A Visit With El Santo Taller de Cerámica (Bogotá)

*Spanish below


LTIH: Do you prefer being called Sergio or El Santo? 

ES: You can call me anything, I like both, Sergio is the name that my parents gave me, and El Santo is the name that I gave to my work, I’ll tell you a little bit more about the story of El Santo.

I believe it is important to start by telling you that when I was very little my mother would scold me, saying in an ironic way: “you are a saint, you never do anything, absolutely nothing.” Hehehe. In our culture saints are important, and I confess that ever since I was a little boy I really liked the idea of saints as characters, beyond the religious, I like to think that there can exist beings with some type of magic power or presence, with a sensibility that can change things, make things, or achieve things. In religion, saints, and even God himself, are like superheroes who give their all for a better world. I think it is very beautiful for one to believe in something, and even to believe in something in order to live. So I got the idea that the saint could be this character that lives in me and that is manifested through art and drawing. Because I need to believe in him, in something.
And I believe that that is how the story of this character, or trademark, started in my art… And my saint really has fulfilled me, because I feel like, and I always tell my students, that I live the best version of Sergio, doing what I like best. 

LTIH: You work in ceramics. Do you work in other media? 

ES: I think that my work goes from illustration all the way to ceramics, or from ceramics all the way to illustration, it is a path that mixes up all the time, that comes together, that shows distances and parallels. I studied Graphic Design, and believe that that is very present in my work.

LTIH: I met you on a trip to Bogotá to visit Luciérnagas, a laboratory and project convened by Daniel Santiago Salguero. We met at the culmination or final ‘performance’ of the ten laboratories staged at the city’s Botanical Gardens. I made a joke about the ceramic penis pin you were wearing and learned that you had made it. You make ceramics at a studio where you also teach, El Santo Taller de Cerámica. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘operation’? What happens there? 

ES: EL SANTO Taller de Cerámica is a space for creation, with its key driving force being ceramics. It is made up by Sergio and by all of the super beautiful and cool people who participate in the studio, working or taking classes, and it is SUPER important to make that clear, because the space is not a private room in which the artist makes his/her own works completely independently, and almost cloistered. In the way that I work, the participants give it life and contribute to having the studio reverberate throughout the neighborhood. The networks that are built with the students, friends, artists, and different people who intervene in the day to day of the studio, all allow for it to continue existing, alive, and happy, offering a space like what I am describing, magic in how it can work our inner selves and our thoughts while we are being creative. 

Ceramics is full of processes, the nature of the material demands a series of time periods, which teaches us one of the things that is most difficult for us humans: to have patience. Above all in times like this. Before this crisis, it seems like we never had time for anything, and that we needed everything immediately. In art, that is very difficult, artistic and creative practices are full of understandings and processes with materials that you work on through a time of reflection. This is something fascinating about art, because it always demands time, and is a great lesson. Ceramics is no exception, it obligates you to work the material almost from zero, and if you don’t have ceramic paste or clay already, it is literally from zero.

LTIH: You are based in Bogotá, but from another part of Colombia. Can you remind me, and when did you move to the capital? 

ES: I am from Cartagena, from the Colombian Caribbean. For me the move to Bogotá was very important. In Cartagena I felt very lost and out of place, I did not feel like I was part of anything, I wanted to speak through my work but could not find the voice. Of course, at this point, I did not know that  these things are built with time. But I did know that I had to do something, a change that would produce a movement, and without a doubt, Bogotá was my best decision. In one way or another, I ended up setting up and forming a collective that would change my life, and together with another friend, my first serious collective project took off. In it, I learned many important things that I apply day to day, such as the love for this profession and the discipline that this loving relationship entails. I learned and learn each day to resist, to work with people, to be generous, and to try to be generous again the next day, with myself and with others. I learn everyday to believe in myself, to listen to myself and to value all of the decisions that I have taken and that have brought me here, as I have already said, living the best version of Sergio. I try to give this to people who come into contact with my studio and with my work in general, more than just saying in detail everything that I think and feel, more than just teaching the techniques and secrets that I have come to know about the material throughout these 11 years with the students. I want my work to offer ways, opinions, diverse situations, emotions, and possibilities of coming closer to a better version of ourselves. We construct this by working on our inner selves, through creativity. 

LTIH: Your work is nice … I pick up a lot of data when I look at your INSTA page (similar to our visit). Your work is sweet, ironic and political at once. Can you say what your politics are?

ES: Thank you! I really like it that you say its effect is sweet, ironic and political. I think that there is nothing more political than knowing how to express the various situations that surround us in our lives, and that is precisely where my work comes from. It is about how this 36 year old gay costeño lives in a country like Colombia, with the music that I like, my friends, popular sayings, things that I do not like, things that I do not agree with, things that we can work on, relationships. I think it is very important to generate, through different situations in life, actions that generate positive changes. For this, it is crucial that the things that surround you also reaffirm this purpose, for improvements in your world and in the world that surrounds you. When we change positively, we also affect the other, and then the other, and then the other, so in a country like Colombia, with a history of war and violence for more than 50 years, it is very important to know how to say: ‘no more!’ This is not okay, I am not going to be quiet, I do not want to be a witness, I do not want to participate in this violence, and I want to understand that we cannot hurt someone else for thinking differently, we cannot silence someone else because we do not like what he/she says, we cannot make someone else disappear because he/she is completely different from me. I cannot forget and leave aside someone else, because I want to control him/her completely and have it all to myself. We need to, as a society, generate a dialogue that permits us to understand and respect others’ many different situations, and bring the tools that we have over to what is possible, in order to be agents of change, positive change. Through simple gestures such as having solidarity with others and with yourself, or through our work, generating questions, emotions, reflection.

As a matter of fact, what better moment than the one that we are currently going through, to have us realize how fragile we are, that we all need a little bit of help, and some people a little bit more. As the lucky or unlucky people that we can become or already are, we realize that there are many things that are important and many that aren’t. We realize that we need each other and that we need to work so that things can be a least a little bit better. Because I believe in this. I do the work that I do, and make the pieces that I make, always with something positive, either in how it is elaborated, or by inserting some humor or sweetness that moves the spectator. For me, this is very important, and I have to confess that it is also the way that I like to approach people. I think that humor and sweetness encompass many important things that are directly related to intelligence and politics. I believe that it is the best way to use plastic tools with a critical and positive meaning. 

LTIH: And would you say that El Santo Taller de Cerámica is a political ‘space’? 

ES: Definitely, yes! It is a space of resistance through art, which works with people’s creativity for the construction of positive internal landscapes. 

LTIH: Can you tell us something new you are working on (maybe a collaboration with another artist)? 

ES: Sure, at this moment, besides working on my own pieces and moving the studio, I am making a piece with Fernando Arias, a Colombian artist, who is important for his political and activist content; I am also in a project that I am super in love with. Well, first I want to say that I have a super cool collective with some friends, called “Colectivo El Engaño,” and together we are working with the Red Comunitária Trans, in a project called TRANSMEMORIA, and as the name says, we work with trans memories of people who have been assassinated or violated for being Trans, for being prostitutes, and for the different circumstances that the guild finds itself under in society, in the city of Bogotá, more precisely in the Santa Fe neighborhood. 

I would like to tell you that to me, LA RED COMUNITÁRIA TRANS is incredible, the work they do is fantastic, how they do it, always with strength, intelligence, and without fear. They are always on their feet, always resting with joy and sensuality, and that moves me, it makes me passionate. I consider myself an ally and fan of the TRANS fight. First because it is completely violent and unjust, the fact that society arbitrarily does not allow you to be who you are or who you want to be, it seems to me like that violates all of a person’s fundamental rights. So, ever since we came into contact with them through the Engaño, we have been very moved by many things that we had ignored, and we have been fascinated with their strength and resistance. So with the Engaño, we have done some ceramic tiles that commemorate life, death, and in some way, the same neighborhood as a place of resistance. These tiles were taken from the neighborhood, at the exact spots where many girls were assassinated, in places where violence has been used against them, and places that are important to them for what they represent and for resistance. We have done this trans-prostitute-artistic action of memory and re-signification twice, and it’s been incredible for many reasons. Because we have worked together, because we have created networks. Because we have come together to leave a precedent saying that we have not forgotten our fallen sisters who we know have been assassinated, although the majority of the crimes are under a false silence. We are now more unified. We are speaking and screaming together that life is to be respected, that trans people’s lives are to be respected, and that no one has the right to impose violence onto them, no one has the right to forbid you from being who you want to be. Personally, I have learned to know and understand many very important things that I did not see before, and that have truly changed my life in a very positive way, giving me strength. The girls always fill you with empowerment and strength, so to surround myself and work with them through Engaño has been very beautiful and transformative. It fills me with a lot of pride and I feel very very happy to be part of something super magic, and for me it is moving and beautiful that they also recognize me as an ally. 

