October 4, 2013
So much has happened in such a short amount of time, so many conversations had and reflections to share. I think a good place to start is expressing gratitude. We have already started workshops, are working towards settling a date for the exhibition, and yesterday the Kickstarter page officially came to a close. I have several doubts and questions about every minute of what I do here, but I can say with full confidence that seeing the Kickstarter page come to a close successfully funded serves as an important source of support and inspiration to make sure that we see this through. Thank you for reaching out and helping, for giving this Project a source of financial support, but more importanly, for demonstrating to the students that there are people all over the world who want to see this happen! We have made very clear to the student’s that the cameras have come to them as a result of donations. They have been careful and cautious, and are inexplicably excited to start photographing. We can’t wait to send out your rewards.
When we are far away from a place, it is easy to get lost in theory. We can read about a destination, see photos and movies, talk to people who are familiar with it, but only when we step foot in field do we really begin to understand what a place feels like. I return to Subúrbio Ferroviário with a bit of a feeling of distance and fantasy. I have spent the last few months in New York and Miami, putting together the background work in order to be here today, and my initial response was a feeling of disbelief. The pictures that I had been looking at, and posting on the blog and Kickstarter page, took precedence over the feeling that I have when I am actually here. I walked passed a school covered in graffiti, and stopped. It is an image I am so accustomed to now seeing in a virtual context, that I became disconnected with the actual place. It was as though walking by the school, seeing it from every angle, seeing it in person, finally pushed me back into being here. It became very clear that I have, in fact, arrived.
We have met with three groups of students and several individuals that have already inspired the project, our perspective of the place, and me personally. Dinho posted the other day about an artist whom we ran into one day as we were walking back from an excursion that we took to a local church. Dinho introduced him to me by his nickname, Índio. The carpenter has lived in the community for his whole life, and took no time at all to scold Dinho for not giving me a hat in this hot sun, and then invite us to his home. Upon arriving at the door, I became awe-struck by the poem engraved into the front door:
“Desde criança gostava de ouvir histórias. Logo cedo, elas me ensinaram que o mundo mais importante que temos, é o mundo interior. Aquêle que guarda nossas mais doces e incríveis fantasias. Até hoje, habito este mundo.”
“Ever since I was young, I enjoyed hearing stories. From an early age, they taught me that the most important world we have, is the interior world. The one that holds our sweetest and most incredible fantasies. Until today, I live in this world.”
Índio creates beautiful works of art, primarily working with wood, but also with words, with architecture, and with anything that can become a reflection of the interior world he acknowledges on his front door.
When I asked him how he learned to work with wood, he said it was a talent that surged out of necessity rather than creative freedom. It was initially a way to make money, but it soon became a creative outlet- a way to express and to release. Índio shared local stories, telling me about how he used to play outside while Dinho’s father would come by and sell bananas on his street on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. When I asked him how the community had changed since he was young, he came to tears and said, “It’s best that I not get started because it will make me cry”.
I stepped into his home and couldn’t quite process how I had ended up in such an incredible pocket of the world. I had just been walking along the train tracks with Dinho, alert and careful as it’s a bit of a dangerous area, and suddenly in it seemed as though I had stepped into a safe haven. The house, decorated with heavy wooden frames and benches, blue glass cups and mugs hanging as ornaments from shelves and wall units designed by Índio himself, books and photographs leaning on two stands that were previously used as yucca flour grinders, was dim and petite but comforting and inspiring in the amount of individuality and personal value it contains. He continually urged me to look around, showing me every room, every piece of work he had calloused his hands sculpting; there was an ever-present feeling of pride, a feeling that Dinho and I have come to find is in shortage in the periphery.
Dinho and I have discussed the issue of shame in great depths since I have arrived. As we focus into our project, we are continually refining what it is that we are really trying to achieve. In James Gilligan’s Violence: Reflections on A National Epidemic, the author discusses shame as the core sentiment that guides and drives violent behavior. When we feel shame, we sink into a deep place of insecurity and continuous comparison with others. In order to reestablish ourselves, many succumb to a defensive and aggressive seat—he claims there is a certain level of revolt and rebellion that spurs from a feeling of exclusion.
Dinho mentioned to me that living in this neighborhood comes with an overarching necessity to defend this as a condition. “I live here because I have to be close to my family”, “It makes more sense because of…”, etc. In other words, living here is acknowledged as a last resort, rather than a choice. This implies that if it weren’t because of circumstance, few would voluntarily choose to live here. This shame, this lack of ownership is what we are looking to work with.
When I told the students that the workshops were set in their own neighborhood, many of the students said they preferred to leave what is familiar and go on field trips elsewhere in the city. They said they didn’t understand why we would want to stay here to take pictures. Yet when I asked each student to say their name, and something they found beautiful about their neighborhood, every single student had something specific and poignant to share: my street, my house, the port, the train, the Acervo the national park nearby, the flowers, everything. There was not a single student who truly could not think of something… all it took was a little push, and the space to believe that their home is, in fact, beautiful.
Before I went into Índio’s home, he said to me that it looks small, but really it was larger than it seemed—there is a lot to explore in there. When I walked in, I became fascinated by how much time and love had been absorbed by every detail I came across in that space, and how much each discovery expanded the physical space itself. He looked at me with glossy eyes and said that it was coming to a point that he didn’t know if he could stay there anymore; “it’s too violent, there are too many problems, I don’t want to risk myself and my family anymore”.
As he explained his dilemma to me, he handed me a pink rock. Rounded on the bottom with varying hues and textures, he asked me if I was sad. Without really expecting a response, he told me to hold the rock whenever I felt sad or needed creative inspiration, as he has done for the last 25 years. It fit perfectly in the palm of my hand, and I held it as I listened to him explain the importance of his work, and how saddened he had become with the dying culture of artists from the community.
The plight of someone who sticks strongly to his beliefs, to his interior world, the world of fantasy and creativity, of adventure and beauty, is heavy and infinite. As artists such as Índio begin to fade into the background, we lose site of a living history, an individual with the potential to inspire and unlock the fantasy within the youth that are slipping into a seat of shame and guilt for being from where they are from.
There is no way to change this stigma in 3 months, no way to erase the memories of complaints and dissatisfaction with the neighborhood—we don’t expect this. But we do hope to expose these students to moments of pride; to moments of understanding the interior world and that the fantasies they have are no reason to feel ashamed. Moments of acknowledging that they are from here, and aren’t here as a solely result of something else that didn’t work out.
Índio let me keep the rock, and I have held it closely.