Twenty Three. De(mock)racy, Mexico City, Mexico 2018.

Editorial: Hidden Lives

Jessica Gogan and Luiz Guilherme Vergara

To all hidden lives
In memory of the 300,000 Brazilians who have died from Covid 19 (as of 27th March 2021)
In solidarity with the families of all pandemic victims worldwide
To continued searching, questioning, and calls for equality and social justice
For an art that provokes and dwells

Hidden [Adj]. 1. Out of sight, not readily apparent, concealed, recondite, obscure, unexplained, undisclosed, secret. Hide [verb]. 1. Put in a hidden place, cover up, shield for protection. 2. Keep secret, hide the truth. 3. Screen from view, obscure. 4. Not to make manifest, disguise, cover up, dissemble. 5. Remain out of sight, seek protection. 6. Not reveal, not enunciate. 6. Avoid others’ views or being seen by. 

Focusing on the interfaces between art and contemporary socially engaged practices, the 6th issue of Revista MESA, “Hidden Lives,” explores the multiple meanings of the hidden in society. Throughout the quest to shed light on the issues that shape, inform, and threaten our existence is recurrent, as is a critical and (re)generative desire to question – what art can do in contemporary life? The issue comprises case studies, articles, interviews, dialogues, films, and photo essays that come together as a body of collective initiatives, counter narratives, and different poetic and political strategies. Art here is part of the struggles for: restorative justice, democracy, and social equality; recuperating memory and fighting repression; dealing with trauma; investigating hidden places and unraveling entangled silences; questioning school, religious, and psychiatric systems; generating other perspectives of what art can be, some not yet or beyond defining themselves as art; and inhabiting and transforming adversities as a catalyst for re-enchantment and imagining worlds otherwise.

As a platform for documentation, collaboration, and reflection, MESA functions as a magazine-as-commons, social sculpture, and school-in-process acting as a vital connective ground for learning and discussion and working with multiple organizations, collaborators, artists, researchers, institutions, universities, communities, and professors and students from diverse disciplines and backgrounds both in Brazil and internationally. These processes have been key to the singular cartography of the hidden that the issue aims to profile. Developed over the course of 2019-2021, inspired in part by the exhibition Guanabara Bay: Hidden Lives and Waters held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Niterói, in 2016, this 6th MESA issue moves from local initiatives in peripheral “hidden” territories of Rio de Janeiro’s outlying regions – the Bumba favela in Niterói and the suburban region of São Gonçalo – to a web of connections with hidden lives in far flung places worldwide; from the Secret Garden in Achill Island, Ireland, to the hidden creative universe of Ulisses Pereira Chaves in Vale de Jequitinhonha in Brazil’s center-east; from windows on religious territories and practices to democratic pedagogies that seek to un-silence the classroom; from the search for the hidden racist and sexist truths behind women committed to Brazilian asylums to grieving mothers of disappeared children in city of Juárez, Mexico; from the unveiling of abuse against indigenous peoples to the ever-present transgenerational legacy of political repression and loss of life during dictatorships in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile; and in turn from the merging of art and activism in Pequena África [Little Africa], a world of “hidden” territories in the center of Rio de Janeiro, to socially situated practices in distinct geographic and socio-cultural contexts and organizations in Ireland, Scotland, and Cyprus.

Conversations, encounters, research-action initiatives, and experimental laboratories co-developed with contributors over the past two years have been vital to informing and forming the editorial project. This process reaffirms the emphasis established in previous MESA issues on collaborative and collective practices and art as a generator of connectivity and social and affective bonds. As a “table” MESA both uses and reinvents the magazine format as an apparatus to initiate, investigate, and connect different worlds, conversations, research, and practices – mapping, documenting, and unpacking aesthetic and ethical resonances within and across differences. Each edition builds on and boomerangs back to the last. Operating as a constantly evolving membrane of micropolitics, contact, and reciprocity, many of the “Hidden Lives” contributions are the result of longstanding ongoing conversations and collaborations.

The following brief reflections weave together some of the themes and discursive threads suggested by the “Hidden Lives” contributions. While organized here in specific topics, there are many shared questions, practices, and points of dialogue.