I think that together we can form a voice at the volume that is necessary for the love revolution.




LTIH: Do you prefer being called Sergio or El Santo? 

ES: Puedes decirme de cualquier forma, ambas me gustan, Sergio es el nombre que me dieron mis padres y El santo es el nombre que le di yo a mi trabajo, te contaré un poquito sobre la historia de EL Santo. 

Creo que es importante empezar contando que cuando yo estaba muy pequeño y mi madre me regañaba siempre me decía de manera irónica: “eres un santo, nunca haces nada, nadita nada”  jejeje.  En nuestra cultura los santos son muy importantes y confieso que desde pequeño me gustó mucho la idea de los Santos, como personajes, más allá de lo religioso, me gusta pensar que pueden existir seres con algún tipo de poderes o presencias mágicas, con una sensibilidad que puede cambiar las cosas, hacer cosas o lograr cosas, en la religión católica los santos y hasta el mismísimo Dios son como unos superhéroes que lo dan todo por un mundo mejor, de todo eso me parece muy bonito que uno crea en algo y me parece además vital creer en algo para poder vivir, entonces me hice la idea que el Santo podía ser este personaje que vive en mí y que se manifiesta atreves del arte y diseño, en principio por qué yo necesito creer en él, en algo.  

Y creo que así empieza la historia de este personaje o marca con el arte… Y mira que mi Santo me ha cumplido por qué yo siento y siempre cuento a mis estudiantes, que vivo la mejor versión de Sergio, haciendo lo que más me gusta.  

LTIH: You work in ceramics. Do you work in other media? 

ES: Yo creo que mi trabajo va desde la ilustración hasta la cerámica, o desde la cerámica hasta la ilustración, es un camino que se mezcla todo el tiempo, que se junta, que muestra distancias y situaciones paralelas. Yo estudié Diseño gráfico y creo que es un hecho que es un hecho que está muy presente en mi trabajo. 

LTIH: I met you on a trip to Bogotá to visit Luciérnagas, a laboratory and project convened by Daniel Santiago Salguero. We met at the culmination or final ‘performance’ of the ten laboratories staged at the city’s Botanical Gardens. I made a joke about the ceramic penis pin you were wearing and learned that you had made it. You make ceramics at a studio where you also teach, El Santo Taller de Cerámica. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘operation’? What happens there? 

ES: EL SANTO taller de cerámica es un espacio de creación que tiene como motor principal la cerámica. Está conformado por Sergio y por toda la gente super bonita y bacana (like cool) que participa en el taller, trabajando o tomando clases, y esto es SUPER importante dejarlo claro, por qué este espacio no es una habitación privada donde un artista trabaja sus obras completamente independiente y casi enclaustrado. De la manera en la que yo trabajo, los participantes le dan vida y contribuyen a que el taller pueda latir atreves del barro, las redes que se construyen con los estudiantes, amigos, artistas y diferentes personas que intervienen en el día a día del taller permiten que el taller siga en pie, siga vivo y feliz ofreciendo un espacio como digo yo, mágico en el que se puede trabajar el interior y el pensamiento con y mientras somos creativos.  

La cerámica está llena de procesos, el material exige por naturaleza una serie de tiempos que enseñan algunas de las cosas que más nos cuesta a nosotros los humanos, y es tener paciencia, sobre todo en esas épocas y valga la pena decirlo así, que solíamos vivir antes de esta crisis, parecía que nunca teníamos tiempo para nada y que necesitábamos todo para ya, de entrada eso en el arte es muy difícil, las prácticas artísticas y creativas están llenas de entendimientos y  procesos con los materiales que se trabaja y momentos de reflexión. Eso del arte es fascinante porqué siempre exige tiempo y es una gran lección, y la cerámica no es la excepción, te obliga a trabajar el material, casi desde cero y si no tienes pasta cerámica o barro, desde cero literal. 

LTIH: You are based in Bogotá, but from another part of Colombia. Can you remind me, and when did you move to the capital? 

ES: Yo soy de Cartagena, del caribe Colombiano, para mí el cambió a  Bogotá fue super importante. En Cartagena me sentía muy perdido y desubicado, no me sentía parte de nada, quería hablar con mi trabajo pero no encontraba la voz. Claro en ese momento yo no sabía que esas cosas se construyen con tiempo , pero si supe que debía hacer algo, un cambio que produjera un movimiento  y sin duda Bogotá fue mi mejor decisión, de una u otra forma terminé armando y formando un colectivo que cambiaría mi vida y junto con otro amigo arrancó mi primer proyecto en colectivo serio, donde aprendí muchas cosas importantes que aplico día a día, como el amor por esta profesión y la disciplina que implica esta relación amorosa, aprendí y aprendo cada día a resistir, a trabajar con la gente, a ser generoso, y a tratar al día siguiente de ser nuevamente generoso, conmigo y con los demás, y aprendo todos los días a creer en mí, a escucharme y a valorar todas las decisiones que he tomado y qué me tienen aquí, como ya lo dije viviendo la mejor versión de Sergio. Y eso intento dar a las personas que tienen contacto con mi taller y con mi trabajo en general, más allá de contar con cada pieza lo que pienso y siento, más allá de enseñar las técnicas y secretos que conozco del material a lo largo de estos 11 años con los estudiantes, quiero que mi trabajo ofrezca maneras, opiniones, situaciones diversas, emociones y posibilidades de acércanos a una mejor versión de sí mismos.  Eso lo construimos trabajando nuestro interior con creatividad.  

LTIH: Your work is nice … I pick up a lot of data when I look at your INSTA page (similar to our visit). Your work is sweet, ironic and political at once. Can you say what your politics are? 

ES: Gracias! me gusta mucho cuando dices que es dulce e irónico y político en su defecto, creo que de entrada no hay nada más político que saber expresar las situaciones diversas que nos rodean en nuestra vida y precisamente de eso va mi trabajo,  de cómo vive este costeño gay de 36 años en un país cómo Colombia, en la música que me gusta, en los amigos, en los dichos populares, en las cosas que no me gustan, en las cosas con las que no estoy de acuerdo, en las cosas que podemos trabajar, en las relaciones. Yo creo que es muy importante generar a través de las diferentes situaciones de la vida acciones que generen cambios positivos, para esto es clave que las cosas que te rodeen también reafirmen ese propósito en pro de mejoras a tu mundo y al mundo que te rodea. Cuando cambiamos positivamente afectamos también positivamente al otro y el otro al otro, entonces en un país cómo Colombia con una historia de guerra y violencia de más de 50 años es muy importante saber decir, no más! eso no está bien, no voy a callar, no quiero ser cómplice, no quiero participar de esa violencia y entender que no podemos agredir al otro por pensar diferente. No podemos silenciar al otro porque no me gusta lo que dice, no podemos desaparecer al otro porque es completamente diverso a mí, no podemos marginar a los otros por qué sus decisiones y privilegios son diferentes a los míos. No puedo olvidar y dejar de lado al otro porque quiero controlarlo todo y quiero que todo sea para mí. Necesitamos como sociedad generar un dialogo que nos permita entender y respetar las situaciones diversas de los demás y aportar con las herramientas que tengamos en lo posible para ser agentes de cambios, cambios positivos, a través de gestos sencillos como ser solidario con los demás y conmigo mismo o a través de nuestro trabajo generando preguntas, emociones, reflexión.  

