Helmut’s kitchen, Lídice, Rio State

Postcard from Rio de Janeiro - Artist in Residence #2

Issue no5
Oct-Nov 2021

This summer we have invited artists to write a letter or a postcard from their temporary residencies all around the world. Today Katherine MacBride shares her impressions of Rio de Janeiro. A city that continually teaches her to unlearn and relearn.

Rio de Janeiro, August 2019

Dear you,

I listened to a podcast yesterday with Kyla Schuller that helped me rethink the term “impression” in ways that feel super rich and will take their time to unfold. There isn’t space here to do justice to her work but let’s say she works carefully into biopolitics and the relation between constructions of sexual and racial difference. So, I’m calling these moments below impressions as I send them to you, but doing so mindfully, aware of their complexity and ongoing unfolding-ness in “my” body/the collective body, and consciously, aware of how all my words carry colonial matter.

A protest against educational cuts. The schoolteacher activist shouts into the camera: “A sea of people, mountains of people.” Clapping chants, samba bands, small children in school uniforms. A man holds aloft a copy of Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Afterwards lesbian couples are kissing in the metro like at the protest about the investigation into the murder of Marielle Franco.

Colonisation, undigested. Caipirinha: drink; diminutive version of a word for country people; of Tupi origin meaning cutter of the forest. Popcorn baths and macerated herbs and bathing in the dawn with them to draw different energies towards you. Pesticides. Palestinian sweet limes are Persian lemons, green-coloured oranges are pear oranges, orange-coloured limes are Galician lemons, pomelos are thick skins and sharp centers. The global history of citrus cultivation; ancient varieties and colonial transpositions. Plate bananas, water bananas, bread bananas, earth bananas, honey bananas. High protein wild leaves of an invasive species called pray for us. Round root vegetables that clean the blood of fever. Deep fried pastries: wee salties.

Knowing all the lyrics to multiple songs. The crowd sings with the musicians of the roda de samba who sit round a table playing. Dancing, we complete the circle. A singer whose characters have mouths stuffed full of kisses and food and death; a song about racist fear projected onto hair. Elderly and teenage couples dancing in the shade of closed museums. “Daily singing helps you live longer”, she says, then holds my hands on her throat to help me understand where the vibrations should be coming from.

Fences and gates, foam on the bay. Photographs of electricity cable spaghetti in a favela used to illustrate an English-language art magazine article about an artist from the same favela; white gaze ‘realness’. Houses built ‘illegally’ on an ex-coffee plantation where first slaves then exploited wage labourers worked. Sewage infrastructure, or not; rooftop water tanks.

Gentrification is white supremacy. The colours of the samba school who won the carnival with a song honouring Afro-Brazilian women repeated in an artwork commenting on arts-led gentrification on the roof of a soon-to-close arts-led-gentrification-project museum. Houses built ‘illegally’ on a publicly owned hill when black workers were displaced to make room for grand boulevards; buildings were burned to force the displacement. More recently, the favela’s main square was destroyed for a world cup funicular that is indefinitely closed.

Violence, continuing. More people forcibly brought from Africa were disembarked here than at any other port in the Americas. The bodies of 150,000 people who died following the horrific journey are buried in a site the size of a house. The owners, on finding the remains while doing repairs, turned their home into a memorial and research center. The quays where millions of people were unloaded, held in fattening houses, and sold were later covered over for a royal parade. A grant from another country, with its own poor record of redressing the ongoing injustices rooted in slavery, paid for a sign marking an area of these recently uncovered quay stones. Nearby, the museum of tomorrow overlooks this past. The local quilombo community are still fighting for legal land rights.

Resistance. Different words, movement, nuance, and sensitivity for talking about race go with greater capacity for owning intersectional privileges. Ongoing generous conversations about trauma and violence and healing. A multilingual message thread where we’re all using different gender-neutral pronouns. The discussion where an academic talks about being security checked as she arrived tonight at this, her own workplace, and ex-students describe going to the bathroom together to protect themselves from institutional racism, and all talk of joy in collectivity and the black feminists who made roots and paths and ground that support the generations here. People talk matter-of-factly about being involved in struggles that will take multiple generations to work through. Intergenerational conversations with activists where complexity is understood and relations among words and bodies are attended to with care and multiple forms of deep intelligence. Precise verbs in everyday speech. Art performances of which the audience forms part; I am held, have my feet washed, share spoons. All these events addressing our inseparability through experiences that acknowledge the infinity of differences in the room.

Estou aprendendo... People and habits from this city have a name that means white man’s house in Tupi. Shining northern-European white as I am, the language I have isn’t enough, because, like all white northern Europeans I have so much to unlearn and relearn in addressing the ongoing colonial matrix. In Brazilian Portuguese continuous tenses hold multiple narratives. My prepositions are lacking so things connect in uncertain ways. One additional letter changes a word from touch to exchange.

The errors in this text live in “my” body. Everything else lives in the collective body. This text is written with the material support of the Mondriaan Fonds residency structure and the relational support of all at Capacete.



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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 5 — 2021