On the Fringe: Artistic, Ecosystemic, and Social Acupressure Points

The more we investigated geographic, political, and socio-cultural margins, the more hidden lives emerged together with examples of affective community and socially situated activisms in what might be termed as a micro-geography of critically and generatively applied social acupressure points.  Musician and former Brazilian Minister of Culture, Gilberto Gil, described these kinds of “cellular” actions using the concept of an “anthropological do-in.” Drawing on the notion of acupressure points, Gil’s “do-in” describes a cultural policy that, in contrast to many center/periphery models, where culture is brought to the periphery, rather aims to support the potential that already exists in those localities.

This is the case of the “do-in” of environmental art at Casa Museu Rancho Verde [Green Ranch House Museum] in the Bumba favela in Niterói – a suburban town on the other side of Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay. Inspired by the home of Hernandes Jose Silva’s (HJS), a “92 year-old young man” as he is affectionately known, and his recycling of garbage and found objects, the project is in a constant process of mutation and expansion in dialogue with HJS’s vision and creative fluency. Hernandes’ poetic and existential state of an immersive, transformative, and spiritual craftsmanship could be connected to that of Bispo de Rosario [Brazilian “outsider” artist and asylum intern for almost 50 years now well known in contemporary art circuits]. Not only because of Hernandes’ practices of appropriation / recycling, but also in his metaphysical relationships between voices, systems, and dreams. HJS’s personality, home, and recycling practice led to the creation of Casa Museu Rancho Verde as a network of support, preservation, and environmental action, mobilizing a very singular “do-in” that is the focus of one of this issue’s case studies.  

In their essay Maria Ignês Albuquerque and Priscila Grimberg, coordinators and caregivers of the Casa Museu Rancho Verde project, tell the story of how the Casa Museu’s collaborative network came about. The genealogy of this project is grounded in both tragedy and regeneration. In 2010 the Bumba favela was overcome by landslides as a result of houses being built over a former city dump with a tragic loss of life. This devastating community event coincided with Hernandes’ beginning to collect, recycle, and transform found objects and garbage and Ignês’ work with the experimental restorative justice program CPMA (Center for Alternative Penalties and Measures), an initiative that led her to visit the Rancho Verde and hold gatherings there. In their essay Ignês and Priscila address the restorative importance of solidarity networks, combining artistic, ecosystemic, and clinical practices within a process of existential and environmental transformation – “inspiring practices for transitions aimed at ordinary people, in common places, especially in peripheries, as is our case, in Morro do Bumba, Niterói.”

In Navigating a Haunted Landscape: A Tale as a Tool at Morro do Bumba the artist Sandrine Teixido reflects on the Bumba tragedy and her artistic practice dedicated to community organizing and memory-sharing in places marked by catastrophe. Key to this practice is Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “A Descent into the Maelstrom,” adopted as an e/affective tool in dealing with the emotional, traumatic, and ecopsychological impact on survivors of a tragedy. As part of this case study and as a Casa Museu Rancho Verde collaborator, Sandrine offers her reflection on how such community organizing around tragic events has the potential to generate “art forms that explore and question the possibilities of a ‘common art.’” The Bumba tragedy, Hernandes’ restaurative recycling, and the Casa Museu Rancho Verde’s transformative network of community solidarity, provide us with critical and generative examples of what Sandrine sees as the potential for art to offer coping mechanisms to navigate life’s daily collapses and pending environmental disasters.

So Said H.J.S is a video documentary in process by documentary filmmaker and educator Leandro Almeida that lovingly captures the world of Hernandes and the mutual transformations that is Casa Museu Rancho Verde. Here presented as a photo essay for the “Hidden Lives” issue case study. Over the course of the project’s ten-year history, Leandro has followed many of its phases and collaborations and sees the videomaking process as an instrument to both register the artistic, cultural, and socio-environmental work at Casa Museu Rancho Verde together with Hernandes’ practices and philosophy of life. He notes: “The documentary will not only be a work about an interesting character, but will also shine a light on a figure of cultural heritage, of a material and immaterial nature from the city of Niterói, a treasure from hidden worlds, and draw attention to the practices developed at the Casa Museu also as a way of expanding possible connections.”

