(1) under more than 60 impeachment petitions, bolsonaro has recently stated that "who decides if the people will live a democracy or a dictatorship are its armed forces”. Fagundes, M. “Bolsonaro: ‘Quem decide se o povo vai viver democracia são as Forças Armadas’”. Poder 360, January 18, 2021.
(2) in the late 1960s and 1970s, brazil was in the midst of the most repressive years of a military dictatorship that came to rule the country for twenty one years, from 1964 until 1985. in december 1968, the military regime decreed the ai-5 (institutional act #5) which abolished civil rights in the country, instituted censorship of the media and the arts, and implemented torture as a practice of the state. by then, all attentions were turned towards the struggle against the repression and censorship imposed by the military regime, overshadowing other important debates such as gender differences, social inequalities, and racial discrimination. in the wake of globalization, latin american artists became better known, yet for the most part, the work of latin american women artists from the late 1960s and 1970s, a period characterized by both artistic innovations and political repression, remains largely unexamined. for more see Fajardo-Hill, C. ‘The invisibility of latin american women artists: problematizing art historical and curatorial practices’ in Fajardo-Hill, C. Et al. (eds.) Radical Women: Latin America Art, 1960-85. Los Angeles: Hammer Museum.
(3) i have specifically chosen these five artists because they have faced the crisis of an authoritarian state, the complexities of national identity, and the weight of global northern cultural hegemony. they cultivated their practices as a response to the question of art’s role in a moment which – though far from identical – seems to echo my own. their longstanding insistence on troubling categories, as well as on the complexity of the particular, may help us to understand not only the conditions that brought us here, but also ways of moving forward.
(4) Melendi, M. A. (2017) ‘To construct new houses and deconstruct old metaphors of foundation’ in Fajardo-Hill, C. Et al. (eds.) Radical Women: Latin America Art, 1960-85. Los Angeles: Hammer Museum.
(5) but why writing letters in 2021? i intend to get closer to an emotional geography, stepping away from a complex, academic and classist language of validation. i wanted to speak with them, and not about them. as a female immigrant artist living in germany, not being able to come back home for so long, i am trying to look back at my homeland, at artists that have gone through oppression periods and still were able to produce their artworks. by speaking with them, i want to understand what my generation is facing since the impeachment of dilma in 2016 and now with bolsonaro as our president. these are the questions i would like to ask them, if i ever got the chance to meet lygia, anna, claudia, lygia and anna in my lifetime.
(6) it is important to point out that many brazilian women artists reject feminist discourse, even if their works struggled with similar issues addressed by their counterparts in the u.s. and elsewhere. for a retrospective on this topic, see Calirman, C. “Brazilian Modernism: Feminism in Disguise’”. Frieze Magazine, August 23, 2018.
(7) Lepecki, A. (2014) ‘Affective Geometry, Immanent acts: Lygia Clark and performance’ in Butler, C. H. et al. (eds.) Lygia Clark: The abandonment of art, 1948 1988. New York: Museum of Modern Art.
(8) the expression “exercício experimental da liberdade” (experimental exercise of freedom) was used several times by the art critic mário pedrosa in his study of the work of hélio oiticica and lygia clark as a way to accentuate what he considered to be particularly relevant in their work, beyond the various concrete form they took. pedrosa was then confronted by art problems which each time more refused the pure form and took a conceptual turn. for more see Dos Anjos, M. (2017) Contraditório: arte, globalização e pertencimento. Sao Paulo: Cobogó.
(9) during brazil's military dictatorship, lygia clark self-exiled in paris, where in the 1970s she taught art classes at the sorbonne university. there are several writings from this period, such as Clark, L. (1994) ’Nostalgia of the Body’. October, 69, pp. 91-108.
(10) with the viewer participation becoming the focus of attention, and the object existing only in order to promote a sensorial or relational experience, in the end of her life lygia clark slowly moved away from traditional definitions of art and artist, employing the whole range of her interactive vocabulary in a form of synaesthesia therapy used for emotional healing. Fabiao, E. (2014) ‘The Making of a body: Lygia Clark’s Anthropophagic Slobber’ in Butler, C. H. et al. (eds.) Lygia Clark: The abandonment of art, 1948-1988. New York: Museum of Modern Art.
