marina dubia &&&

What have I got to do with it? 2023

This is the main text for the publication of the same name, which you can check out here.

In April 2015 I sent a typed letter, over email, to my classmate in the Visual Arts course at the University of São Paulo (USP) Alexandre Rocha da Silva. This shortly after attending his graduation panel at the Afro-Brazilian Museum, Embarassed mulatos: photographic representation of the “liberated” black through the lens of Photographia Americana (1865-1885). I was also about to graduate, and shared with him my anxieties with a world that didn’t wait, already swallowed. Capital, the elite, fear, the truth of art.

Two days ago, I sent him a message asking to resume a conversation that, rereading the letter and his reply, I realize never happened: what I really wanted was to talk about race. I felt pressured and confused at the time, when I noticed there were people who treated me as black, and people who treated me as white. And Alexandre, well, he looked like me.

I found on my external hard drive the two .docx we exchanged, and a separate .txt: “rest of a letter to alexandre - blackness”. I never sent the important part. I was embarassed.

Alexandre, you probably won’t reply before this text has to be written. But this conversation is not only ours.

race, class, art, me, you: a rejoinder typed and sent 06/07/2023

Dear Alexandre,

I’m astounded. Astounded with your letter, from eight years ago, so fresh on my screen. Much of the grace of writing is this arrow that rips through time, this tide that overflows on the other side which isn’t now.

Exu killed a bird yesterday with a stone he threw today. More and more, this saying has been popping in my ears. In my nostrils. I’m stirred by the black cultural heritage, which the Marina who wrote you couldn’t recognize or measure. She was shaking like a leaf with the “real world” outside university, full of fear of facing a racially stratified society, racism, having to choose factions, take a stand, politicize her own body, put skin in the game.

To look at herself and ask “e eu com isso?”, what have I got to do with that? My aunt Edna repeats this phrase a lot. She discards everything that doesn’t affect her day-to-day life. Decolonization doesn’t stop the bills. She’s over here, the world is over there and we grind and rush and live well, thank you very much. To each his own, why waste time with worms in your head?

She is black, my father’s sister, and I decided to reach out for the same reason I messaged you and other dark-skinned friends and colleagues: I want to dip my fingers in raciality. Open up to what vibrates on the surface and shakes the innards, to what touches me and what touches us, and how that which touches us is intertwined in a wide and perverse fabric that structures the world.

In our letters, you encouraged me to travel. “Do travel, discover the world. Perhaps then you will find a way to transform it.” The Marina who wrote you, a Marina on the verge of dropping out of visual arts, is also astounded that on this side of the screen she too an MFA in Copenhagen, where, between departures and arrivals, she has lived as an artist for almost five years. She wrote about the difficulty of reconciling the way I was raised with the elitist reality of the university and the proximity of contemporary art to capital. About disgust with the market, and the suffocated desire to practice a revolutionary art: experimental, earnest and socially responsible (committed to the pathways of desire, their psychosocial making).

You gave up drawing in favor of theory. It was a conscious choice. You write: “Unfortunately, contemporary art feeds capital. The most subversive of them does not escape from it. That is why I decided to shut my mouth. Or rather, shut up the hands and the mind.”

I saw you as a peer for these concerns. Actually, I saw you as a black person. And I wanted to see myself in you, seeing me in you. Wondering if that’s what I am too: black?

It’s curious that we reflected on each other without knowing each other very well. We sniffed it out. Me first:

“I feel that if I’m in the visual arts it’s thanks to luck and randomness. I was educated and had a protected lifestyle, according to the standards of the elite that my parents (...) always wanted to be a part of and therefore wanted me to be a part of, granting me all the luxury and comfort that they themselves could not have. (...) my education was the limit of my parents’ exhaustion and productive effort.”

And then you: “We have another social reality. Our families came from down. Perhaps our friends too. (...) My friends were going to shitty private colleges, working in telemarketing to pay it off. My parents do not have degrees. I really don’t know how I ended up in the arts. It was just luck, you know? I never had faith that I would attend USP.”

Embarrassed “mulata”, I opted for the economic route, another great confusion: this wretched category called the middle class. My friends, who studied at elite colleges, are part of it. And so am I, who studied at USP because it was what my father could afford – free. But here in Denmark I have no doubts. I am rich. Government support for students, part-time employment, support for the unemployed; inhabiting this fairy tale with an european passport automatically throws me into the upper class of our reality. And that passport? Grace from my mother’s parents, who disembarked from Trás-os-Montes, in Portugal, as toddlers and never set foot outside my neighborhood Tatuapé, in São Paulo.

