Poem by Hélio Oiticica, 1964. Image courtesy HO Project.

Residing and Occupying as a Method: The Political Work of Care

Ana Kemper

There are no dead who die as much as our own.
One who belongs to us the heart dies
seven or seventy times,
of those we only hear about they die once, on his or her date,
and those who lived far away
They die on us half or one-eighth. And half
of a death is almost nothing, they are decimal
points in suffering (what do I say? thousandths! thousandths!)

Gonçalo M. Tavares. “Os Mortos” (The Dead) 1


Editors Note – The following text was presented by Ana Kemper at the panel “Residing and Occupying as a Method: The Political Work of Care” held as part of the International Encounter: Care as Method, on October 2nd 2017 at the Hélio Oiticica Municipal Art Center, Rio de Janeiro. Panelists: Maria da Penha Macena, Ana Kemper, Isabela Dias; Interlocutor: Luiz Guilherme Barbosa. Mediation: Eduardo Passos.

Scene 0: House – Mangueira, 2017

Vendo choro [Selling Choro]. Mangueira, 2017. Photo: Ana Kemper

Today is Saturday and I am drafting my thoughts for my presentation for this “today” of Monday’s seminar. It turns out that today (Saturday) I discovered myself suddenly and totally to be without any sense of smell, not even peppermint oil and its penetrating freshness managed to pierce the blockade, probably chemical, who knows if reversible, caused by the remedy that I took to cure this flu-cold that has been in my body for the past 30 days. I write on Saturday, hoping that on Monday (that is, today) this will only have been an experience of non-experience for a few days, that I will have regained the sense that was taken from me, one that would be less spaced-out than this not being able to feel; this ban, this brutality.

I have studied that the excess of some substances can desensitize some receptors of other substances that are involved in the process of feeling. The mint molecule is there, fresh, camphorated, cleans its way through the epithelium, but the olfactory receptor has been numbed by the ostensive presence of the antibiotic. Impregnated, the receptor is not available for the mint molecule. I cannot smell its aroma.

It’s impossible not to see a relation between this concept / state of pharmodynamic saturation and the recent scene of Antonio, his arm still in plaster, tears in the eyes, inside a crowded waiting room of the Mangueira favela family medical clinic, telling me: “I feel angry Doctor, but there’s no time. Today is Thursday, tomorrow it will be already a week since the police killed a girl inside the school last Tuesday, her death is already gone.” (Let me explain: Antonio’s wife and mother-in-law were assassinated by bullets fired by the “caveirão” [bullet-proof armored truck] on June 30 / 2017, in a police operation that lasted for a week in Mangueira but only yielded a small mention in the newspapers which had rather complained about the local population who in reaction to the murders of Marlene, 76 years and her daughter Ana, 47, had burned down a bus). How to respond to Antonio and his children? For them, these deaths will never be over, but for the city, they’ve already been forgotten. On this scale, where the “many” makes the unacceptable common, the bodies that resist there end up loosing the right (another one!) of sensibility, because even the pain of loss seems denied to these favela bodies, “There’s no time.” “It’s already gone.”

Scene 1: Rio de Janeiro, Hélio Oiticica Municipal Art Center (HO), July 2016

It was also a Monday and I was here, trying to get into this same auditorium to watch the panel where the artist Eleonora Fabiao was going to speak at the seminar “Hélio Oiticica: Para Além dos Mito” [Helio Oiticica: Beyond Myths]. 2 It was Monday and I should have gone to the doctor’s office to see my patients, but the impact of the news of the murder of the student Diego Vieira Machado, who was killed on the campus of the university, where he studied and resided, made me change course and come to the HO. 3 It was here where I had spent the semester listening to Eleonora and participating in her classes, in search of a place of affection to deal with my pain, which, was not only for Diego’s death, but also for the coup already in progress, that if it had not yet removed President Dilma [Rousseff] for good, it was already showing its intentions. The violence of the coup, of Diego’s murder, seemed to me to come from the same place.

Just before I could get in, (it was full, I had after all taken this detour at the last minute), my cell phone rings while I was still outside the auditorium. I don’t know the voice on the other end: “Doctor Ana?” (how many of these have I been, how many are still going to appear?) “Doctor.” I don’t hear being said anymore, not even by my oldest patients. But I say: “Yes, it’s me.” The voice continues: “We have a doctor’s position available at the clinic of the Dona Zica family in Mangueira, would you be interested?” Exactly 10 years ago I had left working in public family health clinics and was not thinking about going back. But at the moment of a coup d’état, of the threatening withdrawal of the population’s rights, being armed with “weapons” collected and experimented within the field of art and artistic work, I decided to go back and do my own “occupation.” (And I how could I deny an invitation from the favela and samba school Mangueira that has so influenced Hélio Oiticica [HO], here listening at the Hélio Oiticica Center?). How could I deny the opportunity to re-experiment care as a mode of behavior (as a program maybe?); So I put my foreign body into this movement and since then I have been negotiating every inch of my presence (I who am not from here, my female body, white, where I am 1 to the ratio of 4700 patients, I need to close the clinic from time to time so that a child in need of a vaccine doesn’t try to come in the midst of a shooting). In this performative “occupy SUS” (Brazil’s public health system), causing small disturbances from within, seeking out the cracks, other notions of time, living at once in the favela the deviations of the “being” state (the same one that kills) and the “being” care.