In another and final contribution to this case study, the writer and bibliophile Cris Seixas offers an expansive reading of the Casa Museu Rancho Verde project and Hernandes’ recycling practices, in what she describes as a poetics of salvaging and rescue, pointing to an intuitive resonance between HJS’s writings and the work of Brazilian poet Manoel de Barros.

Such a socio-cultural “do-in” can radiate its affective and ecosystemic potential to its immediate surroundings, catalyzing resonances and forms of socio-cultural healing. The restorative dimensions of such practices can also be seen in the remote periphery of Achill Island, Ireland, a small island off the country’s Atlantic west coast.  In one of the four dialogues in this issue, the artist Willem Van Goor, his wife Doutsje Nauta, and the Reverend Val Rodgers, reflect on a religious interdenominational reconciliation ceremony held on September 24, 2011, St. Thomas Church, in Dugort, at the northern end of the island. The ceremony featured interfaith readings and music played by Van Goor on the church organ and a tribute to the unmarked graves of Catholics and Protestants buried on the church grounds. Telling the story of St. Thomas, a former evangelical Protestant mission dating from the time of the Great Famine, means revisiting the history of the conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, that, despite the radical transformations in the country in recent decades, is long and painful, rooted in colonial politics, poverty, struggles against British rule, and civil war.

The potency of a “do-in” poetics here effectively operates as a set of ethical and aesthetic pressure points on long-held historical and socio-political wounds and scars. Such practices can be seen in various parts of the world as a striving, in Silvia Federici words, for a “reenchantment” that runs counter to capitalist systems and colonial legacies of injustice and inequality. The case study Talking Across the Cypriot Buffer Zone: Making the Invisible Visible maps such critical and generative efforts in the context of the island of Cyprus, seen both through its peripheral geography and its unresolved political conflict between two of the main ethnic groups that live there, Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. Here, we can see the potential of a practice of socially situated “do-in” that invests in specific locales, mobilizes collective action, and creates bridges between art and activism. As art historians Esra Plumer-Bardas and Evanthia Tselika, co-editors of the case study note, art insists “in creating flows through division and in shaping yet more points in common between us.” The “polivocal” case study offers a mapping of these practices embracing a variety of methodologies and actions including public interventions, artistic residencies, collective projects, and community-run spaces. The following organizations and initiatives contributed: AA&U, European Association of Mediterranean Art (EMAA), Free School, Hands on Famagusta Initiative, NeMe, Pikadilly, Re Aphrodite, Rooftop Theater Group, Sidestreets Culture, Studio 21, Urban Guerillas, Visual Voices, and Xarkis. As organizations, they focus not only on issues related to inter-ethnic issues and conflict transformation, but also on topics of universal human rights, feminist platforms, LGBTQI and union activism, as well as on building dialogues between Cypriots, second and third generations of migrants, and other communities living in Cyprus. The case study also highlights some specific artistic contributions. Videos of the artist Alev Advil are presented in the audiovisual essay Architecture of Forgetting: Journeys into the Dead Zone andTwenty Three’s interventions and the drawings of Hüseyin Özinal are juxtaposed in the section Artists and Activism in order to point toward, as the co-editors observe, “the common experiences of how artists create works about – and with – those who are not seen and are not represented, transforming hidden voices into a realm of visibility.”

Giving Back the World to the World

São Gonçalo ahead! is the title of the visual essay of Renata Bazílio and Laura Lima, shedding light on the vital social activism of women’s movements in São Gonçalo and their striving to unveil and combat domestic violence in the city. The essay documents the history of these movements and presents interviews and photographic portraits of women activists: the graffiti artist Aila Ailita, and Marisa Chaves, Oscarina Siqueira, and Cristhiane Malungo from the São Gonçalo Women’s Movement and the Rio de Janeiro State Forum of Black Women. While struggling amidst hidden political repressions and distortions, many women in São Gonçalo have been supported by the heroic solidarity of this movement, now facing new challenges with the Covid-19 pandemic. Where “a peripheral reality” is evidenced on the ground due to the “absence and neglect of public power” these movements and their networks of solidarity “combat terror with open arms and disinformation with public presence” as they strive to support victims of domestic and family violence. 

