Coexistence, negotiation, symbiosis, metamorphosis, exchanges, conflict and regeneration: all the vibrant complexity of rural and urban ecosystems permeated the experiences of Azizi Cypriano, Lorena Portela, Yaminaah Abayomi and Rubens Takamine during the residency period of the  City of the Forest Project (projeto Cidade da Floresta).

Over five weeks, amidst walks and breaks, experiences and reflections, feasts and fermentations, several poetic and political shots were launched. During that period, the group of artists followed individual, collective, geographic and conceptual trajectories that are now materialized in the exhibition Beginning, Middle, Beginning.

The duration of the artistic residency programs is often destined for fluidity. Everything continues to happen even after the period of immersion, and the end ends up being confused with the beginning. In the exhibition, the artists explore this idea and invert the logic of the values in force, which reward arrival, achievement, the closed circuit. Thus, they revere digression as a project and the process as an intention.

Here, everything is a spear – an ancestral artifact that aims at the future while traversing the present, with all the restlessness of bodies navigating the concrete floor, the forest and the intersection between one and the other. The processes start, spread and remain alive like a seed that germinates and produces new seeds, or like the banana leaf that serves as organic matter for the banana tree itself. Past, future and present feed back and meet in the same place.

Astrid Kusser
Consuelo Bassanesi
Maíra Marques
Ynaiê Dawson

Azizi Cipriano’s language-gestures

The gesture that swallows the act in the immanence of its meaning. The act that is overcome without explanation, hands that intertwine avidly in search of a meaning reached in conjunction, dash that connects two or more words, chain that holds tension by strong scent, smell that complements and perfumes the moment of the act, ripe fruit, for no apparent reason in its existence, which is not asked, which is expressed only in its existence.

Breviário sobre o Corpo.
In: Arte&Ensaios 16. 65 p. Rio de Janeiro: PPGAV EBA, 2008.

My roots go down to the depths of the world, through earth dry with brick, and damp earth, through veins of lead and silver. I am all fibre.

As ondas.
Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 2004.

Azizi enters the room, and I immediately think of how remarkable her presence is – as if the body was fully aware of its strength, and took possession of it. Generous, she shares with me her story of exile, pain and transformation. She narrates how her artistic work was born together with the understanding of her being different, and how by gradually accepting her difference it became, eventually, a power.

Amid the revolt, the scream and the burning, the artist transformed her process into a rite that crosses art and life. Nothing will be the same after a traumatic experience, just as nothing will be the same after the ritual transformation of pain into performance, as in psychomagic. Healing that takes place in layers, like the thin membrane that covers a scar, which is an index of memory, as well as the always ongoing process of restoration. Healing that finds in ancestors and in the word a means of weaving an imaginary network of support and care, real and symbolic.

In the video “Além das Águas” (“Beyond the Waters”) we travel through space and time, sometimes watching the hardships of the violent encounter with colonial society, sometimes entering the artist’ family intimacy, being told about the importance of such strong and loving women who became a reference in her struggle. Azizi found in her grandmother and great-grandmother the image and affection of an ancestry that help her “gestate a black transvestite body in its fullness,” as she writes. She found a home in the terreiro (a syncretic meeting place for afro religious rites), a place to shelter her sensitive subjectivity, which tensions and transposes issues of race and gender.

The body has become this artist’s main material, as the main issues of the work are already found in its flesh and silhouette. Body that marks the difference to the oppressive standard; body whose joyful presence is in itself constant resistance. In Azizi’s process, body is culture.

In the movement-graphy series, performance and sculpture come together. The moving gesture raises a language-structure that needs to sustain itself on the ground, defying gravity, metaphorically and literally. With each work in the series, the artist builds a letter from a symbolic vocabulary imagined in reference to Candomblé (a religion of African origin). At each symbol-settlement we are faced with the invisible presence of an orixá (a god or goddess in that religion). In the eyes of the public, the symbols, made of clay, sticks, bamboo and straw, become a sensation and an encounter with an unknown language – a powerful experience of being in front of the mystery. The scenes are always situated, as each chosen landscape is also information.

