Visibility and support in a “transplendid” moment, by Gabi Furst

Artistic support and funding from trans collectives, associations, and artists’ groups tend to grow in Brazil in the next few years if the tendency of the past decade continues. Sponsorship from companies and governmental incentives can propel this expansion even further.

Gabi R. Furst

It might seem obvious that contemporary art has become more and more an important weapon and shield in the fight against the oppression of trans and non-binary people in Brazil.

Transvestigender artists use their audiovisual creations not only in the struggle to protest against violence and transphobia in the country with the highest rate of murder of trans people in the world, according to the NGO Transgender Europe, which monitors data in 71 countries. These creations also serve to establish partnerships and support networks for collectives or artistic associations channeled by the LGBTQIA+ community – which is constantly silenced and discriminated against – and end up forming an important platform for artistic expression and visibility.

If for a cisgender woman or man the task of joining the establishment, that is, gaining access to the official circuit of the art market, is difficult and full of prerequisites, demands, and contacts needed, the obstacles for Brazilian trans artists are even greater. “We live in a country in which art and education are made precarious for everyone. Even for artists and educators who are white, cis, straight, and Christian. So, if it’s hard for them, imagine how tough it is for us!” says Daniel Veiga, actor, screenwriter, and theater director, who, along with  Leo Moreira Sá, also a trans artist, founded  CATS (Collective of Transmasculine Artists). And, to guarantee their own survival or the realization of their work, trans artists often resort to the well-known “Brazilian jeitinho” [an expression that refers to finding ways to circumvent the bureaucracies and obstacles put in place by society, but in doing so, often involve stepping outside the law, or doing things in an improvised manner].

 

The duality of the “Brazilian jeitinho” for transvestigender artists.

To Daniel Veiga, this Brazilian jeitinho is, on the one hand, a problem, because it’s a sign of a precarious work situation, without good conditions nor any sort of union protection or labor laws. “What we experience is a lack of perspective – and not just about the future. But also, regarding the present: if at the end of the month you are going to get the payment from the city or not for the job that they hired you to do”. On the other hand, this same way of doing things ends up having a positive aspect in the training and development of trans artists, as the co-founder of CATS considers: “If we want to make art in Brazil, we need to learn to do a little bit of everything. I, for example, work as a producer when that’s necessary. I’ve also done sound design, I’ve cleaned stages, sewed costumes, and have done lighting. The artist, in turn, has to work with several artistic languages to survive. Doing a bit of everything is another aspect of the Brazilian jeitinho and that is very powerful because it helps us form artistic robustness”.

 

The smallest of actions by art collectives has immediate effects

When trans artists want to develop their audiovisual work, an art collective has an almost indispensable role in that process. Even if usually these collectives aren’t part of the official circuit of the art market, they end up offering very important support in the professionalization of these artists, because they offer a space for exchanges and an opportunity to establish contacts, facilitating access to and visibility of the artworks, as well as helping with making portfolios and applications for residencies and grants.

In the case of CATS (Collective of Transmasculine Artists), this incentive has an added aspect: “The situation of transmasculine people is already so marginalized and made so invisible that the smallest of actions has an enormous effect. Concretely, what we do today is to recommend and prioritize transmasculine artists when we hear of any job openings. The payment received can help with rent or food. That means a lot”, says Daniel Veiga.

At an increasing pace, the support coming from groups such as collectives and associations has grown in the past few years, according to leaders and artists who have been touched by this wave-like movement. Just look at the groups aimed at welcoming transvestigender artists that have emerged, maintained, and established themselves in the past ten years: Casa Nem (Rio de Janeiro); Academia Transliterária [Transliterary Academy] (Belo Horizonte); ANTRA – Associação Nacional de Trans e Travestis [National Association of Trans People and Travestis] (Rio de Janeiro); MONART – Movimento Nacional de Artistas Trans [National Movement of Trans Artists], (São Paulo), CATS – Coletivo de Artistas Transmasculines [Collective of Transmasculine Artists] (São Paulo), or Casa Chama (São Paulo).

The phenomenon of the emergence of transvestigender art collectives can be seen throughout Brazil, although it’s more concentrated in the Southeast and Northeast regions.

Outside of the axis Rio-São Paulo, the Academia Transliterária (Trans and Travesti Art and Culture Collective in Minas Gerais), has existed since 2016 and is formed by 14 trans and non-binary persons. Even though they currently don’t have funding or sponsorship, a lot has been done in these last five years, through a municipal law for cultural funding in the field of photography, performance, and cinema – which enabled them to produce a play. To execute their projects, the Academia accesses grants such as the International Theater Festival [FIT, in Portuguese], or Belo Horizonte’s cultural event Virada Cultural, which happen every year. However, in 2019, this collective had a problem when participating in the Virada Cultural: “On the week of the show, we were discarded – due to a joint action by the Evangelical and Catholic churches – from the coronation of Our Lady of the Travestis. We weren’t allowed to perform, and to make matters worse we were also fined”, said Ed Marte, an artist and member of Transliterária.

But even this kind of censorship serves as a push and vital impulse for the art made by trans and non-binary people to become more visible in Brazil. Another example of a type of censorship that opened up discussions and reflections on the production of transvestigender artists in the country was the exhibition “Queermuseu – cartografias da diferença na arte da brasileira” [“Queermuseum – cartographies of difference in Brazilian art”] (2017, Porto Alegre), which was closed to the public following popular protests of conservative and religious groups.

 

Only creations with trans themes?

Because it’s the epicenter of censorship towards the audiovisual creations of transvestigender artists, the themes present in the artworks have become topics for reflection about their creative freedoms.

According to Ed Marte (Academia Transliterária), for example, the artists don’t have to work only with trans or gender themes – even though it’s understandable that these artists want to show their experiences and stories. “We can talk about everything; of other issues, such as the social, talking about the inequality in our country, and not only about ourselves. The public expects other issues. The public is also diverse and art is much bigger than thematic reductionism. Trans artists are multiple and can do all that”.

“This is a question not only for transmasculine artists but for transvestigender people in general, Black, indigenous. We have to vehemently criticize whiteness’ idea of cis heteronormative universalism, and that only whiteness can speak of the universal. Reducing, then, to transgender people a discourse only about niche subjects, about our experiences and marginalization. That idea is dead, outdated, and it’s over”, states Daniel Veiga (CATS). Veiga adds: “I’m a transmasculine artist, a Black trans man. But I’m not obliged to speak only of that. I’m not going to deal exclusively with issues of transmasculinity, Blackness, or Black transmasculinities. I can talk about whatever I want, including whiteness and cisness. Everyone can talk about everything”.

Companies interested in this plurality have given their names in direct support of collectives through events and festivals organized by them. Municipal and State grants also have diversified their programming by selecting projects by trans art collectives.

And, in this tireless support of groups and associations of transvestigender artists and future professionals of the arts, emerges a transplendid and powerful creative union of the most diverse artistic expressions.

      GABI FURST

As independent journalist (they or she) and digital (cellphone) photography artist Gabi Furst has collaborated for newspapers and media in seven countries (Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Israel, Germany, France and Brazil) at RFI (Radio France Internacional), Deutsche Welle (Germany), Haaretz (Israel), Rádio Metropolitana (Cuba), Rádio Globo, CBN, SBT TV and Rede Minas TV as well in the production and editing of Jornal Nacional e Fantástico on TV Globo. They has also already written for Estadão, G1, UOL and O Globo. As artist had Gabi the individual photo exhibitions: “Em minhas mãos Manaus/ Manaus on my hands” at the Brazilian Culture Center of Tel Aviv (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) 2016 and in Berlin 2017. 

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