(11) this dates back to the concept of anthropophagy, present in brazilian poet oswald de andrade’s anthropophagic manifesto. de andrade’s radical text referred to cannibalism, inspired by a tupinambá ritual, as a way to imagine how brazilian culture could develop a distinct identity through the symbolic absorption and devouring of the dominant culture of the colonizer. though dating back to 1928, the manifesto remains a relevant reference point for contemporary brazilian artists who employ strategies of reappropriation and deconstruction in their practice. on cartographies marked by cultural hybridization, flexibility, and fluidity in times of oppression, see Rolnik. S. ‘Avoiding False Problems: Politics of the Fluid, Hybrid and Flexible’, e-flux, May, 2011.
(12) performative artistic strategies were a practice of resistance in Latin American countries such as Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. they have recently regained significance in contemporary debates, raising questions on whether these strategies are still able to undermine hierarchical structures or even transform political systems. for a retrospective see Munder, H. (ed.) (2015) Resistance Performed: An Anthology on Aesthetic Strategies under Repressive Regimes in Latin America. Zurich: Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst; as well as writings contemporary to this period such as Lippard, L. (1973) Six years: dematerialisation of the art object. Cambridge: MIT Press.
(13) anna maria mailino has polish roots. both her parents emigrated in 1922 to rio de janeiro, by then the capital of brazil: “Our house in Rio, a large two-floor building where we lived for the first 20 years of my life, was in a neighborhood with poor immigrant families from Portugal, Italy and Germany. There were also many black residents. We were lower middle class Jews”. for more see Chiarelli, T. (2008) ‘Anna Bella Geiger: other annotations for the mapping of the work’ in Bartelik, M. (ed.) POZA: on the polishness of polish contemporary art. Hartford, Connecticut: Real Art Ways, pp. 50-59.
(14) regarding an “aesthetics of underdevelopment”, see González, J. (2018) Memories of Underdevelopment: Art and Decolonial Turn in Latin America, 1960-1985. San Diego: Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego; as well as Roben, S. “Beyond the Margin”. Texte Zur Kunst, February 7, 2020.
(15) Pedrosa, A. (2020) Anna Bella Geiger: Native Brazil/Alien Brazil. São Paulo: Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo.
(16) in her own words, “One day I noticed that street kiosks were selling postcards with Brazilian natives depicted in beautiful utopian scenes. These images were not fake, but they were not real either. The captions on the back of the postcards said they were indigenous Brazilians. Anthropologically, that was correct. But where are the others? - I asked myself. Caucasian Brazilians like me, mulattos, caboclos, mamelucos? We have all kinds of ethnic mixes in Brazil. I think the idea of the regime was to show that it was protecting our natives, that the military regime was protecting our Indians. So I started making cultural analogies, using other photographs as postcards.” for more see Sural, A. "Anna Bella Geiger: Sami strzeliliśmy sobie w stopę [wywiad]". Culture.pl, 29 September, 2017.
(17) as very well said by paulo herkenhoff, “There is one Brazil. There are many Brazils. There are Two Brazils” (“Há um Brasil. Há muitos Brasis. Há dois Brasis”). Herkenhoff, P. ’Brasil/Brasis’ in Basbaum, R. (ed.) (2001) Arte Contemporânea Brasileira. Rio de Janeiro: Contra Capa, p. 359. regarding contrasting ideas on women, race and sexual orientation, see Simoes, M. "Brazil's Polarizing New President, Jair Bolsonaro, in His Own Words". The New York Times, October 28, 2018.
(18) in her own words, “Cartography is a political instrument, and I try to explore the ideological possibilities of maps”. for more see Sural, A. "Anna Bella Geiger: Sami strzeliliśmy sobie w stopę [wywiad]". Culture.pl, 29 September, 2017.
(19) according to oswald de andrade, anthropophagic bodies go beyond the surface of the skin – they are forces and intensities, capable of opening and bending in order to swallow otherness. for more see Vinkler, B. J. ‘The Anthropophagic Mother/Other: Appropriated Identities in Oswald de Andrade’s ‘Manifesto Antropófago’. Luso-Brazilian Review 34, 1 (1997): 105-111.
(20) not only bolsonaro has allowed coronavirus to rise unchecked (attacking movement restrictions, masks and vaccines), as well as he has allowed a high rise in deforestation of the Amazon, and used a dictatorship-era national security law to pursue his critics. “The Guardian view on Jair Bolsonaro: a danger to Brazil, and the world”. The Guardian, April 5, 2021.
(21) david kopenawa has recently said about their long lasting collaboration that “She is not Yanomami, but she is a true friend. She took photographs of childbirth, of women, of children. Then she taught me to fight, to defend our people, land, language, customs, festivals, dances, chants, and shamanism. She explained things to me like my own mother would. I did not know how to fight against politicians, against the non-indigenous people. It was good that she gave me the bow and arrow, not for killing Whites but for speaking in defense of the Yanomami people” - excerpt of his speech given in brazil at january 2018, during the opening of the exhibition “claudia andujar, a luta yanomami” at the instituto moreira salles in sao paulo.