Inclusive qué mejor momento que el que estamos viviendo para darnos cuenta de lo frágiles que somos, que todos necesitamos un poco de ayuda y algunas personas un poco más, de lo afortunados o desafortunados que podemos llegar hacer o somos, nos damos cuenta que hay muchas cosas importantes y muchas que no, nos damos cuenta que nos necesitamos y necesitamos trabajar para que las cosas estén al menos, un poquito mejor. Porque creo en eso, hago el trabajo que hago y hago las piezas que hago, siempre con algo positivo. Ya sea por la manera en la que está elaborado o porque encierre algo de humor o ternura que logre mover al espectador, para mí esto es muy importante y debo confesar que además es la manera en que me gusta acercarme a la gente. Pienso que el humor y la ternura encierran muchas cosas importantes relacionadas directamente con la inteligencia y la política, creo que es la mejor manera de utilizar las herramientas plásticas con sentido crítico y positivo.  

LTIH: And would you say that El Santo Taller de Cerámica is a political ‘space’? 

ES: Definitivamente si! es un espacio de resistencia a través del arte, que trabaja con la creatividad de las personas para la construcción de paisajes internos positivos.   

LTIH: Can you tell us something new you are working on (maybe a collaboration with another artist)? 

ES: Claro, en este momento además de estar trabajando en piezas mías y estar moviendo el taller, estoy haciendo una pieza con Fernando Arias, artista colombiano, importante por su contenido político y activista;  también estoy  en un proyecto que me tiene super enamorado, bueno, primero quiero contar que yo tengo un colectivo super chévere con unos amigos que se llama “Colectivo El Engaño” y  juntos estamos trabajando con la Red Comunitaria Trans  en un proyecto que se llama TRANSMEMORIA, y como lo dice su nombre,  hacemos memoria Trans a diferentes  personas que han sido asesinadas y violentadas por ser Trans, por ser putas y por diferentes circunstancias en las que se encuentra el gremio en la sociedad, en la ciudad de Bogotá, más exactamente en el Barrio Santa Fe. Quisiera contar que a mí LA RED COMUNITARIA TRANS me parece increíble, me parece fantástico el trabajo que hacen, como lo hacen, siempre con fuerza, inteligencia, con o sin miedo siempre están de pie, siempre resistiendo con alegría y sensualidad y esto me emociona, me apasiona, me considero un aliado y fan de la lucha TRANS. De entrada porque es completamente violento e injusto que la sociedad arbitrariamente no te deje ser quién eres o quien quieres ser, eso me parece que atenta contra todos los derechos fundamentales de una persona. Así que desde que tuvimos contacto con ellas en el Engaño nos sentimos muy tocados por un montón de cosas que ignorábamos y quedamos fascinados con su fuerza y resistencia. Entonces hicimos con el engaño unas baldosas en cerámica que conmemoran la vida, la muerte y de alguna manera el mismo barrio como lugar de resistencia, estas baldosas las pegamos en el barrio en los lugares exactos donde fueron asesinadas muchas chicas, en sitios de violencia contra ellas y en lugares importantes para ellas por lo que representan y por resistencia. Esta acción trans puteril artística de memoria y resignificación la hemos hecho dos veces y ha sido increíble, por muchas razones. Porque hemos trabajado juntos, porque hemos hecho redes, porque nos hemos unido para dejar un precedente diciendo que no olvidamos a las hermanas caídas, que sabemos que fueron asesinadas y aunque la mayoría de los crímenes están en un falso silencio ahora estamos más unidos, hablando y gritando juntos que la vida se respeta, que la vida de las personas Trans se respeta y que nadie tiene derecho a violentarlas, nadie tiene derecho a prohibirte a ser quien tú quieres ser. Personalmente, he aprendido a conocer y a entender muchas cosas muy importantes que antes no veía y que de verdad me han cambiado la vida de manera muy positiva, me he llenado de fuerza, las chicas siempre te llenan de empoderamiento y fuerza, entonces llegar a acercarme y trabajar con ellas con el engaño ha sido muy bonito y transformador y me llena de mucho orgullo y me siento muy muy feliz de ser parte de algo super mágico, y para mí es muy emocionante y bonito que ellas también me reconozcan como un aliado.  

Creo que juntos podemos formar una voz con el volumen necesario para la revolución del amor.  


Pictures by: Sergio El Santo/El Santo Taller de Cerámica

Instagram: El Santo Taller de Cerámica

Conversa com Vinicius Couto (PT/EN)

[*Early this year I got the chance to talk to Vinicius Couto in São Paulo about three strands of his work. The article contains images from a performance he made in São Paulo, Rio and Cairo. I was particularly interested in his idea of getting HIV+ people together, as well as what he says on ‘aesthetics’. His initial interview took place before COVID19, and I asked for clarification on his idea for getting people together a few days ago. xo Todd]


TLL: Você disse que o seu trabalho tem três áreas. Eu lembro de duas: Visitar países que não permitem pessoas positivas de entrar, como o Egito; E criar ou participar de uma rede de pessoas positivas? (Esqueci: eram pessoas ou artistas?) … Você poderia explicar as três e talvez falar sobre as conexões que existem entre elas?

VC: Sim, hoje, pra além da [I=I] – trabalho que me introduziu no meio da performance, tenho mais 2 projetos: 

O primeiro é que nos próximos 10 anos, pretendo hackear os outros 47 países que restringem de alguma forma a minha entrada/permanência enquanto corpo positivo, independente de estado sorológico. A abertura se deu no Egito.

Ainda não sabemos exatamente como vai ser a minha atuação, mas a princípio sabemos que será uma visita com entrevistas e o meu estigma (o figurino de cabelos) ocupando a cidade. Como se ficasse explícito que por mais que exista restrições de entrada, a Aids existe em todos os lugares. 

O segundo é um projeto de 3 meses, ainda não encabeçado, que vai promover encontros a partir de um convite feito por lambe-lambes distribuídos pelas ruas da cidade. Nos encontros eu pretendo propor conteúdos que abordem questões positivas, entre filmes, informativos, performances e o que mais acontecer, com foco em conteúdos brasileiros e ao término  eu proponho uma roda de conversa junto com um questionário que levantará dados pra uma performance de reprodução de corpos.

E o trabalho que já existe é a I=I que é anual e gradativa, a cada ano são adicionados mais 365- frascos condizentes aos meus dias de tratamento desde que iniciei.

Além desses tenho um outro projeto ainda em especulação que é uma “cura dor ria posithiva”, onde convidarei artistas positivos a proporem novos olhares e possibilidades de visões desafogadas de tristeza e morte. Acredito que vem chegando o momento de pensarmos a luta positiva com menos dor e mais força.

TLL: Na verdade eu queria entender a sua prática artística. Não sei se você tem um ‘artist statement’ ou algum texto sobre essa sua ‘viagem’ artística. Por favor, poderia nos falar abertamente sobre o que você faz na vida .. e com a arte?

VC: Definitavamente, não tenho nenhuma estratégia nem pontos de partida. A minha vida sempre foi definida pelo acaso. Nunca consegui programar muitas coisas, talvez pela falta de grana ou até mesmo pela minha personalidade. 

No trabalho, escolhi investigar na arte, na moda e no cinema, corpos não normativos. Iniciei essa investigação em 2010, quando abri mão muitas vezes de trabalhar no meio branco/rico para me voltar a projetos que realmente fariam diferenças pra mim e pra outres.

Não acho que devemos protocolar o trabalho como “ganha pão”. O prazer deve se dar nas articulações profissionais. É uma pena pensar que, talvez no Brasil, ainda que exista, essa investigação ainda é pouco valorizada. Em teoria, talvez, eu tenha escolhido o prazer ao invés da riqueza. Tive oportunidades de trabalhar com as mais poderosas mas abri mão por não me ver presente em nenhum daqueles espaços. E quando veio o HIV, eu tinha duas escolhas, o silêncio e a possibilidade de desestruturar esse mesmo. Escolhi abrir e nada mais óbvio do que colocar meu próprio corpo em questão. Daí se deu na performance. Não sou um corpo acadêmico e nem defendo a academia. Acho que vivemos um declínio acadêmico que não possibilita a vivência das ruas, por exemplo. Defendo a minha investigação e interesse pelo olhar, pela vivência e principalmente pelo trânsito. A academia nos coloca em lugares muito teóricos mas a vivência é o que nos faz ter conclusões plausíveis sobre qualquer assunto. A verdade é que uma precisa da outra e eu escolhi a outra.

