Words by Bruno Mendonça*
WE COULD BLAME THE STARS for the current moment – perhaps Saturn, or Mercury in retrograde transit –, but it would be no use. The present has forced everyone to rethink life’s micro- and macropolitical issues. Day in and day out, we realize that several structures, systems format what we ourselves created as a society have not worked out.
The present unfortunately shows that, even if we have accomplished a lot, we have failed as well. We may look at this with fatalism – or as the potential for change. If on the one hand we do see groups moving in the direction of change, on the other we also watch, on a global scale, entire nations, institutions, organizations, and other social groups take the op- posite path, by stumbling on old preconceptions instead of resignifying. A reactionary wave rolls over the globe, and its main characters are far-right leaders and the upholders of an increasingly oppressive economic system, a savage postcapitalism. Within this complex socio- political and economic equation, one of the clearest factors may be the massive resumption of migration flows, creating a true paradigm for the field of international relations – one based on the problem of refugees and illegal immigrants.
In her paper “A Era dos Muros” (“The Age of Walls”), Brazilian artist and researcher Giselle Beiguelman discusses the dramatic reality
of a world that, against the tide of waning borders of yore, has been reinforcing those same borders by means of protectionist, xenophobic attitudes. Beiguelman’s paper sheds light on alarming data: if after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall the number of polit- ical barriers dropped from 15 to 13, the policy of obstacle-erection after 9/11 has seen that number leap to 50, pointing to a retrograde move in the face of progressive and expansive ones.
The issue of the refugees puts us in touch with deeper wounds, stem- ming both from colonial practices that led to catastrophic processes and from slave-system policies that engendered race and class problems. If postcolonial issues are now increasingly discussed, one sees, in fact, a clash between past, present, and future, based on overlapping gash- es that never healed – a mixture of living and caked blood, the fruit of centuries of aggression and violence against otherness.
Refugees are a sad reflection of this body that has been irreversibly commoditized. It’s a body that has fallen victim to its own civilization and humanity, revealing our entire intolerance, religious or otherwise. The body of these people is one more body type that the present day has on display – the living problem that is the subject of poststructural- ist philosophy, or that different intellectual fields attempt to understand and/or resolve. They are bodies that derive from a policy which is other than affection – and which photographer Cassia Tabatini presents in the images that illustrate this text. In a subtle, poetic way, she shoots portraits of young refugees and illegal immigrants living in São Paulo, coming mainly from countries in Africa. We see no victims in her photo- graphs, but individuals who will be seen, who carry this potency for change, and who have an interest in a better, humanized society.
In today’s context of post-truths, refugees create – or are – what Art Theory Professor José Miguel G. Cortés, of the Fine Arts School of Valencia (Spain), refers to as “dissident cartographies.” That is, they destabilize because they bring to the fore communities that have under- gone lengthy processes of invisibility as a result of a Eurocentric view of the world, a view that created a narrative hegemony of sorts. Such “dissident cartographies” are emerging, deterritorializing, border-push- ing, and they encourage us to create new maps.
*Bruno Mendonça is an artist and researcher. In recent years, he has been a member of Centro Cultural São Paulo’s Critique and Curatorship Group and a guest critic in the 32nd São Paulo Biennial.
Images by Cassia Tabatini