Art and nature are inseparable in the processes of movement-graphy – art-nature embodied in the body in performance, in the environment, in the light, in the natural materials of the sculptures, on the earthen floor, in addition to the immaterial layer of nature evoked by the reference to the orixás. Masculine and feminine are tensioned and crossed, in the body and in the gestures that shape the clay, a viscous material that refers to femininity and fertility, just as it rises, sometimes phallic, embodying the freedom to move between genders and transcending any conservative category.

During the City-Forest residency, Azizi reconciled spiritual works and artistic immersion. The saint’s desires and her desire to live art were both inescapable. Amid many demands, the residency ended up becoming a moment of reflection on the limits of the body and how it is necessary to create time for rest and reverie. After all, when art and life intertwine, it is necessary to resist capitalist pressures of unbridled productivity. Stopping, resting and thinking are equally artistic work, as well as curing the flu and feeling the warmth of the sun penetrating the skin.

Azizi tells me that, given such experience, she was called upon to bring Omolu’s presence to the movement-graphy here presented. She tells me that Omolu is an orixá associated with the earth and embodies the relationship between illness and healing. Once again, the artistic process becomes a rite that stitches together art and life. As we watch her performance, we are transported to a sensorial experience, which can both provoke expanded eroticism in nature, as well as the relief of allowing time attentive to the other senses of the body, deciphering visible and invisible messages, and letting rationality evaporate, even if for a few moments.

Mari Fraga, 2023.

Contact surface: opening up to the other in Lorena Portela’s process

If everything is in everything, it is because in the world everything must be able to circulate, be transmitted, be translated. […] If the world is in all its entities, it means that everything is capable of radically transforming the world.

A Vida das Plantas: uma metafísica da mistura.
Florianópolis: Cultura e Barbárie, 2018.

Lorena arrives with an open smile and flowing colors. She tells a little about her life, full of different aspects, and soon the effort to reconcile artistic practice with other professional activities – environmental engineering, agroecology and collective health – appears as a theme. I think about how art is the pupil in this artist’s sensitive gaze, even if it is sometimes found below the surface.

How to make the process contaminate the other practices – to the point that it is no longer possible to differentiate between Lorena the artist and Lorena the researcher – is a challenge. In my eyes, Lorena is already an artist-researcher, because once pollinated by art, it is no longer possible to disconect from it. The artistic gaze becomes like the skin, a surface of contact with the world, intuiting poetry and contrasts wherever it is touched.

It is in the collective that the artist-researcher appears most frequently: as co-coordinator of an urban agriculture project in Morro da Providência, the Providência Agroecológica project, Lorena conceives ways to raise awareness and think about ecology through art. It is evident in that work how nature is inseparable from life and the city – after all, socio-environmental is written together. Working with nature in the city is thinking about its human dimension – how it affects health, food, and how agroecology can be an ally in social justice.

Lorena’s practice expands towards the collective, with its contradictions and riches – and then she becomes a proposer, mobilizing sensations and thoughts. Among many techniques and experiments in drawing, painting, graffiti, in parallel with research, Lorena asks herself: “what thread unites all these practices?” – and I think about how this interdisciplinary seam has to choose paths, while remaining flexible.

The series of path drawings makes one think of this itinerant artist, always moving both in physical spaces and in institutional and independent spaces. In collective journeys, Lorena translated two long walks into drawings: 55 km to Canudos following the rout of the “counselors,” and 186 km through the hinterland of Guimarães Rosa. The compositions of contrasts and spontaneous traits carry the transforming force of the experience situated in the landscape.