Bienal de Cairo (I=I Cairo)
Fotos: otimokarater

TLL: Eu me lembro de uma resposta sua sobre estética durante a nossa visita, e tenho interesse especificamente nessa linha de pensamento. Você pode falar um pouco mais sobre isso?

VC: Legal que isso te marcou.

Defendo a estética como forma de informação, mas ainda assim ela fica sublime e aberta para conclusões diversas. Quando penso em arte/HIV, penso em trabalho com profundidade de informação, ainda que já vivemos há muito tempo com a questão do HIV/AIDS, o que se dá numa crescente epidemia é a falta de informação. É uma loucura vermos que ainda não temos políticas públicas efetivas no brasil e acho que a potencialidade vai se dar em novas ferramentas. É aí que entra a arte. Porém, por mais sublime que se apresente, a gente nunca vai conseguir se desvencilhar da informação, ela é o que vai fazer, talvez, um dia, a gente dar conta de introduzir a não conclusão em um trabalho de arte posithiva. Antes disso, defendo que todas as abordagens devam ser baseadas e introdutivas de informação. Esse ao menos é o meu formato de trabalho. Quando também defendo o “discurso popular” como o jeito mais abrangente e efetivo de transformação, eu penso nos meus, na minha tia que mora lá longe, naqueles que não aprenderam a buscar a informação. Somos um país com indução de informação e com altos índices de audiência nos grandes canais de TV, aqui as pessoas tem as TVs de última geração pra assistir a TV Globo, por exemplo. Ainda que já tenhamos acessos globais, estamos longe do domínio da tecnologia e da consciência de buscar fontes que realmente tragam  dados concretos.

TLL: Por favor, você poderia falar mais sobre a sua visita ao Cairo (Egito)? Sobre como foi morar lá por um tempo e se envolver com a cause do HIV por lá. Tenho curiosidade sobre qual foi a reação do público durante a Bienal de Cairo.

VC: Ah, o Egito! 

A Bienal do Cairo foi o espaço que me escolheu pra abrir a minha condição de posithivo. Antes disso eu estive 2 anos formulando a minha abertura. Ensaiei uma performance que se chama “libertar-ser” com curadoria da Susana Guardado pra um projeto que se chama Prazer é Poder, no Rio, lugar onde contrai o HIV. Nessa performance o meu corpo era apenas um estigma. Os cabelos eram o que viria a definir esse estigma futuramente. Lembro de um amigo e artista maravilhoso que me provoca muito, Tiago Rivado, me falando que era maravilhoso ver em Libertar-ser o quanto eu não sabia o que eu estava fazendo. E era exatamente sobre isso… Eu não sabia qual era o meu sentimento, eu só sabia que era algo que vinha de fora pra dentro e que ele tinha embates diversos. Depois do Egito que eu fui entender que existia narrativa entre libertar-ser e I=I.

Esse convite se deu por intermédio da Monica Hirano (hoje minha produtora) que estava produzindo a bienal e pediu pra mandar meu projeto. Ele foi aceito, consegui por meio de um financiamento coletivo afetivo produzido pelo Gilberto Vieira. conseguimos 10k pra essa viagem.

Cheguei no Cairo no dia do segundo turno que elegeu Bolsonaro, aos prantos e me sentindo culpado por não ter votado nesse dia, mas sabendo que estava me propondo a algo importante. Fiquei mais de 2 horas no aeroporto tendo a minha mala investigada,  sem saber nem falar inglês direito. Só falava “I’m an artist” com a carta da bienal na mão e meu único medo era o momento deles pegarem o meu remédio que levei nos frascos originais. A performance já começava ali, se eu fosse interrompido, ela também teria acontecido…

No fim eles ficaram tão entretidos com o figurino que só pegaram o remédio, abriram, viram que estava lacrado e me deixaram ir embora.

Consegui uma assistente lá do Cairo pra me auxiliar na produção, todos os frascos e rótulos foram produção local. Os frascos foram até que fáceis de achar, já os rótulos tivemos que andar por pelo menos 4 gráficas que não queriam imprimir por conter as palavras “gay” “HIV” e “AIDS” no conteúdo. Todas palavras proibidas até de mencionar naquele país. A assistente teve que falar que era pra um trabalho de faculdade. O corte dos rótulos vieram cheios de risadas e reprovações dos caras que cortavam e a performance foi um sucesso. Mesmo que ainda sem muito formato por ser a primeira, ela foi censurada, não pude ficar sem camiseta e tinham policiais filmando todos os movimentos da abertura da bienal. Ela estava toda em inglês então acho que as chances de ser mais censurada diminuíram. Nunca antes tinha me visto sendo observado por tanta gente, lembro até de uma criança me oferecendo coisas pra beber e me ajudando a tirar os rótulos, foi forte! Durou 3 horas, quase que a abertura toda e eu sentia que quem entendia tinha uma mistura de dó com compaixão. No fim, alguns homens vieram me abraçar e agradecer por aquele movimento. Suponho que eles eram positivos. Eu não me envolvi com as causas do país, não deu tempo, tentamos um contato com a UNAIDS de lá mas não teve sucesso. Mas pra mim, enquanto proponente, estar ali levando aquelas palavras que não podem nem ser faladas impressas em 740 frascos de remédios, já me fez ter sentido.

Naquele ano de 2018 o Egito tinha dobrado a quantidade de infecções durante toda a história da epidemia lá. Foram 11k novas infecções. Fiquei exatamente 1 mês lá, dei uma circulada, achei uma loucura, nunca antes tinha vivido uma cultura tão diferente da minha. Fiz uma pegação, os gays em grande maioria não moram lá por conta da proibição e são todos bem fechados. O aplicativo Grindr ja vem com uma notificação dizendo para tomar cuidado com “policiais disfarçados”. Fiquei com medo e preferi não me envolver. Imagina se fosse pego sendo gay e ainda por cima posithivo. Risos.

TLL: Você teve uma exposição no Rio, no Centro Cultural Hélio Oiticica. Você poderia falar mais sobre isso? Eu conheço um pouco (muito pouco:) sobre ele … E na minha cabeça ele e a prática dele têm umas similaridades com a sua. É imaginação minha? Outras pessoas também dizem isso? E para você, existe uma relação?

VC: A performance no HO, foi a última atividade deles e minha de 2019. Eles me cederam o espaço e eu consegui que a produção fosse financiada por uma amiga, Silvana Bahia. Por ser uma instituição pública e pelo Rio/Brasil estar passando por momentos de sucateamento e dificuldades de estímulos à cultura, tudo estava bem precário. Estavam quase sem profissionais, nem dinheiro pra faxina eles tinham. Muito triste ver um lugar que sedia e dá abertura, principalmente para artistas periféricos, se encontrar naquele estado. Mas ainda que com dificuldades, a falta de estrutura deu força e gerou um novo caminho pro meu trabalho. Tivemos que imprimir os rótulos em papel adesivo normal, isso impossibilitou a retirada fácil dos rótulos e promoveu uma necessidade coletiva dos expectadores. Quando me vi propondo a todos que eles tirassem as informações contidas nos rótulos, pensei: ‘uau, estou inserindo informações neles e junto comigo estão des-rotulando.’ Tenho dito que essa foi a ação coletiva mais potente que eu me vi proponente. Tanto que agora teremos as 2 formas de rótulos, em papel vinílico, que facilita tirar e o adesivo de papel normal. No MAM-SP, por exemplo, eu retirei todos os rótulos e a interação se dava no meu movimento de colar nos expectadores. Ainda consegui reforçar a conclusão de que “As sequelas, os resquícios e a proliferação do vírus do HIV/AIDS sempre vai se mostrar fixado e mais presente nos territórios onde se tem precariedade, falta de acesso e de políticas públicas efetivas.

Estamos falando de (falta de) estrutura!” 

Esse texto foi legenda de uma foto que tirei minutos antes de eu começar a limpar os resquícios da minha performance na segunda-feira depois de ter sido advertido pela instituição por ter deixado e não ter limpado sabendo das condições deles.

