Thursday, October 11, 2007

The place for the Public Art (part 1)

hi Friends, I've been away from the blog, as I went to Washington and later been organizing a talk in apexart. I am still working things here and have some topics to put on it before I leave, but first I would like to share with you the text from the talk . The talk was basically about public art in Brasil, and the relations I could find in New York context for them. I divided it in four groups, and the topics may vary around collectives, politics, communities, gentrification, so, here it goes, The place for the Public Art.

part one
Prestes Maia and São Paulo Collectives

The new generation of public art in São Paulo begin to take shape after some groups begin to act together. The turning point and most important long term event for collective art in São Paulo was the association of art collectives and individual artists to the homeless movement based in center São Paulo.
It is a long journey which begins in 2003 with the occupation of two buildings by homeless families. The number of the occupants although changed during the time ranged between 1500 and 2000 people. in the only census actually made there, it was counted 468 families.
The building, two towers of an old factory, was left abandoned and closed since 1980.
The homeless movement that took place there were able to put light and water systems in both buildings and clean the space.
The judgement of the case was very unclear, and the homeless were told to leave. The old owner is a very powerful man in São Paulo and although the taxes of the building hasn't been paid for more than 20 years, and the building was left, won the cause.
One of the reasons for that was because the whole area was ready to a multimillionaire gentrification planned by the city government and sponsored by the World Bank. The idea of expelling the poor people living there was made clear by the interviews of the housing secretary. Since then, the police were given special powers to arrest and act with violence against the people of the area. The media as a whole also had choose the side of the private propriety.
But the former owner of the building could not get the building back because he failed in giving support to the people to leave according to the law, and the amount of people were considered hazardous to the police handle in case of conflict.
So the occupants were allowed to stay until a solution for the case was found.

When the first artists started to visit the Prestes Maia building it was in very bad shape. It was only known by the policial pages reports. The homeless movement - MSTC, accepted the proposal from one of them to create an art show there.
In December 2003, a big art show in support of the families took place in Prestes Maia. For that 120 artists attended the invitation and used the place and interacted with the people living there during three weeks. In the last weekend, visitation was open and for the first time people in general could enter the building and take contact with the reality there. For the first time also, Prestes Maia was covered by the media in the cultural pages.
After big criticizing ranging from self-promotion of the artists and paternalism, what could turn into a big project simply did not launched. Only a few artists remained working there, without big achievements.
In June 2005 the MSTC called the organizers again. Prestes Maia was in danger again. They've been notified by police force that they were about to leave in a month. This time a wider range of professionals was about to help, and mainly by the help of attorneys, Prestes Maia was again able to survive.

As the movement around Prestes Maia begun to get stronger the gentrification politics in the area got stronger too. The supporters of Prestes Maia tried to help other social movements in city center that was being desarticulated by the city government. In one of the buildings to be left, a pacific resistance was planned. Several people were injured and tortured by the police. Several were under arrest and processed. The people violented were mostly black and poor. The others amongst them were advised not to get involved. The images went broadcast and for the first time the means of the policial troops against civils in central Sao Paulo were questioned.
After several attempts to contact the habitation secretary failed, it became clear that dialogue was impossible.

At this time, Prestes Maia had been adapted to became an improvised cultural center. Each weekend people would gather there, and attend to theater, cinema and music. after a while the people from Prestes Maia started to create their own parties and attractions.

In March 2006 some of the São Paulo collectives were invited to take part in the Havana Biennial show, and tried to organize in São Paulo and Habana a show that could connect both. The result was a very important event to Prestes Maia -that again was in danger and due to public pressure could get some breath again-, and nothing in Habana. They were not able to send a representative there.

The city government held a cultural festival to attract people for the new gentrified area, and some of the artists and collectives linked with Prestes Maia were invited to take part, and this also bring some tension about the role of the artists in the gentrification process, and in other hand it was the only chance for some to show their work and get some money from it.

As a collective effort it was compiled and edited a book about civil rights in the city center of São Paulo.
The city mayor confronted with the accusations replied that art collectives and intellectuals "don't represent the people".

With another collective effort, mainly by some of the building people, a library was organized. This give space to several media coverage, and give credibility to the movement.
Much with the municipality pressure, the second judgement of Prestes Maia, again give the cause against the occupants, at the same time dispossessing the former owner from the building. A big pressure was put into the mayor as several politicians, actors and even religious leaders been there. The president of the nation itself with partnerships raised funds and get houses for most of the people from Prestes Maia in a corner of the city. The mayor went personally to the building to give the official announcement. Finally people could leave Prestes Maia with a place to live.

The building were desapropriated and locked again. It cannot be demolished because it stands over a subway route. Its doors were cemented and no one knows what is going to happen with it.
The results for the people involved apart of the residents of the Prestes Maia was not evaluated yet.
Harsh accusations over the artists involved has been made by the official art system and even by themselves. The people involved with Prestes Maia more than once were accused being opportunists and hypocrites.

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