(22) since their contact with colonizers, most of the amazon’s indigenous peoples were killed from the 16th to 19th centuries by disease and massacres. with the later expansion of the rubber trade, mining and agribusiness in the last century, several indigenous groups were extinguished. in the early 70s, brazil’s military dictatorship launched the program perimetral norte (north perimeter) that aimed to open up the amazon and exploit its resources for economic purposes. this program involved the construction of a vast road network, which crossed through yanomami lands. the economic and political project brought many outsiders into the amazon, rapidly leading to the breakdown of yanomami social fabric and the propagation of deadly diseases within their communities. for more see Albert, B. Covid-19: Lessons From the Yanomami”. The New York Times, April 27, 2021.
(23) during this period, claudia andujar starts combining her photographic practice with anthropological immersion, visual experimentation and political activism: “The doctors thought that I was spending too much time taking photographs. Sometimes I used an entire roll of film for one person. But this is the way I work. I wanted to show the intimacy that developed between us”. for more see Köchling, C.’Meeting Claudia Andujar’ in Gaensheimer, S. (2017) Tomorrow must not be like yesterday. Frankfurt: MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main.
(24) Eileraas, K. (2003). Reframing the Colonial Gaze: Photography, Ownership, and Feminist Resistance. MLN, 118(4), 807-840.
(25) Andujar, C. (2009) Marcados: Claudia Andujar. São Paulo: Cosac Naify.
(26) as a swiss artist in exile after the second world war, claudia andujar used photography to advocate for the rights of the yanomami in brazil. for more see Andujar, C. (2020) Claudia Andujar: The Yanomami Struggle. Paris: Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain.
(27) as recently said by herself, “These were the marked to die (“marcados para morrer”). What I was trying to do with the Yanomami was to mark them to live, to survive”. for more see Köchling, C.’Meeting Claudia Andujar’ in Gaensheimer, S. (2017) Tomorrow must not be like yesterday. Frankfurt: MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main.
(28) Almino, E. W. "An Artist Who Made Her Personal Life the Center of Her Art". Hyper Allergic, December 14, 2017.
(29) anna maria maiolino belongs to a generation of latin american women artists who have only recently begun to receive broader recognition. this group of artists reached the peak of their careers during the various south american dictatorships of the second half of the twentieth century and many took part in left-wing resistance efforts. for more see Calirman, C. ‘Epidermic’ and Visceral Works: Lygia Pape and Anna Maria Maiolino’ in Woman’s Art Journal, 35 (2), Fall/Winter 2014, pp. 19-27.
(30) Sneed, G. Gendered Subjectivity and Resistance: Brazilian Women’s Performance-for-Camera, 1973– 1982 (2019), CUNY Academic Works. Zürich: JRP Ringler.
(31) thousands of citizens were brutalized, as well as hundreds were killed during brazil’s 21-year military rule – a period praised by our current president. Phillips, D. “Brazil: tortured dissidents appalled by Bolsonaro's praise for dictatorship". The Guardian, March 30, 2019.
(32) recurrent themes in anna maria maiolino’s work are incommunicability, displacement and hunger. anna maria maiolino was displaced twice in her life: first from fascist italy, where she was born in 1942, and then from the military dictatorship of brazil, the country where she has resided most of her life. in 1968, maiolino and her husband decided to escape brazil’s increasingly violent dictatorship and moved to new york together with their two children. being in exile twice had an impact on her artworks, that are mostly autobiographical. for more see Asbury, M. (2019) ’Anna Maria Maiolino: Articulations and translations of and in antropophagy’ in Sileo, D. (ed.) Anna Maria Maiolino: O Amor se Faz Revolucionário. Milan: PAC and Silvana Editoriale, pp. 87-91.
(33) relating this to the present moment, in her meaningful words, “I am deeply concerned with the current political situation in Brazil, and in the world. My working ethics have never changed and I am still haunted by the same ghosts of gender inequality, social injustice and all other forms of oppression”. for more see Brenner, F. “I allowed myself to be eaten: Anna Maria Maiolino on the Cultural Cannibalism of Brazil”. Frieze Magazine, August 18, 2019.
(34) on fake accounts working together with the government to spread disinformation across its social media platforms, see Avelar, D. "WhatsApp fake news during Brazil election ‘favoured Bolsonaro’." The Guardian, October 30, 2019.