Já as similaridades com os trabalhos do Hélio, eu agradeço. Nunca antes tinha parado pra pensar sobre isso, me identifico  no seu modo subversivo anarquista e vanguardista. Mas acho que enquanto artista, minimamente politizado, todos aqui levamos um pouco do Helio. Ele é pro Brasil uma das maiores referências que temos. Eu queria mesmo é ter vivido com ele em vários momentos. Risos!

Tenho uma certa dificuldade em colocar minhas referências em questão. Quando falo sobre meu corpo e sobre arte/HIV é uma coisa que está tão ligada e se torna tão genuína que óbvio que não existe corpo sem referência, mas minha construção se baseia na necessidade e na observação de outros corpos como o meu, basicamente.

Esclarecimento sobre ‘juntar pessoas,’ após o surgimento do COVID19:

“Oi Todd. É mais ou menos a mesma coisa sim. Eu só tô ainda pensando em como eu vou agir com esse projeto. A ideia é que a gente consiga articular pessoas e artistas positivos a propor novos olhares, um olhar mais positivo mesmo, sabe. Mas eu acho que isso também, agora pensando, pode ser uma interrupção de formatos, de outros corpos. Então eu acho que a liberdade nessa proposição, ela tem que ser livre mesmo, não da pra gente induzir outros corpos a fazer outras coisas. Ela tem que ser livre. Mas eu acho que pensar nessa nova linguagem de trazer menos dor e trazer informação com um pouco mais de… Não sei explicar pra você. Mas sim, tudo parte do mesmo. Eu tô agora aqui escrevendo parte desse projeto inclusive. Mas é meio isso, é a mesma coisa, mas é pensar em novos formatos sabe, que não seja com dor, que não seja das pessoas ficarem tocadas. Eu acho que a gente precisa focar agora em outros lugares.”


TLL: Hi Vinicius. When we first met you told me you have three projects or perhaps work in three overlapping areas. Can you say something about each and maybe how they are all connected?

VC: Yes, today, asides from [I=I] – a work that introduced me to the milieu of performance, I have 2 projects: 

The first is that in the next 10 years, I intend to hack the other 47 countries that somehow restrict my entrance/permanence as a positive body, regardless of serological state. This opening to this took place in Egypt.

We still don’t know exactly how my action will be, but for now we know that it will be a visit with interviews and that my stigma (the hair pieces) will be occupying the city. As if it was explicit that although there are entry restrictions, Aids exists everywhere. The second is a 3-month long project, with still no lead, which will promote meetings from invitations displayed on street posters and distributed throughout the city. In the meetings I intend to propose content that addresses positive matters, such as films, newsletters, performances, and whatever else happens, with a focus on Brazilian content, and in the end I propose a roundtable along with a questionnaire that will create data for a performance on the reproduction of bodies.

The work that already exists is the I=I, which is annual and gradual, and each year more than 365 flasks are added, pertaining to my days of treatment ever since I began it.

Besides these two, I have another project that is still under speculation which is a “posithive cure pain laugh”, for which I invited positive artists to propose new perspectives and possibilities of visions not laden with sadness and death. I believe the time is arriving for us to think about the positive fight with less pain and more strength. 

TLL: Actually I’d luv to understand better your artistic practice in general (pertaining to HIV and otherwise). Do you happen to have an artist statement or reflections on your ‘artistic journey’ so far? Please feel free to change the questions to suit the way you want to respond. I’m always interested to know how artists differentiate between their work (or practice) and life in general.

VC: Definitively, I have no strategy or departing point. My life was always defined by chance. I was never able to plan too many things, maybe for the lack of money or even due to my personality.

At work, I chose to research non-normative bodies in art, fashion and cinema. I began this research in 2010, when I gave up on several occasions the opportunity to work in the white/rich milieu in order to focus on projects that would really make a difference for me and others. 

I don’t think that we should protocol work as being a “bread winner.” Pleasure has to arise in professional articulations. It is a pity to think that, maybe in Brazil, although it exists, this research is still little valued. In theory, maybe, I chose pleasure instead of wealth. I’ve had the opportunity to work with powerful people but gave it all up because I was not seeing myself present in any of those spaces. And when HIV came up, I had two choices, silence or the possibility of dismantling silence itself. I chose to open up, and nothing was more obvious than to put my own body in question. That is where performance came from. I am not an academic body nor do I even defend academia. I think we are living an academic decline that does not allow as a possibility street experience, for example. I defend my research and my interest in the gaze, the experience, and mostly in the transit. Academia puts us in places that are too theoretical, but experience is what makes us have plausible conclusions about any subject. The truth is that one needs one another, and I have chosen the other.

TLL: I remember something you said when we met about aesthetics in relation to HIV. I’m particularly interested in this line of thought. Please expound:

VC: It’s cool that that left a mark on you.

I defend aesthetic as a form of information, but even in this way, it is kept sublime and open to various conclusions. When I think of art/HIV, I think of work that has a depth of information. Although we have lived for a long time with the matter of HIV/AIDS, what brings us to a growing epidemic is the lack of information. It is crazy to see that we still do not have effective public policy in Brazil, and I think that the potentiality will happen through new information tools. That’s where art comes in. Yet, however sublime it may present itself, we are never going to be able to free ourselves from information, it is what will make us, one day, think of introducing a non-conclusion to a positive work of art. Before this happens, I defend that all approaches must be based on, as well as introduce, information. At least this is my work format. While I also defend the “popular discourse” as a more comprehensive and effective means of transformation, I think of my people, of my aunt who lives far away, of those who did not learn to search for information. We are a country with the induction of information and with high audience rates in big tv channels, here people have the latest TV models to watch Globo, for example. Although there is global access, we are far from technological expertise and from having the awareness to search for sources that really bring us concrete information. 

TLL: Can you tell me more about your trip to Egypt for the Cairo Biennial? Did you stay long and would you say that your performance piece was seen outside of the frame of the government-sponsored art event?  Was your performance billed explicitly as pertaining to HIV? I’m curious about the public’s reaction to your work.

VC: Oh, Egypt!

The Cairo Biennial was a space that chose me to open up by condition as posithive. Before this I spent 2 years formulating my opening up. I rehearsed a performance that is called “Libertar-ser,” under the curation of Susana Guardado for a project that is called Prazer é Poder, in Rio, where I contracted HIV. In this performance my body was only a stigma. The hair pieces were what would come to define this stigma in the future. I remember a friend and wonderful artist who provokes me a lot, Tiago Rivaldo, telling me that it was amazing to see in Libertar-ser how much I had no idea what I was doing. And it was exactly about that… I did not know what I was feeling, I just knew that it was something that came from the outside in and that it underwent several clashes. After Egypt I learned that there was a narrative between Libertar-ser and I=I.

This invitation happened through the Monica Hirano (my producer today) as an intermediary, who was producing the Biennial and asked me to send the project. It was accepted, I was able to do it through a collective affective financing by Gilberto Vieira. We were able to raise 10k for this trip. I arrived in Cairo in the day of the second round of elections that elected Bolsonaro, I was in tears and feeling guilty for not having voted on this day, but I knew that I was proposing myself to something important. I spent more than 2 hours in the airport with my suitcase being investigated, with me not knowing how to speak English well. All I could say was “I’m an artist,” with the Biennial letter in my hand. My only fear was of them grabbing my medicines that I took in their original flasks. The performance was already starting there, if I had been interrupted, it would already have happened…

In the end they were so entertained by my costume that they only took the medicine, opened it, saw that it was sealed, and let me go.

I was able to get an assistant in Cairo to help me with the production, all of the flasks and labels were locally produced. The flasks were even easy to find, but for the labels we had to go through at least 4 print shops that did not want to print them out because they contained the words “gay”, “HIV”, and “Aids.” These are all words that are prohibited from even being mentioned in that country. My assistant had to say that it was a work for college. The guys cut up the labels while laughing a lot and being disapproving of it. The performance was a success. Although it still did not have a lot of format, for being the first, it was censored, I was not allowed to be shirtless, and there were cops filming every movement at the Biennial opening. It was all in English, so I think that the chances of it being censored diminished. I had never before found myself being watched by so many people, I even remember a child that offered my things to drink and helped me remove the labels, it was strong! It lasted 3 hours, almost the entire opening, and I felt that those who understood it felt a mixture of pity and compassion. In the end, some men came to hug and thank me for that move. I suppose that they were positive. I did not get involved with the country’s causes, I did not have time, we tried to get in contact with the UNAIDS there, but without success. But for me, as a proponent, to be there and to be taking those words that can’t even be said out loud, printed onto 740 medicine flasks, already gave it meaning to me.

