“Among Us” at Pivô, the cultural art nonprofit in the Copan, offers a remarkable survey of emerging Brazilian photography, spanning the decade that Instituto Moreira Salles (IMS) has administered its ZUM grant program. With 250 works from twenty artists—mostly photos but also video and installation—taking up the entire first-floor space of the venue, the exhibition presents an overview of evolving social, environmental and political concerns over the last ten years, a particularly tumultuous time. It does so organically, through the presentation of projects selected over time for the grant, rather than through a heavy curatorial hand, though clearly the grantors responded to certain kinds of work when making their awards.
Don’t expect to see much art for art’s sake. Even the most personal work connects to larger social topics like race, class and sexual identity, all fraught issues in Brazil.
For example, Aleta Valente draws upon her own history to inform her film, “Avenida Brasil 24h.” Here is how she explains it to Rob Goyanes, writing at the Art Basel web site:
“When I lived in Bangu, a neighborhood in the west zone, 50 kilometers from downtown Rio, where I grew up and where three generations of my family have lived, I normally spent six hours of my day on the bus. This exhibition is about pendulum migration: when people go from their house to work every day – it’s about the counting of hours. I worked as a bartender, would stand for hours at work, and then stand on the buses. One year, I lost the feeling in three of the toes of my right foot; it was thrombosis. Then I had an epiphany: a problem for the city becomes a problem for my body.”
In “A água é uma máquina do tempo (Jogo da memória),” Aline Motta constructs seemingly vintage artifacts as a commentary on the erasure of Black people, especially during the Atlantic crossings that brought enslaved Africans to Brazil.
In a similar vein but dramatically different execution, in “Vênus” Val Souza builds a collage of images of Black women over the ages as a commentary on representation. Likewise, the chemist-turned-photographer Eustáquio Neves reconstructs a photo of his grandfather, even though none are known to exist, in “Retrato falado [Facial Composite].”
Even the most seemingly joyful work in the show, the “Mestres de cerimônias” by Bárbara Wagner and its exploration of music and dance, hints at a complex conversation about race, class and gender. Likewise, “Zoo,” by João Castilho seems like a tranquil animal photo, yet it’s deeply disturbing in its mystery.
And in a timely commentary—whether intended that way or not—on the recent anti-drag movement in the United States being fomented by the right wing, Rafael Bqueer made short films about the drag queen collective, Themônias [Themonias], that Bqueer helped found.
Not all of the work is personal, with exquisite and powerful documentary images including those of Tatewaki Nio. After studies in Tokyo, Nio spent a year in Salvador before studying photography in São Paulo; his work (“Na espiral do Atlântico Sul”) explores a fascinating reverse diaspora of sorts, where freed enslaved people returned from Brazil to Nigeria and then constructed buildings that resembled the colonial architecture they’d escaped.
Given Brazil’s role as the world’s lungs via the Amazon, you might expect a fair bit of environmental imagery but not so much here, where colonial history and personal narratives tend to command the most attention. However, Dora Longo Bahia’s “Brasil x Argentina (Amazônia e Patagônia),” a video installation that documents the effects of environmental policies and global warming in both countries, pretty much says it all in a powerful, disturbing way.
The exhibition has not been organized chronologically, allowing themes to emerge, even though each of the twenty artists is presenting an individual exhibition of sorts.
At Pivô, Av. Ipiranga, 200, loja 54, São Paulo, through July 30.