Arte e Violência, cultura florecendo da tristeza, artistas invisíveis merecem ser reconhecidos… lá vou eu!
“A Bahia que vive pra dizer
Como é que se faz pra viver
Onde a gente não tem pra comer
Mas de fome não morre
Porque na Bahia tem mãe Iemanjá
De outro lado o Senhor do Bonfim
Que ajuda o baiano a viver
Pra cantar, pra sambar pra valer
Pra morrer de alegria
Na festa de rua, no samba de roda
Na noite de lua, no canto do mar
Eu vim da Bahia
Mas eu volto pra lá” (“Eu Vim da Bahia”, Gilberto Gil)
After four months in Salvador spent exploring, learning, playing and growing, I have been lured back into this mystical space. February through June, SIT provided me with the opportunity of meeting with countless activists and professors who are all seeking their own conclusions, but ultimately sharing a similar goal of the betterment of this city, and ultimately of “nosso Brasil”. A complicated feat in the face of little resources and ubiquitous corruption, but there are so many passionate individuals seeking this change, and I have found that here in Salvador, “sempre tem como dar um jeitinho”… in other words—there is always a way. And so I am back to the world of Iemanja and dendê, of coconut water and the hanging limbs of unforgettable banyan trees, of often-unfortunately-intimate bus rides, and sunsets that deserve applause, and so, receive it. This place breathes differently, and I continue to be amused by the surprises that make their way into my day, every day.
The past two weeks, I have been working with José Eduardo Ferreira Santos, or better known to me as Dinho, a professor, an art collector, a mentor, a community (mental) health agent, an avid researcher, and simply someone who cares in the most genuine of ways. Dinho was born and raised in the neighborhood of São João do Cabrito, on the outskirts of Salvador. This area is considered to be one of the most dangerous areas in Salvador, as the drug-trade has been the primary cause of death, and is increasingly taking the lives of adolescents in the area. For the past years, Dinho has dedicated his research to looking into homicide and violence in his neighborhood, and its impact on every layer of the community. Violence pervades a community from the focus to its outer rungs, and considering the incidence of deaths in this area, the entire community at this point, has experienced the reverberations of homicide and vengeance.
Today, Dinho is researching the concept of beauty in the favela. Considering the struggles that the locale houses—the marks of violence, poor sewage, unkempt roads and so it goes—has left the area with the stigma of “poverty”. When we think of poverty, the majority of the time we are socialized to associate the word with the things that are missing, with the lack of resources, with things stolen and lost. But this is an association that is made as a result of taking a very wide-end view of a space. Superficially, perhaps we find these differences, but when you take a step closer and seek the beauty, it quickly becomes clear that it is not only present, but bountiful.
Dinho has spent a number of years collecting pieces of art primarily, from Novos Alagados, but also from the greater Salvador. His intention is to show that beauty can be found anywhere; from trash cans to the local bar. In his home, a narrow and surprisingly steep staircase, leads you straight into what Dinho has established as O Acervo da Laje.. This space is a gallery, filled with unbelievably original and earnest work; there is everything from wooden masks of Orixás, to paintings that were collected from the trash, to sketches and shell collections, to aluminum lamps and pocket-watches from the 1940s. It is truly eclectic—and absolutely captivating. He opens this space to the neighborhood, and holds meetings with adolescents from the area to talk about art and tradition and the importance of these factors in light of everything that is going on in the neighborhood. Ultimately in the Acervo, art is a form of not only preventing violence, but also, a form rehabilitation.
I have spent my days listening to Milton Nascimento and photographing these works—some signed and others not—for two primary reasons. I am helping to keep inventory of all of the pieces that are now a part of this space, but I am also refining my intention to photographing the works that represent cultura negra, or black culture in Brazil. These photos will, hopefully, be shared at a festival held in November called “A Cena ta Preta”, an event that celebrates black Brazilian culture through art. The photos of the masks and paintings will serve as an accompaniment to Dinho’s text concerning São João do Cabrito, as a source of visual documentation of his research.
As always, I’ve jumped in over my head, and already have way too many ideas, and far too little time to make all of them happen. The other main project we have been trying to get going is a photography oficina, or workshop, intended to teach adolescents from the neighborhood basic photography in order for them to seek, and then capture, the beauty of their neighborhood from their own perspective. Things have been a bit… enrolado, as things typically are here in Bahia, which basically means that we haven’t been able to get that going due to a few complications, but hopefully things will get moving soon enough!
This project came together in a series of days; it was a thought and before I knew it I was back in Bahia trying to find cameras for the students to use. I want more time, as always, but I think this is a wonderful preface for what’s to come. I have my issues, my qualms, my concerns that continually have me questioning my actions; whether or not all of these efforts to better those situations that we interpret as “at risk”, truly do any good. Multi-lateral organizations, NGOs, micro-finance, social entrepreneurship, research, and so it goes—so many different ways to assess the same issues. But what truly differentiates this project from the others, for me, is that is comes from within. The majority of the time, we find that people tend to leave risk when they are given the opportunity; yet Dinho, has chosen to not only stay, but to look deeper. He has created this space for his community, and stands as a moral representative for good. It often takes one person to tell you that you are capable, to enable your potential—in this community, this role is taken by Dinho. Each piece in the Acervo has a story, and each person who comes into the space renovates the gallery with their own perspective, their take, their own interpretation.
It is an opportunity for peace and beauty in the midst of struggle and violence. But it’s influence works it’s way past the walls of Dinho’s home and into the rest of the neighborhood, reminding those who take the time to look, that there is a whole lot to see.