Fiction and art go side by side. One doesn’t depend on the other, however, I do think they become more beautiful the closer they exist to one another. In their junctions, the imagination is provoked and the ability to invent and create becomes clear. All this leads us to great capacities of significance and meaning but they also reach out to touch us. They are visual and verbal inventive territories — ones of great capacity for mirroring and identification. In the artist’s own words, Adriano Machado’s afro-inventive territories carry afro-Brazilian identities, the culture of orality and materiality, the memory, and mainly the imaginary created in his works. In conversation with me for Bubblegum Club, the visual artist Adriano Machado unpacks these themes regarding his photographic and visual production.
Your photographs explore the very crude, too real and at the same time fictional. The images invite us to see reality in a conceptual way. They show their own geography, the territory. What is your process of displaying something so palpable?
My photographs have one foot between fiction and visible everyday life, since the two visualities are the same face. The word crudeness leads me to think of two places that I do not know if I really occupy. Although I agree with the unintentional in relation to the creation of a scenario for the photographs—but rather, a scene that organises everyday elements to re-invent the very place from which I create the narrative—and more to say about the people with whom I live. I like to think that I invent territory from my existence, the thinker Milton Santos taught us so well about this. Just as the photographs I make are invented from observing the everyday life of those who exchange with me, the photographed—that third place, I now call afro-inventive territories—in that geography of life is [where] I transit.
The images start from a restlessness; first the family memory, then the theme of still life or my day-to-day living among the cities of the interior of Bahia: Feira de Santana, Alagoinhas, Cachoeira, and later, Salvador, the capital of Bahia. I like to think that the images are glimpses of my backyard, which I expose together with my cousins who give body to the characters I create, and the experiences that are ours. To say of our desire for life is one point, the other is the relationship, from it comes the invitation so that they can photograph with me. I thus organise the idea of rehearsal and together with my process of collecting, storing, observing, listening; I remote the silence and get my hands on the camera or other processes that manage to point out this territory.
In your works themes of ancestry come up clearly, as well as an engagement with your own family and stories. You bring into collision personal memory and collective memories. What role fo you think your work plays/could play in empowering both individual and collective Brazilian reality?
My first work organised as a series is called Cobra Verde (Green Snake), with it I created [in photographic form] using the memories of my grandparents. I built images that emerged from the accounts they told me of their lives from the 1940s in the city of Feira de Santana-BA. To develop this project, I took a course on how to create a family tree and I also sat down to listen to the older women of my family, workers, laundresses, and fairgrounds. They walked into their hearts — shaking names and images of people who are no longer here, blowing the dust off of their faces and things almost erased, promulgating silences, remembering pains, staring at happy and sore places. Their stories are a piece of a puzzle which this country knows but denies. The strength, dynamics and ancestral strategies of Black women have carried us this far. My mother Edna Conceição says that “dreaming of green is always a good thing”.
If from a dream and its strength of image, the movement to maintain itself on a devastated land like Brazil was maintained by my family… the resilient feeling, besides being magical and real, is not unique to this family, it is part of a story, often subalternate, fetishised, folklore about the lives of these people. In a way, I don’t only tell my family’s story—for I am a part of my time—and in that time, it is undeniable that the Black being in the Brazilian diaspora, especially in Bahia; Black Rome, apathetic, collapsing and set on fire, continues to be the target of atrocious deliriums and denials of the Brazilian genocidal state. In this condition, the erasures of history or the attempt to annihilate a visual and intellectual protagonism of our own experience is latent. It usually happens that people come to me during exhibitions to talk about how they remember their mothers and grandparents when they see the photographs or remember their backyards, it is very beautiful to be able to look at those reflections.
Your work Studies on Still Life resigns the concepts of death and engages with the idea of the Black body objectified and made artificial. It signals at socio-political structures in operation for centuries and supported by institutional and cultural erasure of the H/histories of Black people in Brazil. Maintained by a division of colonial society that continues to this day and age. Do you think that the realities of Black Death and of the social role of Black peoples in Brazil have evolved in significant ways?
Still life as a genre in the history of Western art is highly developed in Brazil, including by great Black Brazilian painters such as Arthur Timotheo da Costa and Yêdamaria. I began to develop still life studies out of a desire to emulate the pictorial gesture, repeat a theme to exhaustion and study the image in various scenarios and the time in suspense. I am more interested in the term still life, or still suspended, in my free translation. This place interests me or translates me more than still life, despite the tautological game pointing out obvious paths in the images. The images suggest an environment of passage — laden with other presences, old and new, of various territories that cross me. The reorganisation of a kind of criticism or updated look at the genre of still life, already carried out by several artists from painting to photography, has allowed me to walk through several places. And each image made has given rise to a debate that advances both to use the theme as a support for such disturbing questions as the discussion about inanimate—perhaps death—suspension and its relationship with my Black being, and to think about the history of western art. The colonial process is constantly being updated, as is art. When I first read the question, I thought of citing cases of murdered Black people, however, this is updated so forcefully in Brazil that it impacts my/our thought to only reproduce a colonial and anti-life gesture — which is always to tie death to Blackness.
I long for an inverse path that reorganizes this logic. And there are many fronts so that we can unravel the word death (this death that we both think now) to the word that names the Black man. Among so many thinkers that I could cite to speak of the life of the Black Brazilian, I have the words of educator Pâmela Carvalho—thinker of the Mare complex in Rio de Janeiro—who organises proposals for life policies and reminds me of the grandiosity of our existence, which is not only numerical but also complex, green, luminous, rugged, and confronts the colonial narrative of the spectrum of death as a destiny. I wish that my work refines and gives the right to a narrative where life and its camouflages allow other transformations. In the images, the characters when they appear camouflage themselves to the landscape, to a transformed nature, a territory of strange coexistence. This work is about the power of life that inhabits my surroundings, my affections. Still life here is about exposing relationships in a perennial way and immortalising them in image. The studies on still life are about thinking body, stone, plastic, mortal and infinite, nature, color and light as one thing—living in a time in suspension—where the eye does not realize how to translate the image to a death that does not lead to another existence. Plenty, bright colours, abundant affective relationships, a desire that vibrates over a silence and crawls or floats over the very existence of the image.
Some Afro-Diasporic territories in Brazil are extremely neglected politically and socially. The reality of Black people in countries completely polarised in these directions generates countless damages to their past, future, and present. The presence of racism, in all its meanings, causes irreversible losses. Today the construction of a Black identity and the gaze on memory becomes almost a political, social and resistant act. How do you think your photographs engage this?
I have worked [at] finding a relationship of affection with whomever it is I photograph, generally my cousins are the models in my images because our friendship connects us in a relationship of trust that promotes paths to follow from an auto-referential gesture to a collective voice. Being a Black body in this world is already a political act in itself and adversities to our existence are present. However, in the micro-politics promoted by Black people towards ourselves, I see a key to thinking about how my work acts in this visual reconfiguration. What I do is reproduce such actions, look at the walls of my house and think of their memories, before that, observe the people around me and how they reaffirm the inventiveness of their existence. Small things interest me; care, the folding of a sheet, the light entering the room, the feeding of animals, the green or red floor, the waking up to work of my parents, the sayings of my grandparents and their way of facing the existence of the community in silence, in faith, ordering secrets, foundations that are established with a logic indecipherable to me. I hope that my photographs will make people see, even if they glimpse themselves and their mysteries. Thus, hopefully the images that I organise in that territory will be able to enhance their existence.