In Conversation with Castiel Vitorino

“Trauma is Brazilian”

In an interview with curator Diane Lima, artist Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro talks about her first solo exhibition and reflects on the complexities of living out her own black Diaspora.

C&: In some texts, you’ve said that life is a matter of healing and that when you wanted to go on living, you became a healer. How did macumba and psychology become a crossroads in your artistic production?

CV: Like art, macumba and psychology are the manipulation of life force. The crossroads was always there, but at some point I was able to adopt it as a force field. That moment was during a time of healing, which I began after having suicidal thoughts – in other words, a desire to forget and not for metamorphosis. In the terreiro, my body is a vehicle and proponent of dialogue, just like in the clinic and in my art. And since my artistic practice is an experience of embodiment, macumba and psychology appear as other possible paths for these bodily experiences, and together they form the existential complexity with which I live out my own black Diaspora.

C&: I’ve been thinking about how words and discourse can fail to name and speak about the violence that our dissident and racialized bodies undergo, often crippling our physical permanence, or our vitality in this world. What happens when this body begins to age and what strategies of self-preservation can we adopt?

CV: The opposition to this knowledge comes about as we welcome and respect our own unique time: the time of a smile, crying, pleasure, an upset stomach. Aging takes place while we are being created in the womb. Self-preservation happens when we understand that change is also a proliferation of new ways of living. My grandmother, Julite, says that when we grow old, we grow smaller, and we only start to grow bigger again when we die. You see, life is like an accordion: contracting and expanding. Each person’s healing room shall exist as long as there is a possibility of going out and coming in, going back and forth, opening and closing, contracting and expanding our life force. That’s where the opposition lies, in the experience of movement, twirling, impossible paths related to the orixa, Exu. We are opposing and contradictory when we experience what is rendered impossible for the colonizer. And what is it that has been impossible and misunderstood: our freedom. Asserting my freedom, being in my racialized body, is already an act of opposition, since freedom for black bodies has been denied while it has produced an experience at a crossroads. Here – in our body-crossroads – we take possible and impossible paths, in a dynamic of negotiation with the lives that heal us and with those that want to annihilate us.

C&: Citing Seloua Luste Boulbina and her thinking about disorientation as a way to rid ourselves of a colonial mental geography: how, from your experience, have you created strategies to disorient the world as we know it and access what you’ve been calling “traditional knowledge of vital manipulation”?

CV: It’s an exercise in courage, something I do whenever I’m able to balance my insecurities with my courage. Yes, it’s a disorientation that has been called madness or possession by the devil. When I want to live in happiness, I create worlds. Not only do I create them, but I inhabit them, as well. It’s an existential territory that creates boundaries for the colonizer. So I become disoriented, crazy and dangerous, because I become a misunderstood life. When I affirm healing, I disorient myself from Western philosophical knowledges that are colonial insofar as they claim to be universal. Healing is an experience produced and understood by faith healers, medicine women, and shamans: the very people that the neoliberal pharmaceutical and medical industries criminalize and that Christian fundamentalism make sinful. These industries and philosophies do not understand our language, and in the colonial fetish of trying to understand, theft occurs. So I disorient myself whenever I heal myself. And healing is an ephemeral experience of health. And health is vital equilibria.

C&: In your work we see you deploying different forms of expression such as photography, video, installation, performance and sculpture, producing objects in ceramic or from organic materials. How has the process of experimentation and creation taken place from the point of view of form? And how do you believe these methods help us talk about an anti-colonial ethic in art?

CV: Every form is a gesture. I wish to unlearn colonial gestures and I enjoy it when I can unlearn them within gestures of freedom. My body is a material in perpetual change, my existence takes on forms which I couldn’t imagine yesterday or that I was afraid of. Today, I rework these imagined and embodied forms in my work. For me, art is an invitation to unlearn gestures that produce forms that halt my movement of differentiation. I desire and need to take on and understand forms of artistic expression as experiences in diving deeper, never drowning. I dive strategically into my own life with video or with installation, according to the existential depth that I wish to share with those who are on the surface.

Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro is an artist and is currently pursuing a degree in Psychology at the Federal University of Espírito Santo. She researches and invents relationships in which non-white bodies are broken free from the bonds of coloniality, and is the creator of Devorações, an immersive project on decolonial creative processes.

Diane Lima is an independent curator and researcher. She holds a Master’s in Communication and Semiotics from PUC-SP. Her work focuses on experimenting with multidisciplinary curatorial practices from a decolonial perspective.

Translated from Portuguese by Zoë Perry.