The majority of the posts written before have been mine and Dinho’s, but today we have a special guest to help us write, post, share, and more generally with every other detail of the project.
Juan Sebastian Barreneche (Sebas) is my best friend from home and has made his way down to Salvador to document the happenings of A Beleza do Subúrbio. From Colombia to Miami to New York and to the rest of the world, he has explored fiercely, and we are so excited to have him here helping us on this project.
Sebas was responsible for putting together the video on the Kickstarter page that enabled us the funds to make this project a reality, and he is now working on a short documentary to share the process with all of you! Here are some of his words, his thoughts, and experiences since he arrived a few weeks ago.
Gracias, Obrigado, Thank you Sebas.
Hello everyone! J. Sebastian Barreneche here–or, simply, Sebas. It’s time for me to introduce myself. I’m the ‘creative type’; I work with visual mediums to support or drive social change initiatives. My role in ‘A Beleza do Subúrbio’ is to capture, on video, the experience of the workshops and final exhibit. I hope my work will be able to document the initiative, and become a medium for those inside and outside of Subúrbio to learn more about the neighborhood, its inhabitants, art, stories, and history—the many things that encompass the beauty of such a marginalized area.
I don’t often have the habit of writing down my thoughts, but I do constantly think about and discuss my points of view with people I come across (so why not you all?). I spend a good amount of time acknowledging things that interest, confuse, and intrigue me, and I explore them further—my goal is always to learn a little bit more about where I am, and those I’m with, along with learning about myself and the way I experience the world.
During this time I’ve jotted some notable experiences and what follows is a short excerpt of this. I felt it would be beneficial for anyone reading that might not be familiar with Brazil, for me to share my thoughts and first impressions on getting to know Subúrbio Ferroviário from an outsider’s perspective–especially now that the final exhibit is happening so soon! I write because I like discussion, so I welcome any questions or comments:
I’m sweating a bit—it’s hot and humid outside, but mainly I’m just nervous to order my lunch at Boteco Seu Caneca, the small outdoor bar/eatery in the Barra neighborhood of Salvador—my home for the next two months. ‘Nervous’ is a bit of an exaggeration, but trying out my Portuguese in public often gets me sweating. I’m on my own for the first time since I arrived to Salvador a week ago. A week earlier I had landed in São Paulo, finally marking my first time in Brazil. After a week of diving right into the action, getting to know the area, sorting how the filming will take place, I finally have some time to write down some mental notes from my first experience leaving the center of Salvador for Subúrbio on my second day in the city:
First Impressions: Subúrbio Ferroviário
We leave the irregular cobblestone sidewalks of the beachside Barra neighborhood on bus, following the edge of the city along the seaside (enjoying some of the most beautiful views of Salvador’s coast); water to our left, residence buildings new and old to our right. After half an hour of traffic, as we leave the center of the city, the water views remain, but to our right, the structured buildings (hardly any new and many in deteriorating stage) give into brick and aluminum-roofed homes and road-side businesses built close together—ultimately engulfing the view as we reach the innards of Subúrbio Ferroviário.
While traveling, the first time I go anywhere new—and questionably insecure—I stay hyper aware, while allowing myself to enjoy new sights. I notice some questioning looks aimed towards Cella and I—it’s possible we come off as tourists, speaking often in Spanish and English, when my Portuguese cannot keep up with conversation. Tourists don’t usually stay on the bus past Pelorinho, Salvador’s famous colonial city center. I know I can ‘fit in’ to a certain extent—your everyday Brazilian comes in many shades, shapes, and social classes. Bahia, however, has the largest concentration of black Brazilians, so more often than not, it is assumed that I am not from the area.
Going into Subúrbio I know my place as an outsider, and I’m aware that often brings about safety issues—especially being a male in male-hostile context. As I ride from The Center (‘O Centro’) of the city towards the periphery, there is less ‘security’ and this brings a question of security for whom, or from whom. For many, having police forces present gives a sense of safety, for others, it most certainly hints at conflict (much of the discussion of violence in Bahia often surrounds ruthless police raids in poor neighborhoods where innocent bystanders become casualties). However, acknowledging my place as an outsider, as a ‘tourist’, as lighter skinned is important, especially when outsiders that do come into Subúrbio often carry things of value with them (in my case, this is certainly true as I have to carry camera equipment) and can be targeted for muggings and the like.
In Brazil, these assaults are often deadly, so it is very important to be very aware of oneself and the surroundings. The few minutes walking from the bus stop into the neighborhood of small brick houses and somewhat-paved road, until the location where we would meet Dinho, felt the most unsafe—Cella already familiar with the neighborhood, moved confidently. As soon as we met up with Dinho (whom I’d yet to meet but had heard many fascinating stories about) and we went inside the location where the (highly anticipated) Acervo da Laje is found, I felt the warmth and safety of the home/gallery space. I’d seen photos of the Acervo (meaning ‘Collection’ and referring to a small gallery space) while working on the video for the Kickstarter; however, it was a very different experience being inside for the first time. I’d imagined a large collection of small trinkets in a room, nicely arranged for people’s enjoyment. What I found was an aesthetically-pleasing gallery, curated in a way that not only fit and highlighted the artwork (all of it pertaining to artists from Suburbio) but seems to engulf the viewer in an interesting experience of appreciation, curiosity, and history/learning—An experience very much like finding a mesmerizing section of an ancient library (which a room of the Acervo also hosts!). Growing up in relatively safe communities in the U.S, and blending in more often than not, I move about with a certain ease and sense of safety that is certainly a privilege. Once we head out with Dinho’s company I felt a big sense of security in not being a wandering outsider but instead a guest of the community who can move more at ease (however, in this environment, no one really has the privilege of moving about without remaining aware).
Although one senses hostility, Cella is a prime example of being welcomed into the community after prolonged involvement. No more than two minutes into my ‘orientation’ around the community, a young girl approaches us with open arms: “Marcella!” she says with a smile and goes to hug Cella. Cella asks her if she is headed to school and she assures us with a grin as she continues on her way. This scene became more common as we moved deeper in Dinho’s neighborhood. “E aí!” “Oi!” “Boa” are exchanged between Cella, Dinho, and the neighbors—I smile back politely and offer a “Bom dia”, sweating a little bit.
My next post will discuss my experience working with the project, the students, and the changes (or lack thereof) I have felt becoming a regular visitor to Subúrbio. Till then I hope you enjoy the artwork being released and the many insightful posts shared by both Dinho and Cella. Stay tuned…