Voices from the osloBIENNALEN: Mônica Nador and Bruno O.
Curated by Daniela Veneri
“I do not think it is a matter of the role that you have, I think it is a matter of recovering the sense of solidarity, of community. It is a matter of changing the point of view, the content, the internal thing, not only its external role. Today we are almost criminalizing the sense of humanity and this is something that I do not understand. Sometimes we can not even recognize the humanity of people, and also artists can be very selfish and self-centered.”
- Mônica Nador
Which projects are you currently working on and which excite you most?
Mônica: We are currently working and making stencils prints for the next show that will open on August 10th at Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, “Somos Muitos”, that connected us with two projects: one is a reference center for homeless people, where they have an atelier, and the other is a shelter for transgender women. The Educational Program of Pinacoteca has been working with them and we understood it could be important to work together with this particular educator, Augusto Sampaio, that has a long experience with these groups, considering the fact that he works in a very similar way that me, formally speaking. We two are actually inspired by Indian patterns, what is quite interesting as a point of convergence. We worked with these two groups of people and we are going to make also a big patchwork for this museum, as well as paint a mural. After this project, we will join another collective exhibition in October, also in São Paulo, the 21ª Bienal de Arte Contemporânea Sesc_Videobrasil, where we will show some flags with the portraits of female thinkers and activists from Brasil. We will also be showing a some patterns I did from pictures taken by Georges Senga. I met him in 2015, when I was participating in the Lubumbashi Biennale. At that time I visited a very little agriculture village, in which women had this tradition of painting their houses by hand, with the most beautiful patterns. There is group of artists, that have created the Picha Foundation, who want to build a permanent printing workshop in this village, pretty much alike our space, Jardim Miriam Arte Clube (JAMAC).
At JAMAC we have been developing a series of activities, from drawing classes to yoga classes, open and free to everyone, engaging teachers and students from public schools in the area. We also take part of a educator’s network in Jardim Miriam, that have been creating different cultural initiatives for the neighborhood such as an literary festival that is on it’s fourth edition this year.
Bruno: I have been working with Monica Nador for 6 years now, and learning a lot from this process. As a researcher, artist and educator the opening of JAMAC as an artist practice has always been really inspiring and challenging also. How can we develop different understandings of art through the development of educational and social change processes? For the past two years I have been more engaged at JAMAC, where we have been developing a series of activities, from drawing classes to yoga classes, open and free to everyone. We have been inviting teachers and students from public schools in the area, neighbors and people from the area to visit and meet the space. We have also collaborating with an educator’s network in Jardim Miriam, that has been developing different cultural initiatives for the neighborhood such as an literary festival that is on its fourth edition this year.
What values and principles guide your work?
Mônica: I live in Brazil and here the distance between “US” and the “OTHERS” is crystal clear. When I was about eighteen years old, I was enrolled in a school of architecture, but at that time we had a dictatorship here and it was very difficult to work. My school did not get the license to continue existing and I interrupted my studies there. I then studied pedagogy, followed by history, and nothing worked for me until I finally found an art school that I could attend to. Studying art was somehow easy for me because my father was a painter. He was actually a doctor and an amateur artist, and he was very involved in the local cultural scene. He was always in some cultural commission and my house was always full of artist. My parents supported me in what I wanted to do, and I believe they actually wanted me to become an artist.
Under the dictatorship I did not want to make art because I did not want to paint for the bourgeoisie, as that was the experience that I had in my family with my father and his friends, but I studied art because I felt I could not do anything else. At that time I attended a school with a very capitalist imprint and there I learned that art has nothing to do with the real life: that art is something that puts us in dialogue with our artistic ancestors and our history, and that was all about it. In order to reconnect with my intentions I had to continue my studies, with my Master’s degree. At that time I met Douglas Crimp, (who has just passed away, unfortunately): when I read his texts I got really impressed. I was a painter but after reading his work I could not paint a single canvas anymore, not for at least ten years. Now I paint again but I do not think it is something important, I see it like handicraft, as a beautiful crochet towel, and I think it is okay to be like this, but I felt myself completely unuseful to the country, to the people, and I could not stand it. I have been driven by the need to change the reality of my neighborhood, to connect with other people. Because in the art scene, in Tokyo, in New York, in Rome, in São Paulo, we are all the same, but no one sees poverty, the class struggle, and no one takes responsibility for it. I think that we have the responsibility to do it, that everybody has this responsibility, and as I am an artist, not a doctor, nor a nutritionist, or engineer or architect, but an artist, the question that I asked myself was how could I be part of the construction of my country, as an artist? How could I make sense to this community? This has been driving my research, the need to make sense for other people, not just for the market.
For that same reason, I am very impressed by the project of the osloBiennalen. They recognized that the process is the most important thing, that art is not all about the object of art, the canvas, but the construction of dialogues. That is amazing.
