"Intervenção VI", 1980, 3Nós3
Political violence

Clara Ianni: We Cannot Be Afraid

Théo-Mario Coppola
30 Jun 2020, 4:59 pm

Brazilian artist Clara Ianni emphasizes that historical violence is continuously recomposing itself in contemporary societies. The artist was raised in a politically engaged family and developed an early interest in political issues related to the history of Brazil and to contemporary forms of oppression. She graduated in visual arts from the University of São Paulo and in visual and media anthropology from the Freie Universität in Berlin. Clara Ianni lives and works in São Paulo and is currently represented by Galeria Vermelho. Her work has been exhibited in major exhibitions in Brazil, such as Comunidades Imaginadas, 21st Bienal de Arte Contemporânea Sesc_Videobrasil at Sesc 24 de Maio and Histórias feministas: artistas depois de 2000 at São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP), both São Paulo. Her works has been shown internationally, most notably at the X Berlin Biennale, Berlin, and in “Brasile. Ilcoltello nella carne”, curated by Jacopo Crivelli Visconti at PAC, Milan. Clara Ianni has been invited to take part to the forthcoming Bienal de São Paulo.

Clara Ianni’s research encompasses a wide range of disciplines comprising anthropology, history, and political sciences. Her practice is informed by precise references to modern art, art history, post-colonial studies, as well as architecture. Her work examines the consequences of domination, in particular racism, and echoes the traumatic experiences of living in a country founded on terror and defiance.

Violence is deeply rooted in Brazilian society and is made tangible through
various actions and political symbols. Law itself plays an ambiguous role in this
scenario. In 1979, an amnesty law was implemented by the military dictatorship. This law, although amended by the senate in 2014, is still in force today. It compels forgiveness for crimes and acts of torture that were committed by state agents. It also applies to opponents of the regime, not making any distinction between the various acts committed. Its implementation created a general oversight and imposed forgetting among the country’s population. By creating feigned reconciliation, this law has dramatically affected personal representations and has prevented any prospect of building a shared transmission of past events.

Above: "Intervenção VI", 1980, 3Nós3

Brazil’s dictatorship lasted from 1964 to 1985. See Thomas Skidmore, The Politics of Military Rule in Brazil, 1964–1985, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988. For a brief introduction to the 1979 Amnesty Law see here (last edited on 1 January 2020 at 11:57 UTC). See also the entry on the National Truth Commission and its report here (last edited on 14 April 2020 at 22:39 UTC).

"Punhos" (2010), Clara Ianni (Foto: Filipe Berndt / Cortesia Galeria Vermelho)

"Punhos" (2010), Clara Ianni (Photo: Filipe Berndt / Courtesy Galeria Vermelho)

"Apelo" (2014), Clara Ianni e Débora Maria da Silva still de vídeo

"Apelo" (2014), Clara Ianni and Débora Maria da Silva

video still

“Apelo” (2014) was shot in São Paulo’s Dom Bosco cemetery, which served as a mass grave for victims of the dictatorship. The cemetery remains in use today, and is where the dead bodies of poor people, victims of trafficking and victims of present-day police and military violence are buried. Débora Maria da Silva, a human rights activist, is the narrator of the film. She denounces the anonymity of burials and the constant forgetting: ‘Remember that it is our blood that waters this land and makes the plants grow. It is our blood that plantations drink from and which mixes the cement in each new city’. The present time comes out as an eternal Styx, full of sorrow. The film subverts the representation of Brazil as a land of plenty and hope, a stereotype that survives in the country and abroad. During preliminary research, Clara Ianni filmed “Mães” (2013), a prequel to “Apelo”. Inserted between the individual and the collective history of millions of people who underwent violence during the dictatorship, trauma has persisted in the democratic period.

Repetition is a key figure of Brazilian political life, and applies both to political institutions and alternative human rights movements. Clara Ianni’s “Repetições” (2018) revisits the political play “Arena Conta Zumbi”, that was performed by Teatro de Arena in 1965. Through the memories of one of its former performers, Izaias Almada, the film is an attempt to experience history by means of repetition and to overcome the company’s poor rendering of suffering in the initial play.

The site-specific installation “Black Flag” (2010) interacts with the urban context of São Paulo and signals absence and failure. Recalling the urban interventions of Brazilian collective 3Nós3, the artist draped a large black flag over the main entrance of a building in the city centre that had been unused for many years, except sporadically. Why are there abandoned edifícios in a city like São Paulo? What is the legacy of the modernist utopia in a country where access to rights, work and healthy food has been constantly unequal?