Artist and researcher Gabriela Bandeira recovers local stories and memories as a strategy of ecosystemic resistance focusing on creating an inventory of the knowledge and practices of the threatened artisanal fishing community of Gradim – on the other side of Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay. Gabriela has been discovering in the mangrove biome a cosmos of different modes of existence and hidden ancestry. She aims to “give visibility to the Caiçara community” [traditionally indigenous fisherman that inhabited the Brazilian coast] and to highlight their “struggles and demands.” In her visual essay Pay Attention to Your Networks/Nets Gabriela affirms: “I am the daughter of a fisherman, born and raised in an urban fishing region, in São Gonçalo, which suffers from the legacies of industrialization.” She aims to transform inhabiting / dwelling as a radical practice of co-existence. Understanding her role as an artist as an “agent of the sensible” Gabriela asks: “how to fabricate ideas that make us act?”

Jeff Medeiros, an artist also born in São Gonçalo, points to this poetics of dwelling and transformation in the title of his essay: Who Will Unveil Us If Not Us? He describes the friction between the city seen, on the one hand, as a place of service and, on the other, hidden from outsider viewpoints, as a place of life. Jeff’s artistic production stems from his engagement in the history and complexity of São Gonçalo, where he grew up and witnesses so much daily violence. In his pieces, he draws attention to the condition of service work common to many residents of São Gonçalo, and at the same time, captures their vital resistance.  Inhabiting-dwelling-living is the critical and generative mortar for his ethical-aesthetic and pedagogical activism. “What I condemn is the exploration and the understanding that certain places only have a workforce to be subdued, having their epistemologies and their production of life denied.” 

Start in the Middle: For a School That Doesn’t Fit is what we collaboratively named the special focus on education in this case study of São Gonçalo Cartographies. Here, democratic pedagogies seek to un-silence the classroom and break the moulds of what fits and doesn’t. As Madalena Vaz Pinto, Portuguese language and literature professor in the Teacher Training program of the Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ) in São Gonçalo, observes: “there is life out there. this cannot be denied. there is life in those beings that inhabit the room, who speak to you, survey you with their eyes. then? what do we do?” The concern for the wealth of hidden lives “out there” prompted a rich collaborative project with Madalena and her former students, teachers from the Rio de Janeiro state public schools, Raquel Danielli and Renata Targino, and their pupils, together with students from the Federal Fluminense University’s cinema program: Mariana da Lima Silva, Cintya Ferreira, and Gabriel de Souza Vieira, the later two also residents of São Gonçalo. Start in the Middle includes three brief essays by Madalena, Raquel, and Renata, respectively: One Text, Three Temporalities; We are Tree: Writing Experiences and (De)construction; and Reading and Thinking Out Loud: Exercises in “Voices of the SouthCivic Rights. Each essay reflects on the need for more democratic and plural pedagogical practices in the classroom and are further complemented by the short film A brief inventory of small stumbles, created in collaboration with all those involved and edited during the pandemic drawing on footage, images, and audios shared via Whatsapp. There is hidden life out there.

Hiding, the Hidden, and Hidden Places

The hidden also offers portals to other imaginaries, marginalities, and creative worlds.  Literature, writing, and adolescence are explored in their transformative or repressive hidden possibilities in a dialogue between the public school teacher Luiz Guilherme Barbosa and high school student Joyce Maravilha. In their interview, the artists Maurício Dias and Walter Riedweg discuss hidden places as a form of intelligence, social interaction, and mode of art making, concomitant with the potentially dangerous and conflicting territories of the hidden places of the mind, particularly when it comes to religion and faith. Curator and researcher Angela Mascelani’s article explores the imaginary universe of the Brazilian popular artist Ulisses Pereira Chaves who spent his life hiding and creating in the remoteness of the Jequitinhonha Valley in the country’s center-east. 

