In the early autumn of 2018, I got the very exciting news that I had been accepted for a residency I had been dreaming of for years: six months in Brazil, mapping, interviewing, learning from, and listening to artists and curators working with environmental issues in this very large and complex country. I was over the moon. Until, a few months later, Brazil shocked the world with the news that the controversial Jair Bolsonaro was to become its new president. In addition to his homophobia, sexism, and racism, disregard for the environment became another reason to be seriously concerned for Brazil when Bolsonaro came into power.
Examples of disastrous new policies are numerous, one of the latest being the plan to get rid of the National Council of the Environment (known as Conama), the panel that protects 60% of the Amazonian rainforest. Bolsonaro will replace Conama with a small group of appointed politicians so “environmental permits” can be given out more easily. Permits allow for infrastructure (roads) in the Amazon, accelerating business – as well as deforestation and displacement of people and animals.
It had already been a very rough start for Brazil with the collapse of the mining dam in January, which released a stream of about 12 million cubic meters of toxic mud that rapidly covered land and infiltrated waterways in and around Brumadinho, costing the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of people. The same mining company, Vale, was involved in a big dam disaster only three years earlier in Mariana. That mudflow killed at least 177 people and polluted hundreds of kilometers of river. Because of their long lasting impacts, these are considered the worst environmental disasters in the history of Brazil.
As if this isn’t enough, Brazil is also the biggest consumer of agrochemicals (herbicides and pesticides) in the world. Artist Pedro Neves Marques made this very comprehensive video-map of contamination and poisoning, based on the research of geographer Larissa Mies Bombardi.
For such an incredibly beautiful country with so many environmental challenges, it’s inspiring and somewhat hopeful to see how many artists are responding. This was the most difficult Top 10 out of all the Top 10s I’ve compiled so far because there were so many amazing initiatives I couldn’t include – it should have been at least a Top 25!
At the same time, a lot of artists are leaving the country and a lot of incredible initiatives have proven to be fragile; they have no funds to continue, are losing their space, have uncertain future, and are facing political pressure. The organizations that survive seem to be the ones that have been around for many years, the ones that are often outside of cities, keeping a low profile – places that could almost be considered refuges for artists.
This article is a homage to all the people and places in Brazil facing drawbacks: we stand in solidarity with you, respect and admire you, and see and celebrate your inspiring work. Here are my Top 10 personal favorites below (in no particular order), and I hope to share a lot more insights on art/environment in Brazil from this summer onwards.
Believing in the visual arts’ ability to understand nature as a subject, and recognizing that nature has a history and the right to exist, the programs at LABVERDE are developed in close proximity to the field, and try to understand how nature operates and is a protagonist in the maintenance and expansion of life. LABVERDE was developed in association with Manifesta Art and Culture, and The National Institute for Amazonian Research. Conceived by a multidisciplinary team of highly qualified specialists in art, humanities, biology, ecology and natural science, LABVERDE encourages a deep understanding of the Amazon region. The journey starts with a boat trip into an ecological reserve in the heart of the Amazon region, allowing a selected group of artists to explore the rainforest at different scales and from different perspectives. Hands-on experience and theory are integrated into 10 days of intensive activities.
Capacete was founded in Rio de Janeiro in 1998, born out of a local necessity to not only gathers people but also to gather thoughts and time. It exists at the crossroads between art institution, residency program and educational platform, offering undefined experimental programs. Capacete believes that art is a tool for knowledge and that it can teach us something in a specific way. It is not unlike an anthropological project, in the way it focuses on human beings, their way of being, and their interactions with each other and the world. Our natural environment unmistakably plays a very important part here.
3. A L T O Art Residency
A L T O is an art residency in the mountains of Alto Paraiso, 230 km from Brasilia. It exists as a container for self-directed artists who wish to be inspired by the unique surroundings of Alto Paraiso: abundant raw nature, jungle and fauna, and a powerful and ever-changing landscape which can provide inspiration, or a background for the production of new work within the context of our connection with the land and sustainability. A L T O provides a space for critical observation, conceptually and technically. It is held at Mariri Jungle Lodge, a creative home and permaculture project space, where as an add-on to the residency, there is the possibility of cooperating with local sustainability efforts. Resident artists can work in the orchards and organic vegetable patches, or participate in recycling, healthy nutrition and bio-construction efforts, providing further connection to the land and its dwellers.