The series of mantles – paintings on fabrics made to wear – makes us think again of the art that becomes the epidermis, covering the body with colors, textures and abstractions. In the City-Forest residence, Lorena joined the drawings and the mantles, immersed herself in her process to discover a methodology to be proposed to the collective. The collective mantle is already in process in the workshop by women in Morro da Providência, at the same time that the artist presents her individual work in the exhibition.

In this exhibition, Lorena’s mantle hovers in the air, like a flying skin. The dream was the engine of this creation from which the images and scenes of the play emerged. Lorena tells me that the mantles speak of nature as this sacred dimension, but also very human, of fertility and health. How to elaborate a subtle creation field and propose to the other the transforming power of art, bearing in mind that the cultivation of sensitivity is also a dimension of dignity? – she asks herself, already thinking about agroecology as this field of possibilities within her process.

The mantle translates the City-Forest immersion on two dimensions: on the top, the drawings refer to the sky and the cycle of the seasons, expressions that explode in colors and materials, circulating like a narrative in which every end is a new beginning. At the bottom, the invisible work of nature appears in colors that refer to fertile soil and composting. The two dimensions are in dialogue, through spots that cross the thickness of the fabric, connecting them.

Lorena tells me that, in the dream, a bird needed a new kind of food: a blue birdseed. I was left with this powerful image, which made me think about the artistic process that escapes control, flies and transforms, and about how it is necessary to feed desire with new substances. Perhaps the will to create, at once subtle and visceral, needs to keep a little bit of heaven inside.

Mari Fraga, 2023.

Between rest and awakening: the dream-nature of Rubens Takamine

My hair is made of leaves. I am rooted to the middle of the earth. […] Now I smell geraniums; I smell earth mould. I dance. I ripple. I am thrown over you like a net of light.

As ondas.
Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 2004.

Rubens sits across from me, and it’s as if we’ve known each other for years. So much in common, in references and interests, but it is always surprising in encounters like this in which we share so much and, even so, the poetics will always be singular and unique, like people. The way in which Rubens articulates nature, technology and spirituality is of a very particular skill. Everything fits together with such naturalness and lightness that it makes one think of autopoiesis – the ability of life to create itself.

The sense of ease and simplicity, however, is only apparent to the outside eye. Indeed, from conceptual elaboration to aesthetic compositions, Rubens’ processes are full of careful attention to detail. In some works, the artist weaves relationships between machines, humans and plants that appear to be uniquely delicate – as in the weaves with threads and vines, which outline relationships and voids.

The reference to oriental culture appears in many ways, such as in the softness of the forms and in the way of investigating plant species. In this research, the artist presents us with oriental medicine knowledge in which healing, food, body and spirituality become inseparable. Each species is a being with its own medicinal characteristics, with which the artist weaves conceptual associations with his moment in life, his affections, his ancestry.

The body is a special material for the artist – and once again we are faced with oriental culture, which appears not only in his features, but also in the way he moves and dances. Butoh training allows Rubens to move with such precision and fluidity that he seems to float. It is a body of care and affection, as we see in the video “Ikigai”, in which he takes care of his father’s legs with aloe vera leaves. The gestures of harvesting, cutting the plant and massaging are as delicate as his dancing.

In the City-Forest residence, Rubens wanted to research sleep and elements that involve good rest, such as meditations, dreams, teas and natural incense. He told me that when he thought about sleep, he questioned the ubiquitous tiredness in capitalist society that wants us always alert and to produce more and more – from formal work to unpaid work of consuming the flood of information from digital media. The research would design a healing gesture against collective exhaustion.

During his two trips to the residency, Rubens found another time. He was fascinated by rural practices and realized that the body got tired in these activities in a different, much healthier way. The tiredness of working or walking all day in nature is different from the tiredness of the city. Rubens told me that he felt rest was expanded in nature. The clouds slept on top of the mountains, the dogs rested on the stone – and with them he lay down and slept.

This other kind of rest made the artist think about the act of awakening, as two sides of the same experience. The vigorous work in the fields, coffee and cinnamon appeared, then, as a new layer for the research – transformed into a sensory experience, photography, installation and performance. Present in previous creations, the broken mirrors reappear and invoke our fragmented subjectivity.

