Focusing on the Aglomerado da Serra region—located in the south of Belo Horizonte, in Minas Gerais—the show at SESC Pinheiros is composed of more than 300 photographs produced by the photographers—who are themselves residents of those communities—and which record local daily life from 1960 to 1990.The exhibition draws us into a labyrinth of images, but not like those monumental ones that try to depict somehow the struggles, challenges and poverty commonly associated nowadays with marginalized representations. Instead, we are faced with common fragments of reality so powerful and fragile at the same time that they take our breath away.
The curatorial line bets on the quality of the images that connects them as social documents, which put them far from being treated as beautiful postcards from a world of precarity unknown to many museum publics. The inherent intersections between racial issues and marginalized communities, popular culture and the desire for social recognition presented in the photos help to deconstruct the misreading that favelas are insular places, autonomous zones far from any cultural or social apparatus. Of course, the official government has failed to provide the most basic services and welfare, and even if the evangelical churches, police violence and narcotraffic step in, the strength of its culture still finds a way to survive and thrive.
There is a high-quality, clean and straight character in all the images that promote a kind of reversal action against what is being classified as “Black figurativeness” in Brazil: it makes those productions step far from the complexities of an Eurocentric colonial baroque consciousness that is evoked in the representation of situations where life and death are put uncomfortably close—but at a precise distance to create the right media effect and so generate the impact that the art market likes to empower.
The strength of this show also relies on an observation that we are witnessing not only real histories of real people, but in fact, we face art in its most essential and functional use: in the articulation of language that dignifies the involved subjects, from the fine and masterly use of photographic apparatuses and typologies of films by the photographers, the capturing of very common daily situations forming an array of meticulous portraits of a neglected part of Brazilian society, to the security of an iconology that is at the same time refined and simple, which only a lifetime of work and real involvement with communities and their needs may produce.Without a doubt, we do not feel the discomfort of the generalizations or anything that sounds a little “artificial” that permeates the skyrocketing contemporary productions in the art system nowadays (sometimes just to fulfill the non-stoppable market eagerness for novelty and the soaring negotiation of identities). We experience, instead, the most basic necessity of having time to explore moments, events and people in their affective memories and most vulnerable and beautiful conditions. The true sense of reality, need and fulfillment echoes in everyone and every part we look at. All this makes the show one of the best visual productions in Brazil in the last few years.
“Retratistas do Morro” is on view at SESC Pinheiros, Rua Pais Leme, 195, São Paulo, through November 20.