Chapter two of our Interview series dedicated to the work of the Brazilian artist Igor Vidor, who has had to leave his home country with his partner due to the death threats he has received since the accession of the new Bolsonaro government.
At present he is working from Berlin in an artist residency at Künstlerhaus Bethanien.
In this chapter we talk to Vidor about his participation in the ongoing group exhibition Against, Again: Art Under Attack in Brazil at Shiva Gallery in New York.
But also about the massive influx of European and North American funds contributing to the lucrative and intermittent cycle of violence in Latin America, and how the artist tries to avoid reproducing the violence of his home country in his work.
Studio Visit, Igor Vidor, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, 2020 © Esther Harrison
Berlin vs Brazil. Unsettling in.
Igor, a few months have passed since we first met at your studio at Künstlerhaus Bethanien. How have things gone for you in your work and life since then and how you are settling in?
As you might imagine, such an abrupt change is not simple. I really think that having the status of an immigrant is difficult everywhere these days. This is a time of adaptation and gaining understanding, given the circumstances that brought my partner and me to Berlin.
In the midst of all this, it is necessary to continue researching and trying to follow everything that has been happening in Brazil and Latin America. There is no escaping that. I remember in the first Open Studio in the KB I presented a text with the title I’m still there.
Well, little has changed.
There is a lot at stake in what is happening in Brazil right now.
Much of the work that I had been doing had a direct relationship with the territory, at least with regard to research and elaboration of some works. The distance has imposed a review of my process.
How do you produce work about what moves you as an artist and researcher when you are so distant? I want to focus on several artworks you have developed, starting with the bedsheet pieces you have produced, based on the ones still soaked in the blood of the victims covered in the sheets. How did you arrive at this idea?
I started to keep these sheets without really knowing what I would do with them. To tell the truth, this sort of thing happens quite often with me. It seems that materiality and circumstances need to settle in me and after a while something starts to make more sense.
It was no different with these bedsheets. For obvious reasons it is not easy to work with them, manipulate them, not only due to their nature but also regarding the stories behind them, the people I met. It took me a long time to approach them with another energy.
I did not want to reproduce the violence involved in their genesis. In fact, this has been an important parameter in my recent work – how to present something without reproducing its violent circumstances?
The Terror and fate within Teresa
In their final configuration, the pieces include a rope that twists and ties the sheets one by one.
In addition, they are interwoven with wire made of lead, the same material used in bullets.
This technique of making such rope has been used for centuries by prisoners in order to escape from prison.
It is known as Teresa, based on a 14th century Catholic myth.
I call the pieces of art Teresa and Moira in reference to two mythological figures I use metaphorically in my work.
In Greek mythology Moira are the sisters who spin the thread of life.
An allegory of fate.
I believe that the emphasis on the contrasting materials (fabric, blood and lead) draws attention to their apparent disparity.
When you realize the rope is real, and consider the metaphors orbiting it, the Teresa and Moira work presents us with a paradox – namely the intertwining of the ideas of destiny, freedom and escape.
Igor Vidor, Teresa, 2019, fabric, blood, lead © Igor Vidor
To come back to your question, it has been significant for me to work in European countries on pieces that use actual proof of the lucrative and intermittent cycle of Latin American violence fostered by the massive influx of European and North American capital.
It’s like closing the circuit. Bringing the real consequence to the system’s home territory.
Heraldry in combination with animals is very common in Brazil with its countless militias, military, state police, etc. Since we last spoke you have developed very powerful sculptures. What are you seeking to communicate in this respect?
There is a kind of allegorical thinking tied up with the meaning of public security in Brazil. In a recent interview for a newscast, Dr. Jaqueline Muniz said
“a war tank positioned on Copacabana beach during military intervention has the same effect as a samba school car in a carnival parade”.
Yet is there any likelihood of a tank being needed at the beach, and would it ever fire a shot – after all there are no enemies. So in that sense the battle tank becomes allegorical*, a pure demonstration of power-
Open Studios, Igor Vidor, Installation view Detail, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Dezember 2019
Not only that, it comes at the cost of depriving culture and education programs in order to actually purchase tanks that will never fire a single shot. In 2018 for example, 800 million reals were removed from culture and education to be spend on the military occupation of Rio de Janeiro.