Bruno: My work has always aimed at the investigation of aesthetic/ethic process and the constitution of artistic, pedagogical and essentially political counter-hegemonic devices and procedures. As a researcher, I have been influenced by Latin American artists (Monica included) that, from the 60s to today, have been proposing different understandings of art and the production of collective and shared meanings. That is, pointing to other forms of perception of the social structure and artistic production, at the same time as proposing other grammars, other practices, so that the aesthetic production (which is not limited to the production of images) can become emancipatory and promote change.
What are your most important objectives as an artist?
Mônica: I have always liked to work with poor people, to dialogue with them and be with them, think of how I could make a change.
I have been living here, in Jardim Miriam, in São Paulo, for 16 years now, and I moved here because I wanted to be near the local population. I always said that I wanted to make art for Brazil and it has been very good for everybody involved, we really changed things for the community in this neighborhood.
I needed to bring people and art closer to each other, because there is a big gap between art and public that I really could not stand. People hate contemporary art and I needed to bring them closer to this ideas, to this possibilities of imagination and freedom. I think it is very important to break this idea of art as being very far from the public, from real life.
When I started working here, I began painting houses from these poor communities. Initially I was working by myself but at some point I had resources from the from the state. It is interesting that the support did not come from the culture department but from the department of housing.
Culture is something that has always been very much persecuted by governments in one way or another, specially here in Brazil. When I came here for Jardim Miriam, at the beginning people did not want to know anything about culture (and even less art), but a few years later they started understanding what culture meant, and now these people, and many of them were factory workers, have become culture advocates and activists. Now they are organizing incredible literature festivals and cultural events. It’s a very powerful process.
What does it mean for you to participate in the Oslo Biennalen?
Mônica: I really appreciated the project of the Oslo Biennalen. It’s a beautiful opportunity, they were very open to our project and process. I participated in other biennales, but this one is truly engaging to our process, they have been hearing us, and we have been able to create together not only the structure of our work, but also the concept and the project of the biennale itself. We are creating together this other kind of institution, and it is particularly significant considering that Norway is a rich country and one could imagine theoretically distant from the themes that I work with and that are so important for us in the Global South.
The curators already knew me, they came to visit JAMAC, where I also hold my studio. Initially I wanted to suggest them to involve another local artist, but they wanted me and eventually I accepted.
It is important for me as an fundamental opportunity to meet people and projects from elsewhere, and also connect with other ideas, so we have the chance to create supporting networks. I want to connect Norway to Brazil. These connections are very important, specially in our political context, to find international support for cultural projects that have been so important for so many communities.
Bruno: Participating in this biennial has been an important learning process, not only because of the collaboration with Mônica Nador, but also because the format and proposal of the osloBiennalen, the curators and the biennial team, who instigates the development of other practices and understandings of the limits of our work and the institution. We are actually performing the institution with them, proposing other dynamics for our project and workshop, other practices for the public outreach and educational programs.
What specific challenges and opportunities does the local context of Oslo offer?
Mônica: As I work here in a country with such a big social gap, my challenge was to understand how my work could fit in Norway, in this other part of the world that is so different, at the top of the pyramid. It is very interesting what we perceived there.
Bruno Oliveira ands I wanted to work with immigrants, but it was rather difficult to start this dialogue, and in Oslo we actually could not even talk about this intention: people tend to believe that they do not have any prejudices there, and that everybody is really well accepted in Norway. The reality was way different from that, and we happen to meet a lot of people who were not being able to talk about the fact that they were suffering a lot of different prejudices, which are different from the prejudices that we have here in Brazil, for instance, and I thought we could do a very good work thinking about this other narratives, this other perceptions of religion, gender, race, class and migration.
What kind of impact do you see emerging from the Oslo Biennalen?
Mônica: To talk about the impact of this biennial we may have to change what we mean by art and what we understand as an exhibition. We should not expect a spectacle, its impact is as it happens, it is actually another important platform for exercising our vision by linking art and education to the same level of priorities.
Bruno: To talk about the impact of this biennial we may have to change what we mean by art and what we understand as an exhibition. We should not expect a spectacle, its impact is as it happens, it is actually another important platform for exercising our vision by linking art and education to the same level of priorities. We might not presenting an exhibition, but performing an institution, performing different possibilities of art and the public space.
How can arts and culture make an effective social contribution today?
Mônica: Being in close touch with education, health and daily life. I think the most important contribution that art can exercise today is to return culture to society and bring it closer to people, not staying within the super protection of the white cube, separated from the rest of the world. I think this process is so important and we have to connect with people, with the rest of the population, and to work along this connections.
I am doing the work I do because I want people to be connected with art and also to change the idea that talent is just a gift. I want to show them that talent is work, study, time, exactly as it happens for other types of work.
Bruno: It is of utmost importance to occupy social sphere in the production of community senses and to propose rearrangements and reconfigurations of the understanding of education, of change and of development within a specific territory. It is essential to remember and create different understandings from both individual and collective memories and constructions, as well as their to rethink, from the field of art, the visuality and the various oppressions that compose this visual system - gender, class, race, nation.
Who are your most important partners and interlocutors?