In their dialogue Do not Write Hidden Luiz Guilherme Barbosa and Joyce Maravilha present a sense of hidden through the lens of literature and the passage of adolescence. Literature is here an instrument of “resistance to the erosion of lasting attention, reflective concentration, silent reading” and a refuge against the “psychotizing tendency” of the dominant technical imagination. In creating enigmas and hidden places for her detective stories, Joyce pays attention to the folds of reality and fiction in her short story, “Mystery at School” set in the context of the school environment where the main “missing” protagonist is a teacher. A subject looked upon with some strangeness by the students, who often imagine the teacher as just there, almost invisible outside the school context. As with the young students in São Gonçalo, adolescence opens itself up as a hidden place and fluid creative form between childhood and adult life, a rich existential world that is also threatened.

Our interview with the artists Maurício Dias and Walter Riedweg centers on a work-in-progress exploring questions of religion and faith. The discussion also draws on reflections on their practice over the past three decades and their work with marginalized populations – homeless youth, psychiatric patients, prisoners to name a few. The artists generously shared some of their in-process ideas for a project that “is not hidden” but is rather “an embryo,” a work that is still in gestation, and indeed now suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Critical threads of their trajectory are explored with a particular focus on works developed with psychiatric patients for whom the “hospice is a hidden place” where indeed, psychiatry itself, “the concept of psychiatry, is perhaps a hidden place, because it is a place of separation.” In the “universe of psychiatry” countless “hidden places of the mind” reveal themselves and the artists note that, “religion is an omnipresent theme among them.” For their work in progress they are planning to film/evoke diverse contemporary experiences drawing on the differences between religion and faith. These will form several visual and conceptual “windows” – a multi channeled video piece and installation that will explore “territorial issues of belief and religion” in Brazil and in the world. These open windows on the worlds of religion and faith reveal how “hidden places are forms of survival” and are configured as “a form of intelligence and a form of social interaction.”

In her article Angela Mascelani describes the world of Ulisses Pereira Chaves whose home and place of creation in Jequitinhonha Valley reveals not only a hidden life, but also a hidden ecosystem – a habitat as hideout and portal to other imaginaries and cosmogonies. In addressing the complex dimensions of what is hidden and what is shown, Angela also questions art world value systems and elitism governing notions of “Brazilian popular art,” arguing for a more inclusive and porous discursivity with respect to the appreciation of popular artists within contemporary canons. At the same time, she draws attention to the metaphysical complexities that permeate the relationship between Ulysses and his hidden place. The hideout from civilization positions the artist, like a demiurge, closer to the portal of the visible and the invisible, to visions of immemorial roots of cosmic and ancestral origins that inhabit and transit his creation and relationship with Nature. I’m Ulysses! I talk to the sun, to nature, (…) I have vision.

Shedding Light on Social Stigma and Institutional Abuse

The case study Unveiling the Hidden: Socially Engaged Art Practice in Ireland, co-edited with Helen O’Donoghue, senior curator and Head of Engagement & Learning, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland, outlines a genealogy of socially engaged art practice in Ireland together with a deeper exploration of the work of three artists via interviews and essays exploring their practices and different dimensions of the hidden.  

Artist and educator Bernie Masterson has worked with prisoners in the Irish prison service for over thirty years. Her work tells their stories of marginalization and reveals situations of institutional abuse, drawing attention to the “reality of others who have been displaced” and to “those who at the margins of society that are not seen or heard.” Interweaving artistic and pedagogical practices with deeply sensitive listening, Bernie both encourages the prisoners’ expression, resulting in several exhibitions of their works, and incorporates their narratives and perspectives as an advocate for social justice in her artistic production.  

Artist Seamus McGuinness sheds light on painful social stigmas through his collaborations with the families of young suicide victims. His Lived Lives project started as an interdisciplinary research platform in 2005 with Kevin Malone, professor of psychiatry at St. Vincent’s University Hospital / University College Dublin (UCD), resulting in Seamus earning a PhD from the Faculty of Medicine, UCD, in 2010. Since then, the project has unfolded into a series of exhibitions, dialogue programs, audiovisual documentation, and an archive of personal objects belonging to the victims donated by their families and continues to generate important debate on the tragic yet mostly veiled and stigmatized subject of suicide.