(35) Zehger, C. d. (2014) ‘Anna Maria Maiolino: Ciao Bella - The Ins and Outs of a Migrant’ in Zehger, C. d. (ed.) Women’s work is never done - An Anthology. Gent: MER - Borgerhoff & Lamberigts, pp. 168-209.
(36) performed on a beach, in o ovo (the egg) lygia pape inhabits her own work, placing herself inside a fragile white box and tearing through it, reborn. the work was made shortly after she started experimenting with film, when she joined the cinema novo movement and began making more politically charged art. in her words, "You are trapped inside, covered by a sort of membrane; when you push on it with your hand, the membrane starts to give up and suddenly tears apart, and so you are born: you stick your head out of the hole and roll out”. For more see Alberro, A. (2018) ‘Like the Skin of A Whale: The Pluri-sensorial Art of Lygia Pape’ in Renaud Clément, O. (ed.) Lygia Pape. New York: Hauser & Wirth, pp. 8-25.
(37) pape started out as a concrete artist in the 1950s, making primarily wood reliefs and engravings of oscillating and dislodged geometric shapes. in 1959, she joined the neoconcrete movement with her friends hélio oiticica and lygia clark, making artworks that was more sensual, enveloping, and musical. in the 1970s, she taught architecture at the universidade santa úrsula in rio de janeiro, where she made a point of having students study favelas and improvised architecture. together with her friend, the artist hélio oiticica, they explored the margins of the city, developing a particular fascination for street vendors. in a similar vein, she devoted herself to studying brazil’s neglected indigenous cultures, inspired by their devotion to crafts. this turn towards popular culture and indigenous roots in brazilian art in part sprung from a sense of disillusionment: the dictatorship had crushed the modern, utopian promises of the previous decade. for more see Wisnik, G. (2016) ‘Tropicália/ tropicalismo: The Power of Multiplicity' in Sussman, E. (ed.) Hélio Oiticica - To Organize Delirium. Munich: Prestel.
(38) she did, at first, envision this performance in a gallery setting, with the added element of hot air being blown from below the textile sheet. but the project was ultimately taken to the streets. staged during the military dictatorship, divisor gave people agency to move through public space in mass during a time when protests were suppressed and the streets surveilled. the huge sheet is cut with slits for participants to fit their heads through, so that everyone moves through a single piece of fabric together. the performance was for the first time realised with children from favelas, and later reenacted in the gardens surrounding rio de janeiro’s museum of modern art. for more contemporary reenactments of this artwork, see Almino, E. W. "Channeling Lygia Pape’s Radical Relationship to Space”. Hyperallergic, March 30, 2017.
(39) i understand her works as a subtle allusion to the heavy context of brazil’s repression. in 1973, pape was imprisoned for three months, held in solitary confinement, and tortured for having supported people who had been persecuted. for more see Candela, I. (ed.) (2017) Lygia Pape: A Multitude of Forms. New York: Metropolitan Museum.
(40) as the world tries desperately to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, brazil's president is doing his best to downplay it. against lockdown measures to control the coronavirus outbreak sweeping our nation, bolsonaro recently said: ”Stop whining. How long are you going to keep crying about it?”. for more see Aith, F., Reis, R., Ventura, D. "The catastrophic Brazilian response to covid-19 may amount to a crime against humanity". the bmp opinion, April 5, 2021; as well as Friedman, U. "The Coronavirus-Denial Movement Now Has a Leader", The Atlantic, March 27, 2021.
Claudia Andujar, Maloca em chamas - da série A casa ou A floresta (Maloca on fire - from The house or The
Forest series), 1976, Infrared Film Photography © Claudia Andujar, Courtesy Galeria Vermelho
Lygia Clark, Clark's proposition Canibalismo (Cannibalism) in use probably in Paris, 1973 © O Mundo de
Anna Bella Geiger, História do Brasil. Little Girls and Boys (History of Brazil. Little Girls and Boys),
Photomontage series, 24 × 22 cm each, 1975 © Anna Bella Geiger
Claudia Andujar, Urihi-a da série Casa (Urihi-a From the Series The House), 1974, Infrared Film Photography
© Claudia Andujar, Courtesy Galeria Vermelho
Anna Maria Maiolino, É o que sobra ( What is Left Over), 1974, Black and White Analogic Prints, from the
Fotopoemação (Photopoemaction, 1973-2017) series, variable dimensions © Anna Maria Maiolino,
photography Henri Virgil Stahl
Lygia Pape, Divisor (Divider) (1968), Chromogenic print, Performance at Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de
Janeiro,1990 © Projeto Lygia Pape, photography Paula Pape