In that year, of 2018, Egypt had doubled the amount of infections during the entire history of the epidemics there. There were 11k new infections. I was there for one exact month, walked around, thought it was all crazy, I had never experienced a culture that was so different from mine. I had a hook up there, most of the gays don’t live there due to the prohibition and they are all very closed off. The Grindr app already comes with a notice to be careful with “undercover cops.” I was scared and preferred to not get involved. Imagine if I was caught being gay, and even more, being posithive? [Laughs]

Centro Cultural Hélio Oiticica (I=I Rio de Janeiro)
Fotos: Daniel Toledo

TLL: You recently had an exhibition in Rio de Janeiro at the Hélio Oiticica Cultural Center. Can you say more about that? Was it the same piece you performed in Cairo? I know a little bit about the work (and style) of Hélio Oiticica, and in my head I can imagine similarities between his work and yours. Is this just my imagination? Have others made this comparison? And, well, do you make a connection yourself?

VC: The performance at HO was their and my last activity in 2019. They conceded me the space and I was able to have the production financed by a friend, Silvana Bahia. For being a public institution, and because Rio/Brazil is going through moments of scrapping and difficulty in the promotion of culture, everything was very precarious. They were almost without professionals, they didn’t even have money for the cleaning. It is very sad to see a place that hosts and gives exposure, especially for artists from the periphery, to find it in that state. Even with difficulties, the lack of structure gave strength and generated a new path for my work. We had to print out the labels on normal adhesive paper, which made it impossible to easily remove the labels, and promoted a collective necessity by the spectators. When I saw myself proposing to everyone that they remove the information contained on the labels, I thought: “wow, I am inserting information onto them, and they are un-labeling together with me.” I have said that that was the most potent collective action that I have found myself being a proponent of. So much so that we will now have the 2 types of labels on vinyl, which facilitates the removal of the normal adhesive paper. At MAM-SP, for example, I removed all of the labels and the interaction took place in my movement of gluing it onto the spectators. I can still stress the conclusion that “The aftermath, the remnants, and the proliferation of the HIV/AIDS virus will always reveal itself as fixed to, and more present in precarious territories, where there is a lack of access and effective public policies. 

We are talking about a (lack of) structure!”

This text was the caption of a photo that I took minutes after arriving to clean up the remnants from my performance on Monday, after being adverted by the institution for having left and not cleaned up, knowing their condition.

Now, regarding similarities with Hélio’s work, I thank you. I had never stoped before to think about this, I identify with his subversive anarchist and vanguardist ways. But I think that like any minimally politicized artist, we all take a little bit from Hélio. He is, for Brazil, one of the biggest references we have. What I really wanted was to have lived with him on many occasions. [Laughs]

I have a certain difficulty putting my references in question. When I talk about my body and art/HIV, it is something that is so interlinked, and it becomes so genuine, that obviously there is no body that has no reference, but, basically, my construction is based on the necessity and observation of other bodies like my own.

Post-COVID19 outbreak clarification on ‘getting people together’:

“Hi Todd. Yes, it is sort of the same thing. I am still thinking about how I’m gonna act in this new project. The idea is that we articulate positive people and artists, for them to propose new outlooks, a more positive one. You know, now that I was thinking, this can also be an interruption of formats, of other bodies’. So I think that liberty in this position really needs to be free, we can’t induct other bodies into doing things. It has to be free. But I think that we need to think about this new language that brings less pain and brings more information with a little bit of… I don’t know how to explain it to you. But yes, it is all part of the same thing. I am even now over here writing up this project. But that’s kind of it, it is the same thing, but it is to ask for new formats, one that isn’t all about pain, or all about moving people. I think that we need to focus on new areas.”

Museu de Arte Moderna (I=I São Paulo)
Fotos: Carol Araujo


[*A few years back, I created a meeting concept called Artist Roundtable (or A.RT) … I want to resuscitate this particular discussion on health and wellness in order to share a unique policy paper that came thereafter as byproduct. This article was originally published by the World Policy Journal on June 9th, 2015. xo Todd]

What would a policy that incorporates our ideas of medicine look like?

On Friday, May 1, Artist Roundtable (A.RT) sought to answer this question during its third event, hosted by the World Policy Institute’s Arts-Policy Nexus. Developed by Todd Lester, director of Arts-Policy Nexus, A.RT is an approach to bridging different disciplines in creative work and policy-making as well as addressing crucial issues from varied directions.

Since A.RT’s foundation in 2014, four roundtables have taken place in Guelph, Canada, Sao Paulo, Brazil, New York, U.S., and Vancouver, Canada. The topics of discussion range from climate change, to water, health, and new economies—with more on the way. The May 1 event, convened by Lester along with colleagues Nicolle Bennett, Program Director for Feel the Music!, and Patrick (Pato) Hebert, Associate Professor in the Department of Art and Public Policy at Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, brought together 11 like-minded artists for a conversation focused on the relationship between creativity, health, and wellness. The discussion further sought to explore how the relationship between artists and policymakers can help resolve localized health issues, how artists can better engage in this process, and the concrete benefits they can offer to the health field.

As the work of many invited to the conversation can attest to, art is a form of policy in and of itself. The arts are a representation of culture and society voiced through words, paintings, actions, and performance that can often shape the direction of policies long before they develop. In many cases, the connections and channels of communication that the arts provide may be more effective than traditional means of communication at conveying messages. In seeking to answer the question “what would a policy that incorporates our ideas of medicine look like?” the artists at the May 1 event offered not only an expanded view of wellness, but also a wider definition of policy and those ultimately responsible for its creation.

As the discussion opened, the group spoke of the necessity of art in reshaping our understanding of health and well-being. More often than not, health is an intervention rather than an intravention; it is fundamentally reactionary. Throughout the afternoon, one phrase mentioned by those in the roundtable in particular stayed in the minds of those participating: “Nothing about us without us”—the latter ‘without us’ clause symbolizing the engaging and connective capacity of art and its application to health policy.

“Art needs language, but also gives language,” said Grace Aneiza Ali, founder of OF NOTE, a magazine on how creativity affects policy, “speaking in an ordinary way by extraordinary means is more effective in outreach.” Art gives language an avenue to maneuver with ‘us,’ whoever ‘us’ may be.

Ali went on to explain the divorce of spirituality from life, and how the separation affects our ideas of health and wellness. Spirituality, she said, is not the same as religion. Spirituality is defined as a general connection with those around you that is not necessarily initiated through a ritual. Because art can be practiced and enjoyed across social groups, it allows people to convey a message to a wider audience without having to be validated by an authority.

In its utilitarian and universal nature, art also serves as a platform for advocacy and activism, often grabbing the attention of those otherwise uninterested or unaware. One participant, Richard Hofrichter, Senior Director at Health Equity NACCHC, defined cultural activism as “representing a way of giving voice to people in their own language and images, derived from historical memory and current experiences, that enable grassroots groups to serve as a face of change.”

There are also more direct ways to promote health and well-being through creativity. Nelson Santos, Executive Director of Visual AIDS, leads a collective that uses art to fight the spread of AIDS by provoking social interaction. One such project (“Self-Enforced Disclosure” by Greg Mitchell, 2007) features a man displaying a tattoo on his arm resembling a branded cattle, identifying himself in a somewhat contradictory playful font as being HIV-positive. The rough edges of the insignia symbolize the necessity of revealing such intimate information, yet the arcade game lettering and placement on a human body suggest a personal ownership of the HIV condition.

This more direct form of activism expressed in visually provocative images fosters a dialogue both with and among its audience. Using visual art to stir discussion brings those disconnected from important issues into a conversation that fosters better-informed points of view.

Members of the community can find therapeutic benefits from engaging themselves in creative activity. For instance, taking a simple “time out” from a busy day to draw and color can bring about a sense of youthful serenity in adults. Lacy Mucklow, the author of Color Me Happy and Color Me Calm aims to alter the energy and mood of adults with her new coloring books. Coloring, which has a proven calming effect on children, renders the same results with individuals of almost any age. “Relief and healing come from this time out,” Mucklow says. Some simple “you” time with a coloring book can help calm and re-center your thinking and attitude.

