São Paulo

Jaime Lauriano, Trabalho (Work), 2017, mixed media, 8' 2 3/8“ X 16' 4 7/8”.

Jaime Lauriano, Trabalho (Work), 2017, mixed media, 8' 2 3/8“ X 16' 4 7/8”.

Jaime Lauriano

Galeria Leme

Jaime Lauriano, Trabalho (Work), 2017, mixed media, 8' 2 3/8“ X 16' 4 7/8”.

Brazil’s colonial past was the central theme of Jaime Lauriano’s exhibition “Assentamento” (Settlement). The title refers both to the name given to territory occupied by landless or homeless settlers and to the sacred areas designated for worship in Candomblé, a religion practiced mainly in Brazil, which draws its beliefs from various African traditions and is historically associated with slaves’ resistance.

The exhibition featured eight works, all from 2017. Trabalho (Work) was a large wall installation for which Lauriano collected found objects such as tapestries, a jigsaw puzzle, calendars, T-shirts, and rubbish cans, all of which bear images of slaves at work in the style of Jean-Baptiste Debret, an early-nineteenth-century French painter who depicted many aspects of Brazilian everyday life. Aside from a small sculpture of a man in chains, these don’t show the terrors to which the slaves were subjected, but scenes of people carrying parcels, preparing food in a bucolic landscape, or pressing sugarcane. These artifacts (antique and contemporary) are displayed alongside snippets of statements recounting Afro-Brazilians’ experiences of racism today, and a list of their main occupations according to a recent census, clearly showing a preponderance of low-income jobs. By calling this installation Trabalho, which not only means “work” but is also the name given to certain Candomblé rituals, Lauriano suggests that Afro-Brazilian resistance is still necessary to bring about change.

The floor pieces Pedras portuguesas (Portuguese Pavings) #1, #2, and #3 also spoke to Brazil’s colonial history. Made in the style of traditional Portuguese stone paving, each has the name of a different area in Africa from which slave-bearing vessels departed on their way to Brazil: ANGOLA, MOÇAMBIQUE, COSTA DA MINA. The wall installation Combate #1 (Fight #1) was made from agricultural laborers’ tools (such as shovels, hoes, a sickle, and a rake) hung horizontally on a wall. The contour delineated by their handles replicates that of Brazil’s coastline, which in the sixteenth century was sectioned horizontally from the sea inland to areas that became known as the captaincies of Brazil_––_huge territories the Portuguese crown awarded to loyalists during the first phase of colonization. The work’s title, meanwhile, prompts viewers to imagine these tools being used as improvised weapons during mutinous territorial battles.

On the opposite wall, Invasão (Invasion) was a large drawing, in white on red fabric, of a stylized map of Brazil, pinpointing areas that have witnessed the systematic use of force by the state in claiming territory: the building of a large hydroelectric power station on indigenous land; the construction of the Trans-Amazonian Highway, inaugurated during the military regime; and the removal of low-income populations for infrastructure for the 2016 Olympic Games, to name a few. Surrounding the map, images of vessels, aircraft, and tanks represent different means that have been used to enforce these claims. In Armas de fogo o meu corpo não alcançarão (Firearms My Body Will Not Reach), Lauriano brings together the history of slavery and current trade routes as a way of shedding light on the economic and political connections between Africa and Brazil over time. Onto the top half of a bag used to transport grains from Africa to Brazil, Lauriano has silk-screened the image of a pillory, a symbol for the brutality of slavery, and under it, in white pemba (a type of chalk used in Candomblé rituals), he wrote sections of a prayer to the warrior Saint George, from which he also drew the phrase that gives the artwork its title. Going beyond the evocation of the pervasive racism and violence of Brazil’s history, the works in “Assentamento” displayed the urgency of resistance as a way to forge a less oppressive future.

Camila Belchior