BAIXA DOS SAPATEIROS

Clarissa Diniz - curator

The popular trading area of Salvador gained its name of Baixa dos Sapateiros from the shoe making businesses that thrived there. This area gained prominence in the late XIX century Bahian capital through an absolutely perverse and historically neuralgic process for the country's social formation: slavery and its cynical abolition.

When, during 1888, in the world's last country to do so, the enslavement of millions of black people was legally prohibited, the alteration of the judicial status of those bodies - which could finally regain the Human dimension that colonization had stolen from them - implied a series of symbolic gestures of enormous significance. Subalternized by the attribution of a sort of 'inferiority' as related to a supposed European 'male' and white 'superiority', black people developed signs that would distinguish their newly achieved free status from their previous enslaved status. Theses distinctions were, in turn, a reinforcement of the cultural differentiations invented by the oligarchies in order to maintain themselves in high social positions. To these, the non slave was, at least, the servant of some master - whether feudal, biblical, or from the sugar mills. The shoes were part of these process.

In the Brazil of the XVI, XVII, XVII, and XIX centuries, few were those who wore shoes. Most people did not even had the right to own them. To wear them was a symbol of 'civility', since animals and 'individuals insufficiently human' did not wear shoes. More than utilitarian they were, therefore, socially distinctive. In our enslaved society they have acquired immeasurable symbolic force, still evident in their fetishization by the fashion industry. Meanwhile, perversely, the economic and political conditions persist in making thousands of people living without homes, jobs and shoes. Mostly black people , an unquestionable proof that abolition is still an unfinished project.

Tiago Sant'Ana, a black Artist  from Bahia, has his life crossed by this history. Attentive to the processes of social stratification, in recent years he dedicated himself to a series of works that, through the usage of refined sugar, deal with the coloniality and, especially, with the 'whitening' project of Brazil, one of the most cruel attempts to erase the history of slavery and, with it, the invisibility of millions of people, along with their knowledge and their cultures.

Dealing directly with sugar, Sant'Ana elaborated images and poetic situations that demonstrate the colonial violence obliterated by the sweet whiteness of this carbohydrate that, known as 'white gold', was one of the main currencies of European imperialism. Globally marketed by Portugal, sugar also served, through the creation of a cuisine rich in sweetness, as an element of economic and political distinction of that country and its oligarchs among other nations. It thus became one of the main assets involved in the cartography of power from the XVI century onward. To this body of work relating to sugar, already shown in Rio de Janeiro in the individual exhibition "casa de purgar" ( Imperial Palace, 2018 ) he now adds a new body of work  whose central element is, precisely, the shoe.

In the series of photographs " Sugar Shoes" (2018), in which the Artist, submerged in the Bay of All Saints, protects a pair of sugar shoes from the risk of imminent dissolution, is, certainly, the image-synthesis of the convergence between the two researches done by Tiago Sant'Ana, whose most recent conclusions are now shown in the exhibit  "Baixa dos Sapateiros".

In addition to objects that evoke social vulnerability arising from the history of the production of the white gold - such as sugarcane, plaster sugarcane stalks, and brandy, bottles of cachaça (sugarcane liquor)  on which one can read phrases about nostalgia, melancholy and the suffering of being deprived of life by slavery - the exhibition brings together new pieces in which colonization and sugar are the bottom line. These is evidenced in the "Refining #5" photographic series, in which the bare feet of the enslaved characters in Debret and Rugendas' prints are illuminated by the sugar that covers everything around them , drawing one's attention to elements that, in any imaginary, although discreet , can still be especially elucidating.

In this series, when circumscribing black feet, sugar no longer represents exclusively its own essence but, also what, given the seduction of its wealth, its whiteness and flavor, ends up obliterating. The shoes, in turn, are part of the same operation since their presence, both in history and in Tiago Sant'Ana's work, does not revolve around them but refer to processes that although passing through them still do not concern them directly.

The core of this operation is on the way the shoes purchased by the former slaves were not, at once, necessarily worn, as stated by Louis Albert Gaffre in his text, used as a narrative to introduce a sequence of images of black men carrying shoes hanging from their shoulders in the video "Close to the ground": “In the day following the liberation black men and women hurriedly left the places where they had, for a long time, lived under the hardships of slavery and, from plantations and farms, gravitated towards the nearest towns. The larger part of these newly freed citizens had small savings put aside. Hence, their first action was to rush to shoe stores. Slavery had, in fact, denied them the right to wear shoes and, therefore, to these brave people, it seemed as clear as daylight, that they would equiparate  themselves with their former owners by wearing shoes and ruskins, just as they did. The first gesture of freedom was then the imprisonment of feet into the chosen models, which were more or less adapted, I say 'more or less' but historical accuracy forces me to say much more 'less' than 'more'. The good feet of the good black people, not accustomed to being constricted, loudly protested, thus allowing for the most unexpected spectacle as the first result of liberation. In all cities they had reached, black men and women walked by, happy and proud, with a dignified pose, barefoot, but each and everyone carrying a pair of shoes, sometimes in their hands, like a precious jewelry box, or hanging from their shoulders, like dangling purses from the latest mundane fashion”.

