The woman behind Videobrasil discusses the growing exchange between artists in Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa.

Art organisations around the world have shown a fundamental interest in showcasing Brazilian art to an international audience. Art Radar speaks to Solange Farkas, Founder and Director of Associação Cultural Videobrasil, about this growing trend.

Portrait of Solange Farkas © Videobrasil Collection. Photo by Renata D’Almeida.

Portrait of Solange Farkas © Videobrasil Collection. Photo by Renata D’Almeida.

Brazilian artists from the emerging generation find themselves in an era in which boundaries in the art world have dissolved. The artists’ practices and visions highlight the social and economic issues in Brazil. While artists like Lygia Clark, Cildo Meireles and Ernesto Neto have long been a part of the international art scene, the interest in contemporary Brazilian art is growing in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region.

At the same time, art in this region has been consistently maturing and Arab artists have been successfully represented in Brazil through the support of organisations that encourage artistic exchange. Such organisations have been active in presenting Brazilian contemporary art to the MENA region in return. Art Radar speaks to Solange Farkas, Founder and Director of Associação Cultural Videobrasil (São Paulo), on promoting such artistic exchange.

Additionally, Farkas conceptualised and is the Chief Curator of the Contemporary Art Festival “Sesc_Videobrasil”, which in 2013 celebrated three decades of the fostering, disseminating and mapping of contemporary art, with special attention to productions from the geopolitical South (Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, South and Southeast Asia, and Oceania). Within the Festival programme, Farkas also brought to Brazil exhibitions of renowned international artists such as Akram Zaatari, Bill Viola, Gary Hill, Peter Greenaway, Marina Abramovic, Olafur Eliasson and Walid Raad.

In addition to the Festival shows, Farkas has curated exhibitions such as the African Contemporary Art Show (2000), Sophie Calle’s “Take Care of Yourself” (2009) and “Joseph Beuys – We are the Revolution” (2010-11). As a guest curator, she has participated in the 10th Sharjah Biennial (2011) and the 16th Cerveira Biennial (Portugal, 2011). In 2014, she curated a special 30-year video programme at Georgia State University (Atlanta, USA). From 2007 to 2010, she was the Director and Chief Curator of the Museum of Modern Art of Bahia (MAM-BA).

Videobrasil will present a special curated section of film and video at this year’s Art Dubai – Marker (18-21 March 2015).

Walid Raad, 'Preface to the Fourth Edition', 2013, video. Image courtesy the artist and the Louvre.

Walid Raad, ‘Preface to the Fourth Edition’, 2013, video. Image courtesy the artist and the Louvre.

How did the relationship between Videobrasil and the MENA region begin?

In the 10th Festival, in 1994, the Competitive Show became broader, taking in participants from across the entire Southern Hemisphere. As the Festival went global, the following edition (1996) saw the first entries from MENA countries – by the artists Akram Zaatari (Lebanon) and Malek Bensmail (Algeria).

At that point, one could already sense the need to seek a connection with international artists who had something in common with us here in Brazil – politically, culturally and socially speaking. That was when I started mapping out our peers – artists who, like us, inhabit places that enjoy little visibility within the global scenario, and particularly within South America. Videobrasil’s flair for acting as an articulator of contemporary art drives us to seek new mirrors, ones that are detached from hegemonic thinking. Since then, I have been researching contemporary art from the Middle East, Africa, and more recently the Caribbean.

These closer ties quickly evolved into a special edition of the Festival. The 14th Videobrasil (2003) was utterly inundated by proposals from Akram Zaatari, Ghassan Salhab, Gilbert Hage, Joana Hadjithomas, Khalil Joreige, Lamia Joreige, Marwan Rechmaoui, Walid Raad and Walid Sadek. All of these are artists from within this region, whose artworks were shown in the exhibition “Possible Narratives – Art Practices in Lebanon,” which I invited Christine Tohme and Akram Zaatari to curate. The Competitive Show of the 14th Festival also showed works of other MENA artists, such as Bouchra Khalili (Morocco), Ethem Özgüven (Turkey), Jalal Toufic, Nabil Kojok, Rabih Mroué, Roy Samaha and Sheila Hara (Lebanon) and Shirin Kouladjie (Iran).

When was your first visit to the region and what did you showcase?

Besides seeking to switch art productions back and forth between Brazil and other countries, we believe in the importance of encouraging South-South exchange, including the MENA and other Latin American countries.

So upon being invited in 1999 to participate in “Ayloul Festival 1999” at the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut, Lebanon, I presented the “Contemporary Southern Hemisphere Videoart” programme. Instead of showcasing Videobrasil’s competitive programme highlights, we set out to provide an overview of contemporary video productions from the Southern Hemisphere. In curating this programme, I featured some of the most important, inventive Brazilian video artists to date, like Carlos Nader, Eder Santos and Lucas Bambozzi.