Here I also have no doubts about my body, I am racialized. I accept being called “person of color”. Painful words. They make me question, what other pains should I feel, and have not? What other pains does a person like you feel? Why do these pains seem absent from the fine weave of my story? Perhaps this accounts for my difficulty of calling myself black. Avoiding subjecting myself to the missing pains.

Which is what, I’m thinking, is so present in the people I live with day-to-day. This fear. This incapacity. I still haven’t found a way to change the world, but being able to subject to its pains seems essential. As in our exchange: “I give you half of mine, you give me half of yours.” A mentor offered me a verse from Cartola: pay attention, the world is a mill. Another, alerts me that this mill crushes poor, black, peripheral people; trans, “bichas”, queers, transvestites. This mill is still alive, operational. That the economic reality of each territory is intertwined within a logic of extracting value, stealing energy, from working bodies, that these bodies are dehumanized by a system of cultural values that creates the conditions for their exploitation, which enriches in an upward flow the neoliberal imagination that manufactures fairy tale countries.

You know those images of vast servers, where the internet lives? We don’t see is the amount of energy that is drained by their demands, which are made ours. Above ground is like that, too; who sees and feels it are the ones smashed between the millstones. How to explain this to people who share in the capitalist, globalized, neoliberal delirium? Who have not realized yet they are acting in a sinister spectacle? Who ask themselves “e eu com isso?”, what have I got to do with that?

Your words an omen: “Well, the world is full of people who think that ‘this is the way the world is’. Unfortunately, the world cannot be like that. I don’t need to tell you that the world has its days counted. While the big art auctions take place, while SP-Arte [São Paulo Art Fair] buys the entire art world, people are starving.”

And those cultural values that allow all of this? They are here. They are in all bodies.

The dosage is what changes.

I exercise the word whiteness. I have tasted it, and other words that suddenly vibrate meaningful on my lips. The cultural skeleton that allows for material-economic domination, I venture a definition. The color of your skin doesn’t matter. I’m part of it. I’m a vector of violence, too. Violence, potency, vitality. I have been looking for ways of implication, commitment. Of taking responsibility for my energy. What does it mean to occupy the space of privilege to which I have access? Does living in Denmark make me an ally of whiteness? What if, by the way, my dose of whiteness was already high enough that I can live here at all? Is it possible to nurture a black cultural heritage that I had to go halfway across the world to miss? And if I follow my path embracing the comfort afforded to this territory via a process of dehumanization of the majority of the world’s population. How to can I keep being intentional?

In 2015 I wrote what I feel in 2023: “It bothers me deeply that the position of artist is a position so intimate to instances of power (…). It bothers me to think that for my work to sustain itself as such, one day I will have to resort to morally questionable strategies, from the white cube to the personal reference. It bothers me how only those who are materially comfortable can dedicate themselves to art, it bothers me that I am, to a certain extent, at the limit of this position. It bothers me that my work can’t communicate with an audience beyond that same elite, towards which I’m walking as if pushed and as if blind, but with a good dose of desire for the good ol’ ‘being able to do what you want and not having to worry about money’.

I distrust the ability or willingness of CAP professors [the Department of Visual Arts], and many colleagues, to consider these issues. But now that I’m going to graduate, I feel the need to at least know what I’m going to be getting myself into, if I officially want to be an artist, and by which means this can happen. And to do it consciously.”

This year I have been working with confetti. With samba. I am attracted to the blackness that I lack and find in the lyrics. By the tow of sadness that becomes strength, joy. The to love is to suffer of Vinícius de Moraes’ Xangô, which is now also mine. To resistance, to the active effort to expand the margins of my limit in Cravo e Ferradura, belonging to Clarisse Grova and also mine. And to Marcelo Evelin’s performance, Suddenly the world was black with people. People together. People in conflict, in love, in lust. People who don’t wash their hands off, don’t take out their bodies. Who sustain relationships. Share the pain. Re-distribute. And the euphoria. People who allow themselves to be expanded by the other to whom they open up. Life, indivisible. My confetti are made up of images that crystallize systemic violence. I look at these images and see myself sketched in them, and I ask “e eu com isso?”, what have I got to do with this? How do I participate in the violence of the world? My confetti are celebrations, they are possible vectors for this energy that electrifies the air and invades our bodies. I’m restless. We need to stay restless.

Alexandre, I’m living the problem. Portuguese classes taught us it would be necessary to propose practical solutions at this point in the text. But this is the volume of my breath. Besides, when we solve problems we risk committing heinous acts.

In a few minutes we’ll talk on Whatsapp – I’m indebted for a handwritten letter. I’m present, though. And excited. This conversation continues. We are part of it already.

A big kiss from your friend and companion for the journey Marina Dubia