Exploring strength and humanity in Virginia de Medeiros’ pictures of São Paulo’s casing activists

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Nine pictures from Guerrilheiras – a portrait series of female activists captured in their personal conditions – are currently on look at Nara Roesler gallery, New York

On 23 November 2012, the former Cambridge Hotel, located in the central area of São Paulo, has been occupied by the Movimento Search engine marketing Ceto do Centro (MSTC): a 20-year-old network associated with housing activists. The group guards the rights of occupants – commonly referred to as “squatters” – in São Paulo’s crumbling abandoned buildings. Subsequent eight years of abandonment, nowadays, the building houses around 500 people, and is considered one of the biggest occupations in Latin America.  

After living at the 15th floor of the hotel for three months during a residency program in 2016, professional photographer Virginia de Medeiros was still unsure about how in order to narrate her observations of the activist group. Between discussions with the group leader, Carmen Silva Ferreira, and other ladies working as drivers, seamstresses or janitors, she realised her camera could serve as a “shield for their struggles”. During her residency, de Mederios witnessed the women’s day-to-day struggle for presence while standing up for their family’s right for shelter. In the meantime, MSTC was undergoing an effort to expand into another 14-story building, Ocupação 9 de Julho, which had continued to be empty for decades after the Brazilian Social Security Institute evacuated. The efforts paid off, and then-mayor Fernando Haddad eventually passed a law that will protected the occupants’ legal rights and initiated an open necessitate enrollment to settle into the developing.    

The performer ended up following the group for 2 years, documenting the women on her portrait series, Guerrilheiras . The images were first unveiled within 2018, in an exhibition entitled Alma de Bronze, from Ocupação 9 de Julho. Photographs were hung over the buildings’ different units, while the top floor exhibited the video installation, Quem Não Luta tá Morto (Those Who seem to Won’t Fight Are Already Dead) . “These women work and live on the margins of culture, and the images suggest various understandings of femininity plus female struggle, ” de Mederios says. “[They] understood that art could be a tool that functions in favor of the movement, just like other support they obtained from journalists, architects or filmmakers. ”

© Virginia de Medeiros.

© Virginia de Medeiros.

Nine of 13 photographs in Guerrilheiras are currently on view in a group exhibition , On The Shoulders associated with Giants , at Nara Roesler photo gallery in New York,   Every photograph shows a group member within her intimate surroundings, illustrating the daily juggle between supporting the motion and their personal lifestyles.  

Marineide Jesus da Silva, a driver, gazes hopefully into the distance, while Sonia Mabel B. Barreto, who is originally from Peru, stands with her kids and husband in their cooking area, wearing the uniform of their favorite football team. Leonice Penteado Lucas, a baker who sells her cakes at Ocupação 9 sobre Julho, is captured along with her bolinhos – a Brazilian desert – which she considers as the girl contribution to the cause. Dressmaker Maria das Neves Pereira, who makes clothes for that group, stands proud amongst piles of fabric within her studio.

© Virginia de Medeiros.

© Virginia de Medeiros.

Stoic and dignified, the women radiate vigour, while emphasising their humanity and depth. The effortless sincerity seen in each picture stems from the artist’s interviews with her subjects regarding their everyday lives. The photographer encouraged them to open about their occupations and asked the women: “What is the fighting tool? ” Their responses, which ranged from being a mother, baking, and pure activism, informed the final portraits.

This particular same emotional commitment to her subjects informs her wider practice. For her three-channel video clip Sergio e Simone (2007-2014), she followed a trans shaman throughout a decade, as well as for her 2015 video, Cais do Corpo, frequented Rio de janeiro de Janeiro’s Praça Mauá district for a month to document the area’s intercourse workers. In the process of watching, she builds a mental connection with her subjects. And, along the way, the artist witnesses her own transformation behind the particular lens too. “Each task is a process of self-construction, plus shows what is not completed within ourselves, ” the girl says. “The work is not really about the other but about an encounter with one more. ”

Osman May Yerebakan

Osman May Yerebakan is an art author and curator based in Nyc. His writing has appeared on T: The New You are able to Times Style Magazine, The particular Paris Review, The Guardian, New York Magazine, Brooklyn Rail, BOMB, Artforum, Artnet, Hughs playboy, Architectural Digest, and elsewhere. Osman previously organized displays at venues that include the particular Queens Museum.

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