In the beginning, there was no America. We have always been many, diverse, and vast. When the explorers arrived, they soon wrote letters and books telling of their great discovery and of how they had conquered an “island” in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.One among many of the perverse ironies that have been around since the beginning of modern times regards the very name chosen to rename the abducted land. The name Brazil emerges as if branded by a deep scar under the sign of shameless exploitation, its past wounded by a burning coal, under the watchful eyes of the guardians of the forest, leaving continuous tracks of destruction, expropriation and deforestation, never asking whether the time has come to stop, for it never should have happened. But the eyes of the guardians of the forest never ceased to sting.
In “Que nosso nome não caia no esquecimento” [“May our name not be forgotten”], Renato Bezerra de Mello’s first solo exhibition at Anita Schwartz, the artist sensitively tackles the demanding task of observing his own times through prisms which tell a story of violence that, for over five centuries, has stilled resistant lives and cultures. Bezerra de Mello thus impregnates the show with the color red to evince a Brazil stained by a flow of blood and the constant brutality of forms of greed, social injustice, prejudice and intolerance.
The will to investigate the notion of an approach to hospitality as a welcome of the other (and based on recognition of the foreigner that lives within himself) is among the apontamentos abissais of the work “Não somos um, somos vários” [“We are not one, we are many”]. The understanding that hospitality takes place between paradoxical relationships of otherness expands the meanings of such a fanciful conceit as docile and absolute welcoming. According to Alain Montandon, the importance of perceiving a gesture of hospitality consists, first and foremost, in rejecting a hostility that is latent in the view of of the guest/foreigner. To create the work, the artist appropriated old visiting cards made for his parents and printed upon the reverse side of each one the names of over 1.100 Brazilian indigenous peoples. The map of Brazil is remade along the spectrum of memory of its original territory, in consonance with a research list prepared by the Museu do Índio in 1998. In it, we confront the horrors inflicted by ethnocide as a motor of the colonial project.
Renato’s malaise in light of the growing banality of death threats in Brazil is transformed into abstract drawings and symbols, lines, stains and scrawls. In the exhibition, an unbound notebook sits upon a table; upon it red mandalas of different sizes may be perceived, line by line, page by page. “Alvos da Violência” [“Targets of Violence”] represents the memory of each death by firearms in Brazil, year by year, accord to official data gathered from the Map of Violence (available to the public since 1980).
The artist’s small “Confinement Notebooks” are filled with drawings about feelings of unease in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, all of which resort to the world of inscription to translate the collective fear and sadness experienced as of the initial orders of social distancing and lockdown. Simultaneously, Renato continued to develop the series “History explains, but does not justify” that he began in 2020. A group of 91 drawings are arranged in the gallery in the manner of the red news tickers of television journalism we watched over the past two years or so, a daily record of uncontrollable deaths by Coronavirus. Following extensive investigations, the Brazilian government’s colossal negligence and incompetence in handling the pandemic engendered a crushing surfeit of revolt and indignation to the indescribable sense of mourning for all of the lost lives and thousands of avoidable deaths. In the face of sweeping despair and wailing, Bezerra de Mello voices the cries and words of upheaval chanted in chorus in the streets and in private lives from windows.
There is no way to romanticize the bloody violence of daylight that has become eternal night. Like Bezerra de Melo, let us continue to seek out practices of cure and care in stories and processes of transmutation through art, surviving oppression and illness through the ancestral cultivation of ways of living in freedom. Thus we must continue our crossing, imagining and dreaming of possible futures in order to postpone the end of the world for yet one more day.
Bianca Bernardo, November 2021