Vukašin Nedeljković documents the experience of refugees and asylum seekers in Ireland. His project Asylum Archive is presented in this issue by a visual essay by the artist and a text by Anne Mulhall, co-director of the Center for Gender, Feminisms & Sexualities, UCD. In 1999, the Irish state instituted the Direct Provision system. Under this system, people are scattered throughout the country in accommodation centers, usually in remote locations. Rather than shelter and integrate people, more often than not these centers effectively imprison and cordon off asylum seekers from community life. As a refugee himself Nedeljković started photographing his environment and organizing an archive that unfolded into Asylum Archive – a collaborative project comprising texts, photographs, and testimonies of those impacted. In her accompanying essay, Mulhall traces a narrative of institutional abuse, often veiled by a bureaucratic and strategic arbitrariness. A narrative that she connects to a long history of incarceration of marginalized groups by the Irish nation-state and the devastating responses by governments to migrant populations worldwide in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

For these artists, art does not cure trauma, it rather offers, as Nedeljković puts it, “a coping mechanism,” a device for exposing the unspoken and the unseen and, as McGuinness observes, a “catalyst” for conversations, unveiling experiences that are often stigmatized or omitted from our daily lives, official stories, and public policies. The long-term commitment to specific communities and contexts of each of the three artists points to a socially engaged art practice grounded in ethics, the building of social and affective bonds, and complex forms of inhabiting and coexisting together.  It is a critical as well as a restorative practice – creating spaces for listening, documenting experiences and abuses, most of the time hidden from social life, and constructing archives that run counter to official histories.

From the Invisible to the Visible: Counter Narratives and Calls for Community

The development of socially engaged art practice in Ireland might be attributed, in part, to the country’s peripheral condition, or rather, being at once remove from the often centralizing discourses of international art scenes, however much they proclaim their decoloniality. Such limitations, misconceptions, and social geographies are also operative in major city centers. In Rio de Janeiro, art and activism often merge where the social ills and inequalities of a divided city and a city full of vitality pulsate simultaneously. Hidden lives that Reveal Hidden Lives in Pequena África [Little Africa] is a dialogue between the artists Diego Zelota, Sandro Rodrigues and Thiago Haule, residents of Pequena África in the city’s port region, and the curator / researcher Izabela Pucu. Questioning old cartographies of center and periphery, the artists affirm their territory as one filled with creative potential and social resistance. In their practices of recovering histories, celebrating individuals, and collective mobilization, Diego, Sandro, and Thiago use photography, social organizing, and wheat pasted murals of local characters in their quest to highlight hidden lives that, as Izabela suggests, opens up “possibilities for people to change their conceptions about their place of origin and about themselves.” Art operates as means of generating “counter narratives.” Their practice points to how art making and modes of resistance and existence converge as ways to collectively struggle, live, and be together. As Diego notes: “I want to revere people just like me, people from my territory.”

The call for community in Keep the Children in the Room: On the Biopolitics of Single Mothering in the Time of Covid is yet another regenerative demand for new models of the future. The dialogue between two single mothers, the Brazilian artist Lívia Moura and the Cypriot researcher Chyrstalleni Loizidou, attributes the devaluation of women, mothers, and children as symptoms and inheritances of what is currently suffocating humanity in its path toward self-destruction dominated by patriarchy and globalized capitalism. Following residences in 2016 and 2019 in Cyprus and Brazil, the two exchanged emails over the course of 2020, pointing out what they see as the hidden violence of infantophobia in contemporary life, exacerbated by the conditions of isolation imposed by Covid-19 and its paradoxical social distancing directive that “marginalizes and oppresses children.” They see that motherhood and children can be possible “guides” to help us get out of this crisis promoting more inclusive and communal ways of thinking and acting, (un)hiding and embracing the adversity and the natural flow of life – as the indigenous philosopher and leader Ailton Krenak says: “Don’t take the children out of the room.”

Witnessing as Poetic Practice

In his article Hidden Lives / Deaths: Towards an Ontology of Forced Disappearance in Dictatorial Chile, José Santos outlines the lived complexities and tragic legacy of the country’s dictatorship where “hidden lives” are not only lives that were stolen, unlived, and assassinated, but are also “hidden deaths,” bodies that continue to be not found, in a never-ending search by relatives and loved ones. A paradoxical state of continuous absence/presence, hovering between being and non-being, forever remembered, yet also not fully mourned. Santos richly weaves political and philosophical questions with the pain of loss and the social and emotional legacy of the dictatorship in the country’s history. 