Maybe it’s possible to live in another way, less exhausting, he told me. Perhaps it is possible to balance waking and resting and sharing this balance with nature – plants, animals, landscape. The desire that moves art can lead us to imagine another way of life, I thought. After all, on tired days, what more can we want from art than to lie us down on top of a mountain and make us dream of the movement of the clouds?

Mari Fraga, 2023.

Dream, sky and forest: the body that flies in the poetry of Yaminaah Abayomi

The dream rests on the wing of a flying bird and it won’t happen without someone speaking of it.
said the Prophet, in Hadith – Koran

Chuva de estrelas: o sonho iniciático no sufismo e no taoísmo.
São Paulo: Conrad Editora do Brasil, 2004.

Softly and almost levitating, Yaminaah enters the room, and I felt like I was finding a bird. I approached carefully; each word was a gesture of trust so that we could come together little by little. She told me her story like someone opening a box of relics. The stories revealed layers and layers of more stories, personal and family ones, and each one opened up a universe of involving fabulation.

Slowly, I understood that I was entering the oneiric cosmos of an artist who pulsates with sensitivity and that daily weaves relationships between dream and reality. She invited me into her “waiting room” – one of her dream places, translated into drawing, video and virtual reality. In this waiting room, the clock had turns but time does not move. The clouds in the window flow and Yaminaah’s voice summons us to a journey along with her thoughts.

Orality is present in several of the artist’s works, as a narrative guide whose content is also composed of voice tones and speech cadences, transforming the works into present listening experiences. In the “Glory” video, we enter the forest and find a woman in bright blue. Water is a vehicle for us to lose ourselves in the midst of the narration of a real and dramatic story, images full of metaphors, and the artist’s performance with her body covered in blue on the riverbank, inside the forest. Body, nature, life and imagination become sides of the same reality, which is transformed into the flow of emotions, between waters and tears.

In love with the sky, making research that covers science, myths, cosmovision and iconographies of different cultures, Yaminaah’s poetics speaks of a nature that is also imagination and production ok knowledge. In that investigation that unites the universe, the forest and social struggles in an unusual way, the artist found in the figure of Harriet Tubman a character whose story intertwines activism, real facts and collective imagination. Born in 1822, Harriet was an American abolitionist and activist who, after escaping slavery, dedicated her life to helping other enslaved people find freedom, tracing nocturnal escape routes through the forest while taking the stars as guides. Factual records and legends are confused in the story of Harriet, who became an icon in anti-racist fight.

Yaminaah introduces us to Harriet in this fictional-oneiric construction that speaks of the search for freedom. During her City-Forest residence, Yaminaah made a clay disk inspired by the Nebra Disk – an archaeological find in bronze and gold that is considered one of the oldest representations of the sky. The disk, found in Germany in 1999, has an estimated date of 1,600 B.C. and presents circles, semicircles and points that denote celestial stars. By reproducing the disk in clay, the artist brings together earth and sky, as well as a body and imagination, undoing the Cartesian separation between body and mind, one of the themes of her artistic process.

The map of the sky in clay also refers to the dreamed Harriet, her escape routes for freedom and the premonitory visions and dreams popularly attributed to a cranial injury that the activist suffered from violence when she was still young. All these real and imaginary layers are subtly expressed in the circular animations that Yaminaah presents to us in this exhibition.

In Chuva de estrelas (Rain of Stars), Peter Lamborn Wilson tells us that: “In Taoism, the body is literally the space that will be filled by rays from the celestial stars, alchemically transformed.” Shifting the author’s thought to the field of art, we can think that everything imaginary could be incorporated – and every body can be imagined. Through her sensitive poetics, Yaminaah invites us to the experience of being body, sky, forest and imagination all at once.

Mari Fraga, 2023.