As the slow and silent images, that in the video interpose with the text, narrate, shoes as symbols of social distinction, fall short of performing with the pride underlined by the European traveler but rather with a sort of numbness that does not cease after the abolition. With the gesture of abandoning the shoes in a pile pile as if they were reenacting the mass grave into which so many subalternized  bodies were thrown, it is not the the fiction of the sovereignty of liberation that is the protagonist of Tiago Sant'Ana's work but rather its contradictions. It is, therefore, as an antidote to the mystifications of self-referential conceptions of abolition - to which, being juridically free is sufficient , albeit not being socially covered by policies of reparation given the centuries of violence and the denied access to what supposedly civilizes us - that his work affirms itself.

For this purpose, in this recent set of works, the Artist uses subtle operations of fracture between narrative and fact, as evidenced in the series "Lisboeta", in which a small text describes an action that had occurred in the situations presented by the images, although not being documented. They activate, by the absence of full equivalence between the parts of the narrative, the performative force of language, itself capable of realizing and instituting: itself an event. It resides, therefore, in the exercise of Tiago Sant'Ana's historical imagination , his political power and our need for works, that like his, created from the perspective of bodies that lived the reverse of history, may collaborate to the critical metamorphosis of the vile consequences of Brazil's formation, towards reparation and the much belated, and therefore much urgently needed , production of social justice.

 

THE EXHIBITION

Baixa dos Sapateiros, an individual exhibition by visual artist and performer Tiago Sant'Ana, inaugurated on November 24, has as its central theme part of the historic image of shoes as a symbol of black post-abolition liberation in Brazil. This unofficial and unrestored / unrestituted abolition was symbolized by the gesture of black people being able to wear shoes - just like the white population.


The title refers to a region of the same name in Salvador, Bahia, where many black people went to get their shoes made. "It was a geography that symbolically involved an expectation for this promise of citizenship for black people, which has never completely reached to this day," says Tiago, who has sugar as a recurring material in his work "as a tactic of approaching the debate about colonization with the present time, especially to talk about racism and violence against the black population, "he adds.


The Exhibition runs until February 13, 2019 and features video, photographs, objects and installations.

WITH SUGAR AND WHITHOUT AFFECTION

Lilia Moritz Schwarcz 

In Brazil, shoes were always a way of distinguishing the enslaved ones from free people. The impediment never consisted of any written law, but persisted through the uncontested force of custom. In fact, shoes were forbidden to the captives whom, no matter how dressed, whether they were domestic, mining or urban slaves, were always represented with their feet on the ground, on the cement of the cities, close to the dirt.

The weight of the 'lack' was such that soon after the 13th of May, 1888, date of Brazil's formal abolition of slavery, witnesses said that many rushed to the shops to buy the desired objects. however, as their feet were accustomed to the day to day harsh routines, the fury from the heavy work , in no time did the blisters and calluses grow. And so, many freedmen and freedwomen were seen, happy and proud, carrying over their shoulders shoes tied to one another by their shoelaces, as if they were trophies of freedom. And so they were…

ARTWORKS

 

TIAGO SANT'ANA

Tiago Sant’Ana is a performance artist, PhD in Culture and Society from Universidade Federal da Bahia. Since 2009, he develops his research in the field of performance and explores its multiple possibilities. Influenced by the decolonial perspective, his artworks address the tensions and representations of afro-brazilian identities.

Tiago has recently  “Casa de purgar” (2018), no Museu de Arte da Bahia. He has articipated in festival and nacional and internacional exhibitions, such as “Axé Bahia: The power of art in an afro-brazilian metropolis” (2017), no Fowler Museum, “Reply All” (2016), at Grosvenor Gallery, and “Orixás” (2016), at Casa França-Brasil. Tha artist also works as an independent curator, developing projects that discusses cultural identities and political activism. He was assistant curator of the 3a. Bienal da Bahia (2014), and has organized the exhibitions “Campo de Batalha” (2017) and “Future Afro Brazil Visions in Time” (2017). Tiago was substitute professor of the Visual Arts program at Universidade Federal da Bahia (2016-2017).

Translation: Valkiria Mayo

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