My research experience in Brazil has been very interesting and unique, as Brazilian artists, art critics and curators have opened the doors of their ateliers and houses to talk about the experience of the military regime in their country.
Many of the artists told me that the dictatorship did not influence their way of creating art. Nevertheless, the context in which they where living unavoidably influenced the content of their works.
After interviewing the sculptor Carlos Tenius I met the painter Clara Pechansky, who told me that for her the only way possible to talk at that time was through her art. She never took part in protests, but she inserted elements of interior revolt in her work. In the series of lithographs that she produced during the harshest period of the regime, called “Games of Power”, generals are a recurring subject. They are represented full of ornaments and decorations and they are funny figures. In a lithograph that the artist showed me there is a line of generals. Some of them are holding slings instead of real weapons. Others are represented as wind-up toys with a spring on their back that would serve to activate them and make them play the trumpet. At the bottom there are some women looking up at the line of soldiers. They don’t have mouths: a possible reference to censorship.
I then met the artist Vera Chaves Barcelos, who in 1976 founded with other artists the group “Nervo Optico” (Optical Nerve). Together the artists wrote a manifesto against the power of the marked in the art world and against regional art. The members proposed instead an international and independent movement. The group was a reaction to the art policies, which were a direct consequence of the government of that time.
Vera did some ironic works that could be read as political, such as the work called “Keep Smiling” that is composed by photographs of people who are forcedly smiling at the camera and the viewer. The posture of the people resembles that of the photographs of prisoners. Today the artist thinks of her work as political, as at that time there were few reasons for smiling and being cheerful.
At the time of the dictatorship the artist Carlos Wladimirsky, who I met a few days after, did some urban interventions that were openly against the regime, a denunciation of the crimes committed by the military. For one of his works he cut the head of some mannequins, painted them red and set them on fire in the middle of the street.
He also organized several events and performances that had a ritual character and a direct reference to African religions. With his group of performers called “O sentido do corpo” (The meaning of the body) he collaborated with the theatre group Ói Nóis Aqui Traveiz. They realized two shows in which all the actors were naked. The piece did not have a sexual connotation, but a sensorial one. At the time nakedness was not common and there were very strong reactions from the public.
Carlos’ work was against the dictatorship of the body. He was seeking the liberation not only from the political constrains, but a sexual, religious and social emancipation.
After talking with Carlos I decided to interview Paulo Flores, one of the founders of Ói Nóis Aqui Traveiz. The group always favored performances in the streets, rather than in theatres, in order to be able to reach a larger number of people. But they were able to start playing in the streets only in 1977, during the Geisel government, when also the student demonstrations returned to the streets to demand for democracy.
The theatre group has always been politically and socially engaged. The day after I met Paulo during a rehearsal, they performed a show in memory of the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the dictatorship, asking the Government to investigate the crimes committed during the regime, to identify the people who disappeared and to punish the people responsible for the killings.
Paulo explained me that Ói Nóis Aqui Traveiz was always concerned with integrating aesthetics and politics, and the audience with the actors.
The members have always been both artists and political activists. During the regime their performances used to open the demonstrations in the streets and parks of the city. Their theatre has a mobilizing character; it involves and changes the viewer.
Posted by Camilla Querin – MA Candidate at CLACS / Museum Studies