*In brazil carnival cars are usually called “Alegorical cars”
The Aesthetic of fear
In Brazil, security is deliberately conflated with the protection business. This type of strategy finds echoes around the world. A strategy in which fear and insecurity are produced to sell supposed protection. All very profitable. Examples: private security companies run by officers, armoured glass companies of all kinds, electric fences, surveillance cameras, etc.
And that, obviously, has an aesthetic, a visual aspect.
The type of police found everywhere on the streets in Brazil is a legacy of the dictatorship, a left-over from the period when there were said to be terrorists in the country. Yet even though the dictatorship has long ended, these military police remain on the streets and act as if the supposed terrorist threat still existed.
From a militarized perspective the enemy needs to be eliminated.
And I ask you, who is the enemy?
Who is the hero?
Would another kind of police be possible?
A type of policing that even values the image that police have?
When we talk about heraldry we are talking about a colonial heritage.
We are talking about values transmitted by militarism since the imperial regime. Based on this imagery, derived from heraldry, I surveyed the hundreds of emblems used by police, battalions, special groups in the country. In the vast majority of them we find representations of animals.
If we consider how the indigenous people in Brazil use images of animals and how animals take on so many other meanings in their cosmology, I prefer to think that the images/emblems used by the police represents a gigantic distance from their own humanity.
As an institution and in terms of their strategy, the police are beasts.
We are talking here about barbarism as a practice based on an idea of policing.
I can list countless examples of this type of practice. In fact, just check out a lot of my work and you’ll discover a few of the thousands of cases.
Based on this connection of image, representation and barbarism, I have created a series called Allegory of Terror.
Considering the animals found on the emblems, I have used other images of the same species to create collages showing genetic misunderstandings, impossible interspecies forms and mixtures.
Once finished, I expand the collages to a larger scale.
But they maintain the flat characteristic of printing.
Even though the art pieces are three-dimensional, they maintain a façade aspect due to the rigidity of the substrate.
I like to think of this flatness or rather lack of volume as an analogy to the emptying of meaning from the original emblems.
Studio Visit, Igor Vidor, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, 2020 © Esther Harrison
Right now, I have been testing the printing of these images on bulletproof fabric (aramid). According to specifications, nine overlapping layers of these fabrics are enough to stop a 9mm bullet.
Printing on this fabric, adding a shielding layer over these images of the beasts is like unveiling the process of allegorizing the representation of the idea of policing, which in the end causes real problems with regard to human rights.
Against Again: Art under attack in Brazil
Tell us about the recent group exhibition in New York you took part in.
The exhibition Against, Again: Art Under Attack in Brazil addresses the present transnational wave of authoritarianism by featuring a number of art practices that respond to oppression in Brazil.
What do you hope to achieve by showing your works in America, especially in this political climate?
It is important to say that in my view, New York is not the USA. The city is different from the rest of the country. I mean New York responds very little to what could be identified as an opinion about what my works and even the exhibition presents for US.
That said, the most important part for me was to show my work publicly again after a year and a half of being threatened. Art is born with the curse of having to be exhibited, shown. I can certainly say that not being able to work is very frustrating.
With regard to the political scenario, sectors of the U.S.A. directly interfere in Latin America politics. In that sense I dare to say that Brazilians ought to have the right to vote in U.S. elections, but in view of the last candidate elected as Brazilian president, I think we would make a mess of it. But still we should.
Just go to the Lyndon Baines Johnson library in Austin, Texas and ask for the famous audio where you can hear President Johnson authorizing military support for the military coup of 1964 in Brazil.
Before that, you can also consult several hours of audio where you hear President Kennedy in his efforts to overthrow the Brazilian President João Goulart. And so the dictatorship in Brazil happened.
Wasn’t it the CIA that in 2015 hacked and spied on President Dilma Rossef’s emails? You just need to check the WikiLeaks documents. It is notorious; there is irrefutable evidence about such interference.
The current regime is no different, and has support from the Koch Brothers in addition to so many others.
Today the U.S. is the largest base of international support for the Bolsonaro government.
Brazilian Art under Dictatorship
It is very important to have exhibitions like this on North American territory, as in the case of the overview by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on how art and culture have been treated as enemies of the people in Brazil. The invitation came from the curator Tatiane Schilaro, who has been based in NY for a few years and who has developed an interest in working with AnnexB, a New York residency that hosts Brazilian and Latin American artists.