Carlos Rodriguez Perez, the Director of Wellness and Recovery Division at Kings County Hospital Center, also recognizes the necessity of art and interaction in promoting wellness, as well as the inherent link between therapeutic activity and social change and justice.

In partnership with the Beautiful Distress Foundation, Kings County hosts artists in its progressive arts therapy programs. With the help of resident artists such as Aldo van den Broek, this partnership is expanding the traditional definition of artist residencies and, in the process, the perceptions of mental health institutions and patients within the surrounding community. In a follow-up site visit to the program, A.RT participants were able to learn about the varied roles of artists within this space: as therapy providers, co-creators, and community engagers, all with the goal of reducing the effects and stigma of mental illness.

Even outside the context of experimental institutional partnerships, artists play a myriad of roles. Creative connectors, bridge-builders, providers of language, and stimulators of imagination—artists can speak to that which makes us uniquely human and connects us to others. In this regard, not only is art a tool to promote wellness for the individual, as in the case of coloring books, but also a way to promote advocacy and cultural dialogue to confront larger societal issues—as works like “Self-Enforced Disclosure” seek to achieve.

As the roundtable came to an end, the participants agreed on one thing: that the collaborative process can and will continue to explore ways that art and its creators can contribute, advocate, and co-create with both communities and policymakers surrounding issues of wellness and health. As the saying goes, “Nothing about us without us.”



Jordan Clifford is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal.

[Photos courtesy of World Policy Institute]

artHIVism, Condom Art & a lifetime of caring

[*A longer EN language interview is available below for download; Todd Lanier Lester interviews Adriana Bertini for LUV.]

TLL: We met first in Barcelona at the 14th International AIDS Conference in 2002. I don’t remember too much about the trip, except that I was presenting a poster with a colleague on community sensitization work on HIV/AIDS we’d done together in the East Province of Cameroon as US Peace Corps volunteers. Again, a very long time ago.

I recently wrote about my first HIV work on the LUV site, and I guess it had to do with being ‘plopped’ down in a location for which it was an urgency. I reacted to my surroundings, not so different than how I have reacted to urban issues here in São Paulo. For me it is about responding to what is around me, and relates to my personal notion of what you do when you live in a place. The only difference I can think of is that I now call myself an artist. I began this HIV-related work 20 years ago, and before I myself contracted HIV. 

Since you’ve been doing this work for just as long, I wanted to first say thank you for your dedication, and ask you to explain how you started and what moved you to action in what you term ‘artHIVism’ (I noticed in your e-mail signature:)

AB: O Trabalho com arte aliado à Aids nasce de uma intervenção artística em Porto Alegre em 1994, um convite do ator Fabiano Menna para uma performance, fui literalmente fisgada pela causa. Em 1995 entro para a ONG GAPA em Florianópolis como voluntária. Ali eu cuidava de crianças vivendo com HIV, a maioria de transmissão vertical. E um dia por acaso eu ganho do secretário da saúde uma caixa com 144 preservativos vencidos e ali começa o meu processo de investigação artística sobre a matéria prima e como fazer arte com este objeto para chamar a atenção para a prevenção, falar de sexualidade e os perigos do prazer sem advogar a abstinência.

Com o passar dos anos, estudando e fazendo experimentos artísticos, o trabalho de arte passa por uma evolução natural, onde eu busco através da manifestação artística integrar ativismo a arte, saúde e educação.

Inquieta com a questão da adesão à TARV, principalmente com jovens dou início à pesquisa de outros materiais para promover a adesão, como medicamentos, embalagem e objetos que remetem à saúde sexual, e há dois anos criei esta palavra artHivismo como um novo conceito, não sou ativista sou uma artHivista porque relaciono minha arte diretamente com o HIV.

TLL: I’ve read your Creative Workshop manual (see download below), and a bit of the background of condom art. Do you make other works outside the theme of HIV?  Do you see yourself more as a public health activist, an artist or both?

AB: Eu trabalho paralelamente com outras questões sociais na arte. Trabalhei por alguns anos na Anistia Internacional em Bruxelas como Strong Voice e Artivista para o Fim da Mutilação Genital Feminina e em outras causas sociais como câncer de mama, tráfico de órgãos, etc… Meu projeto futuro é trabalhar a Fome e escolhi para a representação artística o Pão como alimento-referência em todas as culturas globais. Eu me vejo como uma artista social.

TLL: Adriana, you recently visited Los Angeles and UCLA I believe. You were there doing HIV-related art education, or this is what I remember from our brief discussion. Let’s use your trip to LA as a way to discuss your work.  What did you do while you were there? Are there specific organizations you’d like for us to know about? Would you say that this trip is typical for you? 

AB: Eu fui convidada como Artist in Residence por três setores da UCLA:

Fowler Museum at UCLA

UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance

UCLA Art & Global Health Center

Trabalhamos em parceria desde 2006. E este convite foi para várias ações artísticas que envolveu:

Public Speaker, Workshop Público no dia comunitário do Fowler Museum e um workshop intensivo chamado de Fiat Lux Class (Creative Workshop).

No Condom Art Workshop (Creative Workshop) intensivo trabalhamos a teoria do artivismo, a construção do diálogo crítico e debates sobre saúde sexual, métodos contraceptivos e como banir o estigma.

Foram diversas dinâmicas usando poesia, desenho, fotografia, vídeo, performance para a construção do trabalho final, uma apresentação.

O conceito do workshop foi como banir estigma e pudemos criar coletivamente um novo diálogo sempre trabalhando técnicas de arte com camisinha, recorte, colagem, pigmentação, costura, modelagem.

É uma oficina muito rica porque além dos temas propostos e das técnicas artísticas aprendidas, levamos para as questões mais pessoais que são as experiências vividas na sua sexualidade, e colocar isso à tona dentro da classe fortalece os jovens e os empodera para suas escolhas mais conscientes.

TLL: And, lastly, what’s next?  Importantly, I’d luv to know your vision for HIV-related work in São Paulo where we both live. 

AB: Eu acredito muito na educação sexual de forma transversal nas escolas e na universidade, e volto de Los Angeles fortalecida a procurar mais espaços de diálogo em São Paulo, por mais difícil que seja e percebo que tanto os jovens americanos, brasileiros, europeus e asiáticos têm a mesma demanda, precisam de informação de forma criativa, contemporânea, rápida e atual como resposta à epidemia, o diálogo lúdico, moderno e a arte tem este poder de tocar mentes e corações para uma possível transformação.

LUV: Thanks so much for taking time to share your work!

See more here: ArtHIVism

Candles & Hearts #LPW2020

[*Working together with the City of São Paulo office of Human Rights, George Ferraz prepared (styled) two downtown cultural spaces for Love Positive Women 2020 with the theme of Yemanjá and using the posters designed by Thiago. A message from the Office of Human Rights was distributed along with Valentines Day cards. The Human Rights flier encourages HIV+ women to use the city’s three citizenship centers for meetings any time of the year, and provides a QR Code to find more info easily. Both Tapera Taperá bar and esponja spaces in São Paulo hosted Love Positive Women-related info / set-ups. Thiago made the candles for an event in NYC held on February 9th. George helped with the event too, making some more cloth hearts, like the ones distributed in São Paulo and Khartoum. There were extra hearts and we mailed them to Puerto Rico with Valentines cards. Some also went to the cast of I, OF COURSE, WAS LIVID, a Love Positive Women-affiliated event at Housing Works bookstore. And, about 15 leftover candles go on to the VisualAIDS Women’s Empowerment Art Therapy Workshops. Thanks guys! xo, Todd]

Scrapbook, Love Positive Women 2020 (#LPW2020)

[*When I asked NYC-based artist Thiago Correia Gonçalves if he’d like to help make a Love Positive Women event, he proposed making Bobó (shrimp and cassava stew) for Yemanjá, the goddess for fishermen who is celebrated on February 2nd in Brasil. When I asked poet Brad Walrond to participate, I’d already seen a poem ‘Yemaya’ in his forthcoming book Every Where Alien. He offered his 1986, Yemaya and other poems. DIG Ferreira, Jesse Hawkes, Livia Alexander, George Ferraz and others helped out. George made another batch of cloth hearts for attendees to the February 9th, NYC event. In addition to Bobó, Thiago made dendê or palm oil-infused candles that each guest would light upon arrival and then take home as a keepsake from the night.  Thiago let me help a little making the wax and filling the candles the night before … and puréeing the cassava. xo todd] 

Daniel Santiago Salguero interviews Jacqueline Sanchez for Luciérnagas #LPW2020

DSS: Buenas tarde, Jaque, gracias por estar aquí y colaborar con esta entrevista. Te voy a hacer unas preguntas que ya conoces. Si no quieres responder o te sientes incómoda podemos parar y no hay problema. 

