During the Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today exhibition in New York, the Guggenheim’s Nisma Zaman interviewed Jonathas de Andrade about his current artistic practice, his approach to collaboration, and the genesis and reception of his exhibition work Posters for the Museum of the Men of the Northeast.
How would you summarize your art background and current artistic practice?
I don’t have a straight art background. I studied law, and I quit. Then I engaged a bit with student movements. Then I went to media studies at the university [Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife], which had very open discussions, and I came into contact with a bit of art, photography, and architecture. Art was something that I was always very interested in, and it was actually the place where I found more freedom to be unstable, to play many characters, and to work with a lot of social meanings. So I’m now working with anthropology, documents, photography, video, and archiving. I think it’s a very interesting place to be, because it’s possible for me to be multiple and to be a bit undefined as well.
Given that you’re in a shared living/working space with other artists, how does that inform your projects and your approach to collaboration?
A Casa, Como Convém (the house as it could, or should, be) is basically a group of friends—we started living together in 2006. And it’s been so intense, because instead of being only a shared studio and house, it started being super-collaborative and fostered a very strong feeling of connection. We would share opinions, interests, ideas; we would help each other in our work. The group is basically formed by Cristina Lino Gouvêa, who is an architect and activist, Cristiano Lenhardt, artist, Priscila Gonzaga, a designer, and Silvan Kälin, an artist. Priscila and Silvan now have a home publishing house called Editora Aplicação—they make books in the space. So we work together on my own artist books, catalogues, and other projects. Priscila also helps me with design on a few projects; like for example on the documentation of the horse race [The Uprising], she helped with an extensive index that organizes all the pieces. Cristina, the architect, worked with me on the architecture disposition for Tropical Hangover, and in important conceptual discussions on many other projects. Silvan Kälin worked with me on 40 black candies for R$ 1.00 in creating the compositions and in transferring the photographs onto silk to bring together a very peculiar aesthetic. My conversations with them are fundamental to me in developing concepts for my works, understanding the complexity of strategy, and reaching broader audiences. Every work and project is a test.
How did Pablo choose Posters for the Museum of the Men of the Northeast for the exhibition, and how does that project fit within the larger context of the “museum” you created?
Pablo and I met when he came to Recife and stayed at A Casa, Como Convém with me and my friends. After doing the three projects that I mentioned, and a few other pieces, I decided to put them together in a show. He came at the exact moment where I was putting the first Museum of the Man of the Northeast exhibition—the first version of this parallel museum. That idea was connected to anthropology, but also to personal relations and sensuality as a sort of tension or temperature of the works. So Pablo suggested the Posters for the Museum of the Men of the Northeast, and I agreed, because it’s a key work that is part of this project series.
The projects comprise a new museum, a sort of contemporary branch of the original museum of Gilberto Freyre. Freyre is responsible for one of the main theories about how Brazilian culture was born, being a mix of cultures between the colonizer, the African slaves, and the Native Indians. He wrote a book called Museum of the The Masters and the Slaves (Casa-Grande e Senzala), in 1933, in which he developed an intimate history on how these types of power relations happen in everyday life. In 1979, he created a classical anthropological museum with thousands of artifacts, but the way it’s displayed feels to me a bit disconnected from today’s culture.
So I took an eye-to-eye relation as a methodology, and also literally the title of the museum—Museum of the Man of the Northeast—as if it were a sort of a museum of gender, or a museum of the masculinity. And it’s also a sort of provocation in relation to the original museum, which carries a title that brings forth ideas on how a certain sexism is still is very natural in this culture. But linguistically, I think today it would have been impossible to start a museum with such a name (back then, the title related to the Musée de l’Homme, the French museum.) So, there was a historical moment when the title was considered natural and acceptable.
In this parallel museum, these historical, ethical and cultural issues are treated in a “department” called the Department of Ethics and Culpability. It’s actually the heart of the museum. If I did not have this department, I would tend to work much more institutionally, in the role of the original museum, which would be working in a non-risk mode, with archives, not dealing directly with social tensions in the way my version of the museum now does. So all of this is what keeps this new museum alive, and I think it creates a very interesting historical conversation with Gilberto Freyre’s background and legacy.