Scene 2: Morro do Palácio, Niterói 2006

It was my first job, I had received my first official pay check: from the President of the Favela Residents’ Association, a so-called “favelado” [someone who lives in the favela]. What an experience of dislocation Niterói’s based Programa Médico de Família (Family Doctor Program – PMF) promoted: To make doctors employees of favelados; to reverse the overly naturalized order of who works for whom in this country. It is unfortunate that such dislocations seem to be understood more in the field of art than in health, and that today pay checks like mine are now signed by the personal department of some social organization affiliated with the government, committed to another concept of care; but I am deviating, with my eye on the fault lines.

Another shift, perhaps the main one for my zigzagging story: the Museum of Contemporary Art of Niteroi (MAC) and its Art Environmental Action program. 4 Art and life dynamics activated the promotion of health and allowed shared experiences of the sensible between the population and the care team. And it was right there inside MAC, in an experiment with works by Lygia Clark, that I realized that I was enjoying the experience of the museum much more than the position of being a doctor, and without knowing it yet, it was there that I turned a corner in the direction of an art practice that, in turn, allows me today to return to care.

To Eleonora, who asked me the other day what most interested me being there in that day-to-day guerrilla warfare. I did not know how to respond, but in writing these words I respond, more to Antonio than to myself or to her: I still do not know how to make time expand, it also escapes me amidst a thousand demands, in an overload of excessive numbers, in the intensity of many stories. They deny me time too, Antonio. But without neglecting the care that I’m interested in doing (and only this interests me), I’m learning to de-saturate from these “many” to make myself available for the encounter. It’s in the cracks, in the holes, that we can get through and together. So onward to the next detour. Why don’t you come along?

Ana Kemper. Como era o pensamento ante da palavra? (What was Thought Like Before the Word?) Video, 2018, 3 minutes 12 seconds.




Ana Kemper
Ana is a physician, writer, acupuncturist and visual artist.  At the time of writing she was working as a doctor in the Dona Zica Family Doctor Program clinic in Mangueira favela in Rio de Janeiro.  As an artist, she uses photography and video as her main means of expression. She has had one solo and participated in various collective exhibitions and has had her work published in magazines and books. She is independently researching questions that permeate the relationships between body, thought and landscape, both in art and medical care.


1 Gonçalo M. Tavares. “Os Mortos”. In: Livro 1. (Lisboa: Relógio D’água, 2011) 147.

2 E.N. On this occasion (July 2016) Eleonora Fabião presented her work and the plans for an upcoming a performance / intervention project to be held at Centro Municipal Arte Hélio Oiticica in November of the same year called “HO Movement”. See the statement the artist makes about this project in part 4 of the video Care as method in this issue of MESA Magazine [[http://institutomesa.org/revistamesa/edicoes/5/portfolio/cuidado-como-metodo-en/?lang=en]. This special issue also features an essay by Fabião on another intervention / performance presented in collaboration with the Museu Bispo do Rosário Arte Contemporânea (Bispo Rosario Museum of Contemporary Art  [http://institutomesa.org/revistamesa/edicoes/5/portfolio/eleonora-fabiao-produzir-estranheza-e-cuidar-azul-azul-azul-e-azul-en/?lang=en]

3 E.N. The short film Da minha pele (From My Skin) in honor of Diego Vieira Machado was part of the selection of films directed by black women curated by JV Santos and exhibited at the cultural and community center Macquinho, Morro do Palácio, Niterói, as part of the International Encounter: Care as Method # 2, a brief description of which including images and trailers for the films can also be seen in this issue [http://institutomesa.org/revistamesa/edicoes/5/portfolio/jv-santos-en/?lang=en]

4 E.N. For a history of the Arte Ação Ambiental project see the essay by Luiz Guilherme Vergara in this issue [http://institutomesa.org/revistamesa/edicoes/5/portfolio/luiz-guilherme-vergara-genealogia-da-arte-acao-ambiental-elo-mac-e-macquinho-en/?lang=en]. Also for additional information see Part 3 of the video Care as Method [http://institutomesa.org/revistamesa/edicoes/5/portfolio/cuidado-como-metodo-en/?lang=en]