¿Hace cuánto descubriste que tienes VIH? ¿Cómo ha sido todo desde entonces?

JS: Bueno, yo descubrí que tengo el virus del VIH desde noviembre del 2015. En un centro asistencial de mi barrio estaban en una campaña y me propusieron hacer la prueba, ahí me enteré. Para mi ha sido un poco complicado pero quiero salir adelante, surgir. Esto ha cambiado mi vida notablemente.

DSS: Cuando supiste ¿lo compartiste con tu familia, cómo reaccionaron?

JS: Si, primero lo compartí con mi compañero. Él se impactó mucho con la noticia y se perdió un tiempo. Después, lo compartí con mi madre pero hoy en día me arrepiento. Mi madre me dijo: ‘Defiéndase sola porque usted se buscó su problema’, palabras textuales que me han dolido mucho. Cada vez que tenemos un disgusto me lo saca a la luz. 

DSS: ¿Crees que de ser hombre las cosas habrían sido diferentes?

JS: Pues para mí, en mi modo de pensar, los hombres son mas sensibles a la noticia, se impactan y se resienten más. En mi caso, prefiero ser mujer porque yo soy valiente y soy capaz de enfrentar la realidad. Al principio, si me dio miedo por el rechazo de mi familia. Pero ahora lo asumo sin miedo. 

DSS: ¿Cómo es tu relación con los medicamentos?

JS: Al principio me daba dolor de cabeza, mareo. Pero ahora son para mi una bendición ¿por qué? Porque me dan mucha energía, fortaleza y me siento bien, no me duele ni una uña. Y me permiten vivir. Mi EPS me los suministra y me los tomo todos los días a las 9 p. m. Son retrovirales. El VIH es un virus que si no tiene tratamiento se va desarrollando y la persona, al principio, no se da cuenta, como fue mi caso. Pero si uno tiene cuidado, va a los controles y se toma los medicamentos y se cuida, va a tener larga vida. Depende sobre todo del cariño que se tenga a uno mismo.

DSS: ¿Crees que tu visión del mundo ha cambiado desde que te enteraste que tenías VIH? ¿por qué?

JS: Sí, porque la mujer que soy ahora no es la de antes. Yo soy una persona albina y de baja visión, las personas de mi entorno me rechazaban pero el rechazo de mi familia me hizo ser más fuerte, me tengo que defender sola y no tengo que depender de nadie. Y eso es lo que estoy haciendo. Estoy contenta porque estoy trabajando en un proyecto que se llama Café a ciegas, donde he conocido a personas invidentes. Dos tenemos la capacidad de ver, pero mi compañera ve un poco más, somos los ojos de grupo. He aprendido que los límites se los pone uno mismo, que si uno quiere surgir los sueños se pueden hacer realidad. Y el VIH es solamente un virus, pero si uno se cuida no pasa nada. Y ya, así de simple.

DSS: ¿Qué les quisieras decir a las mujeres con HIV / Sida?

JS: Les quiero dar un consejo. Que si ven la necesidad de decirle a sus familiares y creen que los van a ayudar que le digan, pero sino mejor que no lo digan. También que uno mismo debe amar su cuerpo, quererse uno mismo, no pueden pensar que por tener VIH no son humanos, tienes valores, hay que seguir adelante, tener cuidado con el tratamiento, que la vida no se ha acabado. Esto es como un volver a nacer, porque uno tiene esperanza, y vive el día a día, no como antes que uno no se preocupaba, hay que fortalecerse, superarse, aprender, mantenerse ocupado, intercambiar ideas, capacitarse.

DSS: ¿ Qué le quisieras decir a los familiares o amigos de personas con el virus?

JS: A los familiares les quisiera decir que sean considerados. Igual uno tiene el virus pero tiene la energía para comprender y hacer todo. Que no los hagan sentir menos y no los discriminen, porque es el peor error de una familia. Mejor que le den la libertad de vivir, porque la libertad es lo más maravilloso que puede haber. Entonces, yo les pediría de corazón que hay que comprenderlos y apoyarlos en lo más que se pueda.

DSS: Gracias Jaque, ¿hay algo más que quieras agregar?

JS: No, gracias, creo que ya lo dije todo. 


DSS: Good afternoon, Jaque, thank you for being here and collaborating with this interview. I am going to ask you a few questions that you already know. If you don’t want to respond, or feel uncomfortable, we can stop and there is no problem. 

How long have you had HIV? How has everything been since then?

JS: Well, I found out I had the HIV virus on November of 2015. In an assistance center in my neighborhood, they were doing a campaign and proposed to me to do the test, that is where I found out. For me, it’s been a bit complicated but I want to move forward, arise. It has significantly changed my life.

DSS: When you found out, did you share with your family, and how did they react?

JS: Yes, I first shared it with my partner. He was very impacted by the news and was lost for a bit. Afterwards, I shared it with my mother, but today i regret it. My mother told me: ‘Fight it alone, because it was you that brought this problem upon yourself,’ textual words that have hurt me a lot. Every time we have some disagreement, it is brought back to light.

by Power Paola

DSS: Do you think that if you had been a man, things would have been different?

JS: Well to me, in my way of thinking, men are more sensitive to the news, they are more impacted by it and resist it more. In my case, I prefer being a woman because I am brave and capable of facing reality. In the beginning, it did scare me, because of my family’s rejection. But now I assume it without fear.

DSS: How is your relationship with the medications?

JS: At first they would give me headaches, nausea. But now they are a blessing to me. Why? Because they give me so much energy, strength, and I feel good, there is not even a fingernail on me that hurts. And they allow me to live. My EPS provides them for me, and I take them everyday at 9 PM. They are retroviral. HIV is a virus that, if left untreated, will continue developing and the person, at first, will not notice it, as was my case. But if one is careful, does checks, takes medicine, and takes care of themselves, he or she will have a long life. It is mostly about the care that one has with him/herself.

DSS: Do you think that your view of the word has changed since you found out you had HIV? Why?

JS: Yes, because the woman that I am today is not the same that I was before. I am an albino person and with low vision, people around me rejected me, but my family’s rejection made me stronger. I have to defend myself alone, and I do not have to depend on anyone. And that is what I am doing. I am happy because I am working on a project called Café a Ciegas, in which I have met people who are blind. Two of us have the capacity to see, but my partner sees a little bit more than me. We are the eyes of the group. I have learned that limits are imposed by ourselves, and if we want our dreams to emerge, they can be made real. HIV is just a virus, and if one takes care of him/herself, everything is okay. And that’s it, that simple.

DSS: What would you like to say to women with HIV / Aids?

JS: I want to give them an advice. That if they have the necessity of telling their family members, and believe that they will help them, that they do so. But otherwise, it is best that you don’t tell them. Also, that you have to love your own body, love yourself, you cannot think that because you have HIV that you are not human and have values. You have to keep moving forward, take care with treatment, as life is not over. It is like going back to being born again, because you have hope, and live life day by day, not like before when you did not care. You have to strengthen yourself, better yourself, learn, keep yourself busy, exchange ideas, get trained.

DSS: What do you want to say to family members or friends of people with the virus?

JS: To family members I want to ask them to be considering. A person may have the virus, but still has the energy to understand and do everything. That they do not make them feel lesser, and discriminate against them, because it is the worst error a family can commit. It is better that they give them the liberty to live, because liberty is the most wonderful thing there is. So I would ask the family members, with all my heart, to understand them and support them the most possible.

DSS: Thank you Jaque, is there anything else you would like to add?

JS: No, Thank you, I think I have already said it all.