How to deal with such infinite mourning? What artistic practices might mitigate these wounds in the recovery and transformation of memories and stories of pain, state violence, trauma, stigmas, and their familial and socio-cultural impacts? In parallel to the questions raised by Santos in the Chilean context, the case study Witnessing as Poetic Practice draws on a number of recent projects in Brazil that merge aesthetic, ethical, political, and clinical practices. The four contributions draw attention to: the dictatorship in Brazil from 1964 to 1985 and its transgenerational legacy; the atrocities committed by the state against indigenous peoples; and the claim of madness as one of the greatest devices of the silencing, oppression, and erasure of women, especially black women, reaching its extreme with compulsory hospitalization in the asylum.

In her article Ethical-Aesthetic-Political Agency in Reparations for the Damage Caused by State Violence, the psychoanalyst and institutional analyst Tania Kolker reports on the encounter between artistic, political, and clinical practices in the exhibition Destempos: Testimunho como poética prática [Out of Time: Witnessing as Poetic Practice] – the project that gives the title to this case study. The exhibition was proposed in the context of the Clinicas do Testemunho Project [Clinical Testimony Project], an initiative to “guarantee psychological care and produce subsidies for the construction of a public policy aimed at caring for those affected by State violence.” In her writing, richly intertwined with the experiences of those affected, Tania shows how “becoming witness,” mobilized in fundamentally collective acts of “witnessing”, offers “the possibility of giving meaning to experiences that have been silenced for so long,” remaking “the bonds between words and the world,” restoring “the ability to found new worlds.” 

Destempos was carried out in collaboration with the collective Filhos e Netos por Memoria, Verdade e Justiça [Children and Grandchildren for Memory, Truth and Justice]. The artist Anita Sobar, the daughter of a former political prisoner and curator of Destempos, together with Kênia Maia, a psychologist-teacher-activist and daughter of a disappeared activist, share their reflections dealing with the psychological transfer of emotional, physical, and social suffering of their fathers on their families.  Clandestine Becomings <Between Approximations and Deviations> is both a genealogy of this transgenerational pain and a story of the construction of the self as an artist through activism. In her attempts to transform the pain through aesthetic-political actions in urban contexts, Anita sees clandestinity as core to an ethical artistic and collective practice, where “testimony became a fundamental piece for the composition of this practice.” The co-written essay was also a means of witnessing, of supporting one another, as they recognize themselves as being moved by the same transgenerational a/effects and the desire to denounce “the silence” of the State’s machinery of forgetfulness.

Making the hidden public, giving form to the previously silenced, unspoken or unseen, and witnessing the legacy of state violence, and continuation thereof, could not be more urgent. Another essay in this case study explores the installation / performance [Public Reading of the Figueiredo Report] proposed by Escola da Floresta [Forest School], an alternative school in São Paulo led by the artist Fábio Tremonte. The Figueiredo Report was the result of a 1967 parliamentary investigation, conducted by the attorney Jader Figueiredo Correia, detailing crimes committed by governmental officials of the extinct Indian Protection Service (SPI) against indigenous populations. The artist’s installations present us with a table, microphones, and the 7000 pages of the report and invite readings out loud, placing us in direct contact, in a raw way, with this material. Spectators/readers are here brought to bear witness to the history of the atrocities committed by the State against the original peoples and the ever-present tragedy of ongoing State violence. 

Navigating the complexities of the hidden, the known, and the unrecoverable, artists operate as agents of the sensible, mobilizing critical and regenerative forms of witnessing. In Search of Judith is a one-woman musical-play and film directed by the musician Pedro Sá Moraes and featuring the actress Jéssica Barbosa. The piece traces the story of Jéssica’s search for the true history of her grandmother Judith, committed to a mental institution shortly after the birth of Jéssica’s father. The discovery of her grandmother, at the age of 32, after having her own son, became an existential search for the meaning of madness, lost fragments of her grandmother’s history, and restorative justice in exposing the silencing of and racism toward black women.  It was also a search to craft the very form of the “search,” ultimately framed as an ébo [ritual Afro-Brazilian offering] musical rhapsody. The essay in this case study is written as a dialogue between Jéssica and Pedro and Diana Kolker, pedagogical curator at the Bispo do Rosario Museum of Contemporary Art, where the two artists were in residence and where In Search of Judith was also filmed.

