Posted by Ricardo Duarte – PhD Student in Spanish and Portuguese at NYU
“Everything in here seems covered in dust.” This was the thought that crossed my mind a few times while walking in the city of Brumadinho. The uncanny glitter that sparkled from the dust made it clear that it was not only the ordinary dirt that one thinks when picturing a dusty city, but that it was iron dust. While noticing how this mineral dust covered everything I could see – plants, bridges, streets -, a train passed by. A train whose wagons were loaded with tons of mined materials. In the background: a “pulverized mountain,” to use the title of one of Carlos Drummond de Andrade’s poems that bring questions related to mining to the forefront. Accordingly, the poem concludes by focusing on how the mountain that once appeared eternal when compared to the finite human life- “Of all Andrades that have gone and that will go, the mountain that does not go away,” – after being “drilled into a million pieces” only leaves behind a “miserable iron dust, and this does not go away – ever.” These last two verses kept drumming in my head while walking around the city. What stays in sites of such predatory extractivist activities, and how it affects the human bodies living in these sites, such as breathing problems, or other non-human entities.
Walking around Brumadinho, I began noticing how the city itself is the stage of a dispute of narrative around the tailing dam collapse. As soon as you arrive in the city, you can see sprayed graffiti under the city’s welcoming sign a protest against Vale, the company that owned the mine, and the largest mining company in Brazil: Vale Assassina! [Murderous Vale]. Alongside billboards with optimistic messages, one could see other accusative messages spray painted in the city’s walls. Over the Paraopeba River, a river that was deeply affected by the dam collapse, I have seen small ribbon bracelets hanging from a bridge. In some of them one could read names from the deceased, while in others the feeling anger and indignation are pungent. I was walking around the city just after a visit to its most touristic attraction: the worldly-famous contemporary art museum Inhotim, where I did not see any sign, artwork or notification about the collapse and its current impact in the city that hosts the institute. I began thinking about how Brumadinho was being constructed by its -rightfully- angry habitants as a kind of reminder that things are not settled, besides the various intentes promoted by the Vale S.A to promote the idea that they are doing everything they can, and that their interactions with the affected communities are harmonious. A long and thin strip along the Paraopeba River, one that marks the encounter of the water with the mining waste, is a constant reminder that this is not the case.
Since I did not want to talk with members of these communities, knowing that I would not have sufficient time to establish true relations with them, in which could result in what I believe would repeat an extractivist axis. Thus, I began focusing on these urban interventions, and on how these non-human agents, such as the dirt, could bring a counter-narrative to the one searched and propagated by Vale – it seemed quite symptomatic that when I took the airplane that would take me to Minas Gerais, they exhibited an add about the many tourist attractions available in Brumadinho. Some of the ideas were also result of my previous visit to the Fundação Renova, an “entity responsible for the mobilization of the reparation of the damages caused by the collapse of the Fundao dam in Mariana (MG)” – a collapse that had happened five years before the one in Brumadinho. In this high-tech and sterilized museum, I was appealed by how many of the stories chosen by them would focus on the possibility of positive changes brought by it: such as a cleaner river, or even better houses for the communities. In the headphones hanging from wood dummies positioned around the museum one can hear emotional narratives supposedly written by some members of the affected communities being narrated by actors, in which many of them focuses on how they are sure that this “population of brave men” will soon be back on its feet, and that maybe somethings can get even better. In all of their interactive props, this could be perceived as a mantra, constructing the image of a harmonious collaboration between the Foundation and the affected communities. An image that was quickly dissolved with a quick search on the internet in which I have found an article published in a local newspaper discussing how this same place had been occupied just three weeks before my visit. These narratives in dispute were the main points that repercuted some of my initial thoughts during my earlier archival research, briefly discussed in a previous entry on this blog. Once again the non-human agent acted on these sites, enabling us to realize how the stubbornly incessant dust or the mining waste in the river continuously implodes the aceptical image that some, such as the Fundação Renova, are trying to build.