The idea for this exhibition came from Claudia Calimman, associate professor and director of the Art and Justice Fellowship Program at John Jay College. She is also the author of Brazilian Art under Dictatorship, an important book published in 2012.
The whole project involves a selection of works and artist directly related to censorship contexts since the 1960s. Even with the end of the dictatorship, and the end of officially institutionalized censorship, we are facing a similar spectre again, but now this shadow is much more sophisticated.
Can you imagine that in the years of the dictatorship, some agents of the regime woke up every morning to look for all kinds of variations of words like penis and vagina in every publication, lyrics or artwork?
This is schizophrenia.
Well, in the 21st century, we are seeing this type of persecution again, associated with death threats and driven by social media.
Patriarchal far-right politics & fake news
Brazil is (like the U.S.) an extremely masculine country, with a rising far-right movement. I see a lot of the roots of these organized groups in these patriarchal structures. It constantly feeds an environment and produces a reality in which a dead person is no more than a commodity, a reality in which women, LGBQT people or just outspoken Intellectuals and politicians have to constantly to fear for their life. Do you believe this will change in future?
Unfortunately, the current scenario is very complex. Obviously Bolsonaro is the worst president in the democratic history of the country, but he was placed there. We could discuss the legitimacy of the route, as well as that of Trump, considering the proliferation of fake news. But it is this sophistication that needs to be combated. They don’t have to actually kill thousands of people to demonstrate their power; they do it in other ways.
So far there is no organized oppositional force in existence.
The social pacts signed since the constitution of 1988 have been broken and people have no points of reference. Regardless of party orientation, we see a lost and sick population. And maintaining the narrative is what makes those who prefer this scenario such powerful agents.
On the other hand, there has never been so much talk about politics in my country, whether for bad or good. The next mayoral elections, in October, will be an indication of what lies ahead in the next presidential election in 2022.
But leaving the political field aside, there is still much to be done in terms of civility, the fight for rights and character building. We still live according to the backward and conservative values at the heart of society in Brazil.
We will need many decades, in fact even more considering the setbacks experienced since 2016.
Hitman linked to Marielle’s murder killed by police
Adriano da Nóbrega, an ex-special forces police captain with close links to the family of Jair Bolsonaro was recently killed by the police in Bahia state. Nóbrega was a “key piece” in discovering who ordered Marielle Franco’s killing. Are you at all surprised?
Are you asking me if this was witness elimination? I have no information to corroborate that that, but nothing related with Marielle’s death surprises me anymore. What I do know is that Adriano da Nobrega was head of the militia linked to Marielle’s murder.
And as far as I know, it’s the same group that threatens me.
It is very suspect that even when this guy was in prison, he was awarded the highest honour by the son of the current president in a solemn ceremony at Rio de Janeiro city council.
What is known is that he was murdered at a place owned by a politician in the party that Bolsonaro represented as a presidential candidate. Before that Adriano da Nobrega lived in a luxury condominium.
There are various other aspects that indicate the involvement of the president’s family with militia groups.
Unfortunately, the Minister of Justice appears to have no interest in investigating these circumstances.
In fact he prefers to charge a punk music festival of supporting crime. The publicity posters showed Bolsonaro as Hitler’s moustache spewing a river of shit.
Is it in bad aesthetic taste?
It may be, but it seems to me there are many other cases that ought to concern the Minister of Justice, such as the murders by police officers at an unprecedented rate in the history of the country.
The same minister received a portrait of himself made from bullet cartridges from an alleged artist.
Was this also a supporting of crime?
In addition, there are dozens of cases of artists and exhibitions being censored in Brazil.
In the meantime the minister paraded in the streets on a war tank during the carnival. What more could be an allegory?
March 14 saw the passing of two years since Marielle’s death and we still do not know who ordered her murder.
EPILOGUE: During the opening week of the exhibition Against, Again: Art Under Attack in Brazil in New York, Igor received thousands of requests to follow his private Instagram profile – mainly by BOTs, and members of the militia went to his old home twice in Brazil to check if he was there.
To be continued …
Read more about Igor Vidor on his website.
Igor Vidor at Künstlerhaus Bethanien
Author: Esther Harrison