Giving Form to the Hidden, Reconfiguring Memory, and Queering the Archive

The search for hidden lives and erased experiences, brings us closer to Benjamin’s well-known image of the “scavengers” of history, a frequently futile search for evidence and truth, sifting through detritus, fragments, found objects, and ephemera, a process that is often frustrated. A search that draws us into an ever-spiraling and infinite investigation of ourselves, familial and social relationships, and the world around us, often demanding that we give form to our attempted search and sense of loss – (re)constructing archives, gathering testimonies, and reconfiguring and reworking memory. 

In Identity Essay: Mayra Martell – To miss: to be away from who inhabits you, photographer Mayra Martell documents young women who have gone missing, presumed dead, in the city of Juárez, Mexico. Through photographing the spaces and personal belongings of missing women and visiting with their bereaved mothers, Mayra gives form to the hidden – the eternal presence/absence of being missing and not found and affective bonds of familial love. She began the project after seeing missing persons fliers posted in the streets: “When I looked at them, even my soul was muted. From that time, I have not stopped feeling that emptiness.” For MESA, Curator and researcher Joana Mazza presents a selection of Mayra’s work, contextualizing her practice within the context of vital strands of social photographic documentary activism in Latin America.

In her article Bringing to Light: Visual Testimonies of Survival, Chilean researcher Maria Carolina Pizarro Cortés explores artistic advocacy projects in Chile and Argentina that re-signify the “hidden lives” of victims of the respective dictatorships by drawing attention to the loved ones left behind in a continuous state of mourning and struggle. Carolina discusses Julio Pantoja’s projects that gave rise to the photographic essay and exhibition entitled Los hijos. Tucumán veinte años después; [Children: Tucumán 20 Years Later] a Arqueología de la ausência [The Archaeology of Absence], by the artist Lucila Quieto; and finally, the exhibition Vivos recuerdos [Vivid Memories], commissioned by the Socialist Party of Chile. Through different techniques – digital manipulation, montage, and staged projections – projects start from a photograph, be it intimate or official, a portrait or scene and deploy a relational poetics with recreated and imagined encounters between loved ones and victims. Here instead of the absence of the disappeared detainee, what is emphasized is their ongoing lived relational presence.

The potential to reimagine and reconfigure archives, collections, and institutions themselves based on affective links and social bonds is the basis of Caroline Gausden’s article, Refusals, Resistance and Alternative Hosting: Artists, Queer Practices, and the Glasgow Women’s Library. In thinking and acting affectively it becomes possible to counter the modus operandi of large institutions. Here, the institution is rather a kitchen table and social sculpture, hiding its hospitality practices in order to maintain a welcoming and creative space, while investigating and challenging them at the same time. Much more than a library, GWL organizes events with partners in several rural and urban, national and international locations. The article explores the genealogy of the organization and focuses on recent hospitality and queering initiatives drawing on the library’s archival collections by three artists, Juliane Foronda, Kirsty Russell, and Tako Taal.


We offer this 6th issue of Revista MESA as a micro constellation of the hidden in the search for possible ways of coping with the many silent, invisible, and nefarious worlds around us. The issue presents a mapping of diverse artistic, collective, and social initiatives that strive in micro ways to work toward re-enchantment and to continue the struggles against injustice and social inequalities. We understand that there are many more hidden lives and worlds, other stories to tell, memories to be recovered, lives and mourning to be restored and repaired, struggles to be regenerated, archives and political policies to be reconstituted and reconfigured. We hope that this unique cartography of the hidden might inspire other counter narratives, socio-cultural “do in” initiatives, and the “polivocal” giving back of the world to the world. Our deepest and heartfelt thanks to all the contributors, without their generosity and collaborative spirit this issue would never have been possible.