By uncovering contradictions in the modernisation processes applied in Brazil, Clara Ianni investigates the country’s official history and the intricacy of conflicts of interest in official ambitions for institutions. Her works draw on the history of conceptual, modernist and minimal art.

In “Tratado” (2016), she composes a colour study based on a palette of human skin nuances. Each block matches the skin tone of one of President Temer’s ministers with a corresponding monochrome colour, reflecting the white and male supremacy of his cabinet.

 The Cemitério Dom Bosco is also known as Cemitério de Perus or Colina dos Mártires. Additional information can be found here (last edited on 18 January 2020 at 00:14 UTC).

Teatro de Arena was founded in Sāo Paulo in 1953 and was one of the most important Brazilian theatre companies throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The company was politically-engaged and presented alternative forms of theatre production. It shut down in 1972.

Michel Temer served as president of Brazil from August 2016 to December 2018. For an extensive examination of his government’s composition, see also ‘A lot of testosterone and little pigment’: Brazil’s old elite deals a blow to diversity’ by Jonathan Watts, published in The Guardian on 13 May 2016 (see here).

"Tractatus" (2016), Clara Ianni (Foto: Edouard Fraipont / Cortesia Galeria Vermelho)

"Tractatus" (2016), Clara Ianni (Photo: Edouard Fraipont / Courtesy Galeria Vermelho)

"Repetições" (2017-2018), Clara Ianni still de vídeo

"Repetições" (2017-2018), Clara Ianni

video still

Lines and planes derive from the main aesthetics and political principles of modernity. They also are at the roots of cartography. Based on a composition of straight lines that represent rectilinear frontiers on a cylindrical map projection of the world in 2017, Retas (2017) is a minimal and abstract printed mappa mundi. With Europe at the centre, it brings to the fore the political construction of geography and reveals how it was historically imposed by dominant countries on others.

“Do Figurativismo ao abstracionismo” (2017) investigates the political role of abstraction art in the twentieth century by exploring the imbuing of political manoeuvre, colonialism and personal interests in the art field. The video is a collage made out of reproductions of artworks that were exhibited at the inaugural exhibition of the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art (MAM-SP) in 1949, from which the title is taken. The images are combined with different quotes, one of which pertains to diplomatic relations and cultural cooperation between Brazil and the USA: ‘There is no stronger bridge between the peoples of the Americas than the creative forces of our times which more than ever are universal in character’. This comes from a letter that Nelson Rockefeller addressed to entrepreneur and MAM-SP founder Francisco Matarazzo Sobrinho. The influence of a small group of prosperous individuals in shaping cultural policies and the history of art in modern countries is all the more blatant.

Clara Ianni’s approach to art practice is radical and demonstrates an exacting analysis of active inequalities and structures of domination in Brazil. The political ambition of her work makes an underlying call for a future of active resistance and collective action.

Nelson Rockefeller is mostly known for serving as vice president of the USA from December 1974 to January 1977. He regularly visited Brazil from the 1930s onwards. Between 1940 and 1944, he headed the Office for Coordination of Commercial and Cultural Relations between the American Republics (OCCCRBAR), later renamed the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (OCIAA). As such, he oversaw a programme of cooperation between the USA and South American countries, which included cultural cooperation. Rockefeller was an important art collector and patron. See Antonio Pedro Tota, The Seduction of Brazil: The Americanization of Brazil During World War II, University of Texas Press: Austin, 2009.

"Do figurativismo ao abstracionismo" (2017), Clara Ianni Exibição como parte da Verbo - Mostra de Performance Arte (2018) na Galeria Vermelho

"Do figurativismo ao abstracionismo" (2017), Clara Ianni

Exhibited as part of Verbo - Mostra de Performance Arte (2018), at Galeria Vermelho


Théo-Mario Coppola (born in 1990 – non-binary – he/him/his) is an independent curator and arts writer. At the intersection of empathy and activism, his curatorial practice engages with research-based, experimental, narrative and political forms. Théo-Mario Coppola founded and curated “Hotel Europa”, an annual series of exhibitions and programmes (Vilnius, Lithuania in 2017, Brussels, Belgium in 2018, and Tbilisi, Georgia in 2019). In 2018, he curated the third edition of the Nuit Blanche arts festival at Villa Medici in Rome, Italy. Théo-Mario Coppola has been appointed curator of the 11th edition of the Momentum biennale that will take place in 2021 in Moss, Norway.

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