Mônica: One of them was Douglas Crimp, who sadly just passed away. I also have some very good friends, people who work in my same direction, like Bruno Oliveira who is my partner in Oslo Biennalen, a young researcher and artist whom also is involved in a cultural center and shelter for young LGBT people who were spelled from their homes, he brought me a much more accurate gaze on gender debate; teachers, journalists, and also the local people I work with here in São Paulo, and their own recognition is very important for me. Then there are also other artists, like Tania Bruguera, who will participate in the same exhibition I am working on Pinacoteca do Estado; Sammy Balogi and Georges Senga, that are trying to take some development in Congo, their country, through culture; I also have been paying attention to the work of SuperFlex…
Where do you see current shifts in the evolution/transformation of the role of arts and cultural players, institutions, curators, art managers, artists and big events like art biennials? Where do you see risks and challenges and where do you see opportunities?
Mônica: I think that institutions are completely “institutionalized”, super locked. I founded this place here, JAMAC, and I call it a non-institution because we depend much more on ourselves. I think that art institutions are a reflection of life as it is and they are currently something very objectionable. I see that they put a lot of money in a kind of vampirism of the poor, that I find completely disgusting. But this is our society and artists are the same, the art world is the same. The art system is made from many different parties, and I think that when you have curators like Eva and Per Gunnar, it’s a breath of fresh air in this scene. We need to show that helping people, promoting diversity, addressing relevant issues and proposing different understandings of art is not something to be criminalized for.
As an opportunity, I think that we have to connect with other peers who want to change things, because many of us are working in the same direction. We need to create a network and see what we can create together. We have begun constructing this kind of network of people who are working to change things and this can be something very powerful.
And by the way, it is wonderful that there is now this Indonesian collective in charge of next Kassel Documenta, this is a big change!
If you were able to change one or two things in the area of responsibility of arts and cultural institutions, curators, cultural producers, what things do you think would create the most value and benefit for all?
Mônica: I do not think it is a matter of the role that you have, I think it is a matter of recovering the sense of solidarity, of community. It is a matter of changing the point of view, the content, the internal thing, not only its external role. Today we are almost criminalizing the sense of humanity and this is something that I do not understand. Sometimes we can not even recognize the humanity of people, and also artists can be very selfish and self-centered. This is what I think we should try to change, even if I do not exactly how, it its a continuous exercise of looking around us, looking and listening to the others.
Or even better, it is very good that people from the global south, like the ruangrupa at Kassel are in charge of these big white, Occidental artistic institutions. We just hope they won’t be just working for the capital, being co-opted by the capital.
What forms of artistic proposals and contaminations do you think are particularly representative of current transformations and challenges taking place in modern society?
Mônica: I think if a work of art that does not consider the ethical question within aesthetics, it is already outdated. And I think the work of art is always an opportunity to include, to create dialogue people, a chance of teaching something.
When the artist works with many people, they have this notion that art needs to have much more people involved, although many artworks involving many people are more interested in an almost formal use of people.
I think that in order to produce good works of art today you need to think in a strategic way, to distribute the money, the common wellbeing, to create difference. I think we have to do this, it is our responsibility.
What is one cross-sector collaboration that you find successful, inspiring or interesting and why?
Mônica: I think arts in society are a matter of health, that culture is for society what the lungs are for us, what makes us breath. I like to work with social assistants, psychotherapists, teachers, educators. I think all the integrations are very important because art cannot be just about us artists. In order to recover our sense of solidarity and community, I think you need to address ethics and aesthetics, and if you don't work these two parts together, than I think that your work is already old, it does not work for this world, for this moment, and we have to work with this world, with combination of both ethics and aesthetics.
What I did not ask you that you think is important to mention?
Bruno: I believe that, in the current process of systematic precarization of cultural and educational work (I am addressing here the context of Brazilian political crisis), it is fundamental to question the working conditions and aspects that underpin the institutional work. Our experience with the osloBiennalen has been quite interesting and positive, not only because of the high valuation of work and the worker in the field of culture, art and education, but also because of the focus on the development of public sphere and public spaces (we are talking, after all, of a biennial financed entirely by public money). It is really important to ask those questions, in order to address together aesthetic and ethical issues.
Can you think of three or five keywords that express your impressions and feelings about the topics we just talked about?
Mônica: Contemporary art, education, feminism, social inclusion, mental health.
Mônica Nador (1955, Brazil) is a visual artist whose earliest works date from the 1980s. In 2003, Nador founded Jardim Miriam Arte Clube (JAMAC), a community centre that promotes lectures, workshops, activities and exhibitions among local residents to encourage the development of both cultural and political awareness in São Paulo’s Jardim Miriam district, where Nador lives and works.
Bruno Oliveira (1987, Brazil) is a visual artist and educator. Alongside Mônica Nador and Thais Scabio, he is a coordinator at Jardim Miriam Arte Clube (JAMAC). He is a researcher at MALOCA (Group of Multidisciplinary Studies in Urbanisms and Architectures of the South) and the coordinator of the cultural centre Casa 1 (São Paulo/Brazil), which offers shelter to LGBT people expelled from their homes.