in the exhibition, two of them from Brazil: Fabiana Faleiros is presenting the Mastur Bar, a project about female masturbation. “Masturbar” in Portuguese means to masturbate. Fabiana has this bar, which is an installation, but she will activate it twice a month with performances that engage a lot of discussion about the taboos of female masturbation and female bodies, while at the same time collaborating with other people. She’s also collaborating with people from Berlin and from Brazil.

And there’s Cinthia Marcelle: once you enter KW, she’s going to be the first artist you see. Her project is called Legendaries. And at Akademie der Künste there is Firelei Báez, who lives in New York, with a very interesting installation. She has been researching a lot about the Haitian Revolution and reading Silencing the past: Power and the Production of History – a book by Michel-Rolph Trouillot that was published in the 1990s and discusses how the Haitian Revolution, which was led by former enslaved people, was something unimaginable for Western eyes. Even for Western European thinkers, philosophers in the book discussed some ideas about freedom or equality they couldn’t read, they couldn’t grasp.… There’s also Hegel and Haiti, that discusses how Hegel was informed about the Haitian Revolution when he started to discuss his ideas about freedom, but he never mentioned it or he never wrote a single note about how those people were struggling, really struggling, for freedom. One of our aims is just to tell some stories – it’s not that they’ve been forgotten; they just haven’t ever been told.

Thiago de Paula Souza is a curator and educator based in São Paulo, Brazil. In 2016 he co-curated the exhibition Living On – In Other Words on Living? at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, AU. At the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo de Paula Souza joined the Accra Study Days team, organized by Gabi Ngcobo as part of the public program. Besides co-curating the 10th Berlin Biennale, he currently researches on the depiction of art from South America and the African Diaspora in the German-speaking context. 

Will Furtado is the deputy editor of Contemporary And and is based in Berlin.​