By Carlos Nader, an artist of Lebanese descent, we featured a namesake autobiographical piece. Nader expanded the notion of autobiography by interviewing poets, philosophers, and ravers. It was at once a video about the author, about anyone and no one, an essay on the boundaries of identity. By Eder Santos, we featured Tumitinhas, a visual interpretation of a poem that subverted the ideal solution and the perfect meter of traditional nursery rhymes, while exposing aspects inherent to love. Lucas Bambozzi appeared with “Ali E Um Lugar Que Não conheço,” a series of experimental video-poems about the fascination with the unknown, with what one doesn’t yet possess or know.

The show also featured artworks by Marcia Antabi, Marcondes Dourado, Aggêo Simões and Marcus Vinícius Nascimento, Inês Cardoso and Francisco de Paula (Brazil), Diego M. Lascano and the duo Pablo Rodriguez Jáuregui & Gabriel Yuvone (Argentina), German Bobe and Guillermo Cifuentes (Chile), as well as Merilyn Fairskye, John Gillies, Janet Merewether and Moira Corby (Australia).

Claudio Bueno, 'Estudo para Duelo', 2013, installation. Image courtesy the artist and Videobrasil.

Claudio Bueno and Paula Garcia, ‘Estudo para Duelo (Study for Duel)’, 2013, installation. Image courtesy the artist and Videobrasil.

Which Brazilian artists have you showcased in the MENA region in the past few years?

After this first exhibit, I took a growing interest in the region and in the interaction between local institutions. In 2002, we took the 13th Festival winners on a tour programme to Lebanon, as part of the event “Home Works – A Forum on Cultural Practices in the Region,” held in Beirut’s Ashkal Alwan. On that occasion, we showed the first video piece by Rosângela Rennó, now a prominent artist in the Brazilian and international contemporary art scenes, and by Wagner Morales, a member of an up-and-coming generation of video art makers. In that same show, we once again featured the works of Eder Santos, Luiz Eduardo Jorge, and Lebanon’s Mahmoud Hojeij, another prize-winning artist from that edition.

In 2006, I went to the Istanbul Art Fair (Turkey) with the “Outras Paisagens” programme, showcasing not only the works of Brazilian artists of the likes of Cao Guimarães, Roberto Bellini, Marcellvs L. and Eder Santos, but also of artists from other Latin American countries, such as Federico Lamas, Silvia Rivas, Andres Denegri and Gustavo Galuppo (Argentina), Jorge Alban Dobles (Costa Rica), Octavio Iturbe (Uruguay), and Gabriel Velarde (Peru).

For the 10th Sharjah Biennial (2011), in the United Arab Emirates, I guest-curated the “Visual Utopia” exhibit, featuring works by Brazil’s Jonathas de Andrade and Roberto Bellini, Argentina’s Gabriela Golder and Bolivia’s Claudia Joskovicz.

In 2012, we held the first edition of our Videobrasil in Context project, in partnership with the Delfina Foundation (London, United Kingdom) and Casa Tomada (São Paulo, Brazil). The Delfina Foundation, one of the Videobrasil Residency Network partner organisations, is developing a residency programme involving artists from MENA countries, from places like Halabja (Iraqi Kurdistan), Damascus (Syria), Bethlehem (Palestine), Muscat (Oman), Dubai (UAE), Beirut (Lebanon) and Ramallah (Palestine). For Videobrasil in Context – an international artist exchange programme closely tied with the Videobrasil Collection, sponsoring commissioned artworks to be incorporated into Associação’s collection – Brazil’s Claudio Bueno and Egypt’s Mahmoud Khaled were selected via an open call. For three months, the winning artists undertook residencies in São Paulo and London. Their creative processes were portrayed at London’s Whitechapel Gallery and the artworks commissioned under the project will be exhibited in 2015 in São Paulo.

What was the audience response like?

It was quite positive, especially in Lebanon, with which we have a special connection, since there are significant numbers of Lebanese immigrants living in São Paulo. I guess people are very curious about Brazil and, in a way, these programmes reveal a lot about Brazilian society.

Do you think Brazilian contemporary art is a current trend in the region? Where did this trend emerge from?

In the mid-2000s, as all eyes turned to the BRICS countries, maybe the interest in contemporary art from Brazil could perhaps be seen as a trend – and certainly a vital one in terms of showing our productions to the world.

However, the efforts of MENA organisations, biennials, and events to broaden their reach by adding Western (and Brazilian) artists to their programmes goes to show that, more than a trend, this interchange is the outcome of a desire to become familiar with art productions from across the Atlantic. I believe there is a true interest in understanding both our similar and dissimilar productions, examining our commonalities and our differences, and encouraging artists and curators from different cultures to discuss our practices, articulations and potential interactions.

Established events such as the Sharjah Biennial, the Istanbul Biennial and those I had the pleasure to attend are crucial when it comes to building this connection.

Malak Hassan


Related Topics: Lebanese artists, Brazilian artists, promoting art, film, video, interviews, biennials, curators, fairs

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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