ARTEQUEACONTECE interviewed Rosana Paulino about his works and his production, his great individual at the Pinacoteca, about the urgent questions that instigate his research and that mark the recent and ancient history of the country. Check below the best moments of a relaxed and fascinating chat with the artist!
Julia Lima: How did you start to be interested in art?
Rosana Paulino: My three sisters and I often drew pictures instead of playing with dolls. Each one had a character, we drew them and our mother encouraged that in us a lot. Where I lived there was a very plastic type of clay, it was close to an arm of the Tietê, a small creek. So my mother took this clay and gave it to us to play with. We made everything, little animals, dolls, let them dry in the sun and then painted, added things, put pebbles, put flowers. We joked around a lot. My mother never liked electronic toys, mechanical toys, where the toy plays by itself and the child just watches. She always encouraged us to make the dolls' clothes; when it was a little house, making the furniture, the cars… Anyway, we were very encouraged in this “manuality”, and this develops the “doing” but also an aesthetic sense. This interest was increasing more and more and it was one of the options that appeared when it was time to take the entrance exam. I ended up choosing between two disciplines, art and biology, and I like both to this day. I continue to follow the question of biology a lot.
JL: Indeed, biology appears clearly in some appropriate materials, and it also appears symbolically I would say. It's not just in botanical studies or the human body, but in installations that accumulate countless little objects: sometimes some works remind me of natural history museum collections, you know?
PR: I think there are two views of biology in my work: we will have studies of insects, studies of bats, biology seen in a very symbolic way, thinking a lot about personal growth. There is a series of drawings called “Attempts to Create Wings”, a more humorous, almost ironic look. There are those drawings of cells that have the formation of the eyes, the formation of the female sexual organ, a great joke. Even the weavers, who are those insect-women who draw life from within themselves, you know. And there's a discussion of Biology as a science itself, biology for real, because I'm going to look at the issue of pseudo-sciences and how they collaborated to form an image of the black population, which is very negative, and I'm going to discuss how pseudo-sciences they also helped to justify slavery and consequently racism. It is an analysis of the history of science itself. Science as science, as history and how it influenced society.
JL: As a domination mechanism too, a tool. As you said, to justify certain historical actions.
PR: Yes, for sure, that's biology right there, it's science.
JL: And the very expography of your individual show reinforces this relationship, first in a symbolic way, then more literally. The very way of exhibiting the works, some of the supports reinforce this relationship with biology.
PR: Of course, in the case of “História Natural”, which is the album, the idea is to show it as if it were a biology book, it is always shown inside a showcase. This was Pedro Neri's idea, to put those drawings together on the wall with those huge frameless glasses, this also reinforces this idea of a natural history museum, of collection.
JL: It's curious because I think this creates a tension, a strangeness between the use of fabric, sewing – which is something so affective, so domestic even – with something so scientific or pseudo-scientific, which seems colder, more rational. Do you see this tension?
PR: There is, but I think this tension comes from the fact that I don't exactly think of sewing, but I think of suture. This “Wall of memory” is really a seam, but after the backstage works, I'm going to develop the concept of suture for these works, there's also a good dose of irony, especially in the case of the backstage. When we think, for example, of women, we will think of embroidery, a protected environment, and God knows what happens inside the four walls, so those mouths that don't scream, those eyes that don't see, that's an irony .
JL: This image of the eye is very strong, especially when it is completely obliterated by the line. But there are also bodies that do not fit together, there is this mismatch in some works, the parts do not fit together, and then they are sutured.
PR: Yes, it's a settlement, right? In the case of “Settlement”, I want to show with this suture the violent process of slavery, in which the “option” these people had was to remake themselves or die, they had no choice. The idea there is those images that do not close, it is precisely to show the trauma of slavery, because these images will never close – this complete remake is impossible. This is the trauma, the debt that Brazil carries. And what is even worse, Brazil carries this debt and is not responsible, it does not actually assume it. When we are going to talk about compensatory policies, they say “that's mimimi”. It seems that Brazil never looked at its responsibility. Most of the trafficking took place when Brazil was already a nation. O Brazil has a responsibility and does not assume it. He never assumed, and any expectation of change, of assuming, of discussion, continues to be treated violently. This is a trauma mainly for the black population but not only for them, it is a trauma for the country as a country.
JL: It's a collective trauma.
PR: And in the case of the black population, I would also like to reinforce another fact, that I was not interested in numbers. I know that approximately 5 million enslaved people entered the country, but I wasn't interested in numbers, I was interested in human trauma: how did these people survive? How did they do it? What is it like to be in your country, to be kidnapped and thrown to the bottom of a tomb, on a slave ship, to arrive in another place, to have to remake yourself? And still they sat. The settlement comes from that, they settled a nation. I was interested in that. Between the suture, that violent way in which that population was placed within this new environment, and that black line that, if you look closely, is a line that resembles the line of surgical stitches. Hence the use of this line, bringing to the forefront what is hidden. Because the seam usually tends to be hidden, we don't see it, so there are a whole series of associations that I make with this issue – it has more to do with the suture than with the seam.
JL: This opposition between sewing and suture that you use seems very important to me because sewing, in theory, is something of creation, or repair, which is supposed to be hidden. When you put that verse out there, it's really to open wide, it's to show as much as possible this trauma, this scar that won't disappear.
PR: It is to bring to the discussion, Brazil pretends that this is not important, that these 352 years of slavery left no marks on a country – of course they did. act as if they couldn't do anything else. And, in reality, I think it's these years, these hundreds of years, that will shape the country as it is today, in the midst of the world's social inequality. It wasn't something that fell from the sky, this has a history that was simply swept under the rug and not discussed, and then people don't understand why the country doesn't work. Then they don't understand why society has problems – obviously it will.
