São Paulo – The 14th Sharjah Biennial (SB14), in the UAE, features previously unseen work by two Brazilian artists – Aline Baiana and Laura Lima. The exhibition opened on March 7 and will continue until June 10, featuring work by 80-plus artists. This year’s theme is Leaving the Echo Chamber.
The Biennial comprises three exhibits, curated by Zoe Butt (Vietnam), Omar Kholeif (Egypt) and Claire Tancons (Guadalupe, Caribbean). The Tancons-curated show Look for Me All Around You contains work by 30 artists from the world over, including Aline Baiana and Laura Lima of Brazil.
Aline Baiana’s purposely created multimedia installation draws a parallel between the building of dams in Brazil and Lebanon that might jeopardize rivers and the biodiversity they support. The setup comprises two pieces: Janna Dam or The second murder of Adonis, and Aliança por um Mundo Ensolarado ou A Cobra Grande em Rios Livres (Alliance for a Sunny World or The Big Snake in Free Rivers).
Janna Dam, by Aline Baiana
The two pieces are linked together by a strip of water. The Big Snake features an original canoe from North Brazil’s Tapajós River, overflowing with water and containing a river/snake shaped mirror. ‘When the sun hits it, between 1pm to 4pm, the mirror projects a rainbow snake on the wall. It’s a reference to the (African-Brazilian religion) candomblé entity Oxumaré, and with a mythological animal for the riverside communities of Tapajós, Mangabal and Pimental. They believe the big snake lives in the river and protects it,’ Aline Baiana told ANBA over the phone from Berlin, where she lives. Underlying the canoe is a cement replica of it, with loudspeakers emitting forest sounds and statements from riverside community leaders.
The water strip connecting the pieces is modeled after the Falaj, an Arab irrigation system that relies on gravity alone to distribute water from underground springs in desert areas for farming and household use. The water from the canoe falls into this river/serpent-shaped strip and flows towards the other piece, Janna Dam, consisting of a traditional water jug from Beirut, Lebanon designed to mimic a hydrologic microsystem. Water drips into the jug from a rock above it.
According to Baiana, a Brazilian company was contracted to build the Janna Dam on Lebanon’s Adonis Valley, and large areas have been deforested. In the area there’s a stone with an Arabic inscription by a Roman emperor stating that cutting down trees isn’t allowed. ‘It’s one of the oldest documentations of an environmental concern,’ said the artist, whose work includes phrases by local residents regarding the dam’s status, which she wrote into stone.
‘Studies were made [in Adonis Valley] and besides being a seismic area, which means building and maintaining a dam is dangerous here, the soil is composed of highly porous limestone, therefore the dam can never run at full tilt, because a large portion of material will get absorbed into the ground,’ she explained. ‘Moreover, the Adonis Valley aquifer supplies Beirut, so the capital’s supply could be threatened,’ she said.
Baiana decided to create a piece bridging together a problem that’s common to two continents. The work was commissioned by the Sharjah Art Foundation, and preproduction saw her travel to the Tapajós River to seek out the canoe and listen to what people had to say. Although she didn’t travel to Lebanon, a Lebanese producer helped her get quotes from Adonis Valley residents.
According to Baiana, viewer reception was great. ‘People found the piece very interesting, especially the depth of research that went with it and the fact that it geographically links two continents through serious dam-related environmental issues,’ she said. ‘I may be a romantic, but I believe art creates enchantment and brings about some change in the way people see things,’ she said.
Aline Baiana’s oeuvre focuses on conflicts of ontology (the field of philosophy that occupies itself with the being and existence) in convergence with studies in indigenous feminist, ethnical, environmental and social justice, revealing the importance of unearthing other stories. A native of Salvador, Baiana currently lives and works in Rio de Janeiro and Berlin.
Laura Lima of Minas Gerais, Brazil is featured with an installation (pictured above) that was also commissioned by the Sharjah Art Foundation: Massive Kinship (solitary promenade), or Gigantesco Parentesco in Portuguese – an allusion to the lyrics to Lilith, a song by Rio-based singer-songwriter Ava Rocha. One verse in the song is Ela é minha irmã de cor, irmã de corpo/ Irmã de santo, mana de sorte/ Gigantesco parentesco/ Quero ser que nem ela/ Ela é minha irmã de cor (She’s my sister in color, sister of body/Sister of faith, sister of luck/Massive kinship/I want to be like her/She’s my sister in color).
Lima’s installation consists of a 5-meter-tall black velvet panel with cables and a tracking system that weaves its way through the 3-meter ceiling height venue. ‘The panel visits the exhibit and it works well with the theme of [curator] Claire [Tancons]’s exhibit, which is Look for Me All Around You’,’ the artist told ANBA on the phone from Rio. Lima drew her inspiration from Muslim women and their attire, especially the black veil. She set out to liken Arab-Muslim and Brazilian culture in the freedoms and oppressions that women experience. ‘Such is the massive kinship, because we tend to look at the veiled woman and think it’s wrong, but us Westerners and Brazilian women wear a subjective veil, which is sexism, the cult of the body and leanness, gender inequality. That is our veil. We’re in similar conditions,’ Lima explained.
Lima travelled to Sharjah a year ago, upon getting shortlisted for the Biennial. She also spent 15 days there between late February and early March. ‘The political issue is always a highly relevant part of an artist’s work, even if subtly so. And the work was welcomed in a good, elegant way. I realized that the people in Sharjah have an interesting kind of diplomacy,’ she said. She also said each of the UAE’s emirates have a different social function. ‘Dubai is more open and global; Abu Dhabi is more about money, like Wall Street; and Sharjah is primarily about the arts. You can feel it,’ she said.
Lima’s body of work challenges standard genres like performance, sculpture and painting. She calls her drawings ‘notes,’ her paintings ‘architecture’ and her collages ‘footnotes.’ Her artworks are always ‘something else,’ a piece in a puzzle for viewers to solve or perceive. Lima was born in Minas Gerais and currently lives and works in Rio de Janeiro.
The Echo Chamber
In pop culture, the ‘echo chamber’ designates a news media circuit that’s reinforced by a closed-off network controlled and governed by private sources, governments and corporations. It’s also a metaphor for the historical control of capital and the cultural, social and political systems that dictate its access, production and distribution – that capital attracts (and ultimately prioritizes) particular images, languages, skills, histories and geographies. An echo chamber may also be a space where sound reverberates, where memory and imagination echo across the surface, through space and time.
Leaving the Echo Chamber does not purport a way out of that context; instead it sets out to discuss different provocations on how one can renegotiate that chamber’s form and function so as to multiply the echoes through space, the vibrations representing the vast forms of human production – the rituals, beliefs and customs.
The 14th Sharjah Biennial features a host of never-before-seen works including largescale installations, performance and film. The show is held by the Sharjah Art Foundation. Find out more from the Biennial website .