As soon as the airplane landed in Belém, I rummaged, as I usually do, for the hotel booking slip in my folder of travel documents. It was already 11 pm and, when I contacted the producers of the exhibition that had brought me to the capital of Pará, I discovered that, for reason of a series of misunderstandings, no hotel had been booked. Armando Queiroz sent me a welcome message and I responded telling him about my situation: alone, in the airport of an unfamiliar city, at 11 pm, with nowhere to go. We had tried two or three boarding houses to no avail, when Armando said “I’ve found one that has vacancies! Let’s see if you like it? It’s called Machado’s Palace!” I didn’t even need to look at the photos online. The ax (machado) is an instrument of the god Xangô: his palace is my home. The hotel was great, but, the next day, I moved to Pousada Itaoca, closer to the city center. Even so, ita=stone, oca=house. And the quarry is the house of Xangô.
One week later, Orlando Maneschy would teach me that this is a situation in which people would say “Belém is a crazy place!”. The week I spent in the city involved a series of important meetings that I can only describe in positive, if not superlative, terms. The contrast between my hectic schedule (with four to six meetings a day) and the pace of the city (guaranteed delays and rainstorms with unpredictable consequences) brought me, by the last day of my stay, to the limits of endurance. Under these circumstances, Alexandre Sequeira offered me a room, an electric fan and a half-hour nap before continuing work. It was in the course of a conversation with Alexandre that the expression Generous Horizon came up. He described a kind of perspective generated by the topography of the city, but I almost immediately realized that the expression applied perfectly to the human landscape of Belém as well.
During the hours we spent in Elza Lima’s apartment, I became enthralled by the archives of someone who must be one of the greatest photographers in Brazil. Much of her work has yet to be seen. The way the scenes take shape in her camera lens is almost magical and we can see in her work the complex ways in which the cultures of the communities of Amazônia are built up, knitting together nature and human relations.
Another photographer who produces powerful work is Luiz Braga. His archives are meticulously organized and well looked after. We talked at the last possible moment convenient for both of us. In addition to his impressive capacity to bring out colors and traces, Braga manages to find, highlight and offer up to us wraith-like wisps of Amazonian culture. The fundamental importance of the narratives that surround each one of his photos makes us wonder whether the strength of his work does not also come from the African-Brazilian and indigenous oral tradition. The same goes for the work of Alexandre Sequeira, which uses devices suggestive of forms of relation. The resulting photographs are illuminated by the living results of the work and shaped by the narratives that surround them.
A habitual feature of the people of Pará is being constantly on the alert. The work of Lima, Braga and Sequeira presents scenes that portray this state of readiness for conflict, which can easily be thrown off, when violent or sexual conflict occurs, or when it is felt to be an inappropriate response.
Violence in Pará pervades the work of many artists from this State. Alberto Bitar, for example, has photographed real-life murder scenes as a way of capturing the fleetingness of living hings. With the shutter open, the dead body stays in sharp focus, while the living are turned into ghosts. Yet, it is the tension produced by the way the camera lingers on the deceased that lends these photographs their sinewy firmness. The study of the perishability of things extends also to the graveyards of documents and scrap iron from cars and planes.
My conversation with Alberto Bitar took place in the Kamara Kó Gallery, named after the eponymous photography agency, founded in 1991, which was responsible for bringing together and disseminating much of the photographical work of the region. The same afternoon, I visited Keyla Sobral’s exhibition at the Casa das Onze Janelas, where, the previous day, I had talked to Armando Queiroz, its current director. The strength, resilience and fine features of Armando and his work have served the institution well. The work of Keyla Sobral and that of Orlando Maneschy are particularly interesting in that they necessarily start out from an Amazonian setting, with its cosmic vision and imaginary world, but end up dealing more directly with issues that concern the whole of humanity. The exhibition also features a number of photographs by Guy Veloso, the only artist contributing to this show whom I did not meet in Pará, whose work is important in so far as it builds up within the exhibition space something of what I experienced in Belém.
Generous Horizon is the first show to be staged as part of a project in which Luciana Caravello Arte Contemporânea will each year invite a different curator to select contemporary art works from a Brazilian State that lies outside of the Rio – São Paulo axis. In view of the size and complexity of the work produced in Pará, I decided that this exhibition should reflect an initial experience of working in the location. Generous Horizon also provided me with new insights by showing the extent to which a curator who undertakes solid research can change the whole art system of a city. Generous Horizon is a result and also the beginning of a new drawing.