4. Yvy Mareay Institute
The Yvy Mareay Institute (Land Without Evil in Tupi-Guarani) is a nonprofit organization that supports experimental, ecological and sustainable art practices. Located in a 25-acre area in the extreme South of Porto Alegre, the Institute has as its mission to share the experience of art with nature. It promotes permanent conservation, and innovative and interdisciplinary actions that conceive of the environment as a space at risk. The Institute is the ideal place for artistic, cultural and environmental practices.
From 2013 to 2017, Lanchonete.org was an artist-led, cultural platform focused on how people live and work in, navigate and share the contemporary city with the center of São Paulo as its focus. The name comes from the ubiquitous lunch counters – convivial, fluorescent-lit, open-walled, laborious points of commerce – that populate almost every street corner. Lanchonete.org was about the issues that big cities face, the different forms that “urban power” takes, and the Right to the City, but not insomuch as to define these constructs… rather to stretch the platform as far as is necessary to consider diverse viewpoints. Now, Lanchonete.org is making a transition to the Associação Espaço Cultural Lanchonete.
6. Casa do Povo
Inhabited by a dozen groups, movements and collectives, some for decades and others more recently, Casa do Povo operates in the expanded field of culture. The transdisciplinary, procedural and engaged programming understands art as a critical tool within a process of social transformation. Without a fixed schedule, Casa do Povo adapts to the needs of each project, in order to support both neighborhood associations and non-standard artistic proposals.
7. Terra Una
Since 2003, the NGO Terra Una has worked to promote and support transdisciplinary actions aimed at ecological regeneration, social redesign and integral development of human beings. To do so, it operates in urban and rural areas in Brazil, carrying out events and projects in socio-environmental, economic, artistic-cultural, therapeutic and educational areas. Terra Una seeks the integration between contemporary art, ecology and sustainability as it believes in art as creative action in the face of the social and environmental challenges. It has been running its artist residency program since 2007 and has hosted more than 100 artists.
Kaaysá is a residency for artists and writers who wish to develop their poetics from intimate contact with the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, the sea, communities of fishermen – caiçaras – and Indigenous people who inhabit the region. Programs include hands-on experiences, expeditions, interdisciplinary exchanges, rituals, integrative practices, interactions with the local community and project follow-up by mediators. Residents are invited to leave their footprint in order to provoke reflections, changes in the landscape, and social counterparts. Immersion in nature and displacement offer challenges that allow for a realignment of body and mind, which may in turn suggest experiments that would not be possible in the day-to-day life of the city. Founded and managed by two women – Lourdina Rabieh and Lucila Mantovani – Kaaysá believes the decolonization of the look, the rescue of the wild body, the enchantment as language and coexistence, are the founding principles of non-hierarchical relationships.
Nuvem is an initiative designed to bring together desires, people, actions and thoughts, in order to host insurgencies about distinct areas of interest. Nunem look for an autonomy that points towards sustainability. This autonomy is not only technical – energy generation, communication networks, transportation – but related to many other spheres: environment, economy, society, culture, nourishment, health, body, territory. In a context where cities have become more and more unsustainable, Nunem believes a rural setting is the most appropriate place for these experiments.
Silo – Art and Rural Latitude is a Civil Society Organization of Public Interest dedicated to fostering and publicizing cultural projects in rural areas, with the aim of bringing about transdisciplinary exchanges between different fields – above all art, the sciences and technologies – and stimulating exchanges between intuitive techniques and scientific knowledge. This is done through artistic residency programs, citizen labs, themed workshops, educational actions, agroecological workshops, and activities focused on women leadership and skill development. Silo also organizes activities for children, youth and adults. The organization is largely run by women and is committed to gender equality and the sharing of knowledge without harming women.
(Top image: Amazônia Insomnia installation by Hugo Fortes. Photo by Bruno Zanardo for LABVERDE.)
This article is part of the Top Tens series.
Curator Yasmine Ostendorf (MA) has worked extensively on international cultural mobility programs and on the topic of art and environment for expert organizations such as Julie’s Bicycle (UK), Bamboo Curtain Studio (TW) Cape Farewell (UK) and Trans Artists (NL). She founded the Green Art Lab Alliance, a network of 35 cultural organizations in Europe and Asia that addresses our social and environmental responsibility, and is the author of the series of guides “Creative Responses to Sustainability.” She is the Head of Nature Research at the Van Eyck Academy (NL), a lab that enables artists to consider nature in relation to ecological and landscape development issues and the initiator of the Van Eyck Food Lab.