JL: And they are still reinforcing the myth of racial democracy, reinforcing these myths that everything is fine now, but in the end this makes everything even worse, because it is not openly discussed.
PR: The problem is that it was never [okay], things don't form because God wants them to, but in Brazil sometimes it seems like that. Things have a history behind them, they have a whole policy, they were the result of something. I think the idea, when I bring these images, when I bring this way of thinking about the image, of the sutures, is precisely to emphasize this and think about it.
JL: And do you think that the fact that your exhibition was at the Pinacoteca between 2018 and 2019, at this critical moment that we are going through – you spoke, of course, of the political issue, we have seen the worst unfold, the veil is being removed and people are losing their shyness about revealing certain positions – do you think there is a synchrony with the exhibition? What was it like for you to put together this show at this stage in our history?
PR: I think it came at the right time, it couldn't have come at a better time. It's no longer possible to maintain this illusion, this veil is falling, it's time to discuss if we really want to be a country, it's time to put the cards on the table and that's it, we have to sit down and discuss yes, it's no use keep dragging this dirt under the rug. I think it's a tragicomic moment, I think that's the word. Maybe it was necessary for us to get to the bottom of this wound to start accepting that something has died as a country, there is no way to pretend that things don't exist. As the Chinese say: inside every tragedy there is at least something positive, and I think the positive thing was that the masks really fell off: that this is a fascist, violent country, which has immense difficulty in dealing with justice , with social justice. It just doesn't recognize it and that's no wonder, it's clearly the result of 350 years of slavery. As a nation, if we don't do an exercise in looking at this, if we also recognize ourselves from this point of view, things won't work out!
JL: I think reaching rock bottom has this advantage, then we can step on the ground, build momentum and start climbing back up.
RP: The hard part is knowing if we've reached rock bottom (laughs).
JL: We are a very unequal country, especially with regard to the racial issue that permeates its production, but the gender issue is also present. There is a potent feminine aspect, a very strong feminine force in your work.
PR: Without a doubt, these issues between gender and race are what define me as a person, because I've always wanted to think about my place within this society and I can't do that without looking through these two aspects that are totally undervalued in Brazil. So much for being a woman, which is already difficult – men think from an early age that they have rights over you and over your body, and being a black woman makes the situation even worse. All my work will have this discussion. It's deliberate, I want to bring these elements into the conversation when I started my work some 25 years ago, evoking the issue of the feminine. In my first month of college, I was lucky enough to see the exhibition by Bispo [do Rosário] that enchanted and impressed me. There was also Leonilson, who also used a lot of embroidery and fabrics in general. It was at another time, we didn't have this statement that I bring. I wanted to bring hair, I wanted to bring needles, I wanted to bring these elements that are undervalued to address this devaluation, not only of the feminine, but also the devaluation of the manual in Brazilian art.
JL: Yes, there is a prejudice against what is sometimes called handicraft, or textile art, embroidery…
PR: Still has! And I graduated at a time when the conceptual was still very strong at the university. So the manual was a highly negative thing, derogatory and I have a culture where the hand is used a lot, so I want to bring this, why can't I use it?
JL: There's a generational issue there. In his generation, people denied this manuality. After the 1980s, in the 1990s there was an abandonment of painting, gestures and craftsmanship. You went against the grain: didn't that scare you a little?
PR: Look, I think I'm very headstrong, I'm from Aries and I'm the daughter of Ogun and Iansã, so every movement is forward, in a sense of fighting. If I want to use it I will, why not? Then, when you're in your 20s, which is when I started using these techniques, it was a moment when I didn't care, there was something about youth too. Today, looking back, I see that it was really my personality, very contentious, I really marked the ground. It wasn't an elaborate thought like now, it's maturity. At the time, it was like this: I am this, I come from this group, I'm going to use it and that's it. Now I can look back and make a more logical, more rational analysis, I can put it on paper. But that's it, I'm not going to leave who I am outside. I can't take off my skin, take off who I am and inside the classroom become someone else, that doesn't work!
JL: In recent years, there has been an effort to rewrite history to include women artists. How do you see your work – not from today to yesterday, but from today to tomorrow – fit into this movement from today to the future?
PR: I had never thought about it in that sense, it is a job that responds to urgent questions for me. I had an urgency to deal with some issues and I tried to work with them and my work never stopped happening, it always rotated. It might not be happening here in Brazil but it was out there. The first exhibition was not in Brazil, it was abroad. I don't think about that possibility, I never thought of it, just as I never stopped to think about it before, it came from an urgency to discuss certain issues. I also can't stop now to think how it is, what role is played, I continue with this urgency to discuss certain issues because they were so covered up in Brazil, they were so denied here, that I realize that we have a huge delay in the discussion issues related to gender, race – not only black people, but indigenous people as well –, the issue of minorities in general, because it is still something that is stuck in the throats of many people, the majority of the country.
JL: Perhaps the work itself is the answer, I think you continue to produce so actively that perhaps the work itself responds to these yearnings of our current moment and signs of the future.
PR: Yes, I think so, because that's what I know how to do, it was the language I chose so that's where I take the discussion, that's where I put it on the table. Then the story tries to organize it.
JL: Duchamp said this, that history in the future decides what it will write.
PR: That, the history of art then tries to organize this, we want to show that for those who are artists these paths are not so important, how are you going, how are you going, at least for me the crucial thing is what is in your throat, what is stuck here, and still stuck.
JL: And it's what moves you to produce?!
PR: Yes, that's what I know how to do and that's the answer.
(with collaboration of Hugo Salgado)