the old Certainties, still present in the Brazilian art system, are gradually being erased with initiatives such as Transarte, a pioneer gallery in the presentation of artists with the LGBTQ+ theme and which is now becoming an institute. Since appearing on the art circuit, it has been experiencing physical and conceptual transmutations. Now it leaves the bohemian Vila Madalena and settles, in permanent headquarters, in Gabriel Monteiro da Silva, stronghold of the upper class in São Paulo, with other challenges.
Any new situation, which is added to others, is enough to oxygenate a sense of the future. Conceived by Maria Helena Peres Oliveira, Transarte opened its doors in 2012 showing what it came for. It exhibited works by the enigmatic North American artist Timothy Cummings, the result of a one-year residency held in São Paulo. No traveling backwards or forwards will be able to unravel his tormented work, and not even the self-portraits leave a clue. For Catharine Clark, a San Francisco gallery owner, “Cummings’ work is both classic and subversive, formally beautiful and thematically creepy.” For Maria Helena, the photographer Iwajla Klinke, from Berlin, has an unsuspected quality and that is why she was also invited. She works the beam of natural light as a narrative instrument. The series Ritual Memories, with naked backs of young people, mixes strangeness and sensuality with sequential takes: man alone, man mirror, man narcissus, man faggot. The operation is fluid, but opposite to spontaneity. Klinke adorns them sometimes with rats and frogs hanging around their necks, sometimes with light plastic shuttlecocks or delicate lace.
On the other side of the ocean, the young Brazilian Bia Leite discovered very early on that dreams and perception are built hand to hand with life. She learned to disarm her attackers with a telltale paint job. Awarded in the Transarte LGBTQ+ edict for the canvas Born to ahazar, which became known as Criança Viada, she gained notoriety for having graffiti prejudiced insults (suffered by homosexuals since childhood) on the painting. Bia tries to get rid of the monster that grew inside her, due to the bullying she suffers. The painting participated in the collective Queermuseum, at Centro Cultural Santander, in Porto Alegre, when it was the target of protests, censorship and became one of the vertices of the insane cultural alienation of the moment. Delicacy can also be an act of resistance. Silva M works with objects found by chance and randomly builds sculptures whose surface resembles woodcuts. The young woman invents an active response to this dispersed and abandoned world, weaving fragments with a disconcerting delicacy, replete with fine sutures that reach the edges and recesses, like a dermal aid.
Transarte reinvents itself, but the residences remain in the future perspectives that will occur in the new headquarters, the house that Maria Helena got from her grandfather when she was just 12 years old. Since its creation, Transarte has operated with its own resources, without the support of incentive laws, which is why Maria Helena and her partner Maria Bonomi did not think of a foundation.
The art landscape is urban and marked by surveillance. In order to guarantee a definitive and legitimate space for the artists, it is planned to organize a long-term private initiative so that the Institute can survive after the death of its owners, and there is already money for that. “We had a moment of progress with the approval of same-sex marriage by the stf, but now it has become much worse”, says Maria Helena. Expanding the range of actions, they will form partnerships with residences such as Casa Florescer and other institutions that also welcome LGBTQ+ people of all ages with trauma.
The artists’ reports have terrifying social and psychic intensity. “Many people run away from their place of origin, others leave their parents’ homes because of threats or leave the streets because of beatings, all with nowhere to go”. Maria Helena also wants to propose something like art education as a distraction or as a support for traumatized people. In this way, art seems to have no meaning in itself, but in fact it is crossed by other powers, knowledge, affections, discoveries, which will be part of the Institute’s content. A council will be formed with people from different areas, not only to introduce artists and works in the exhibition circulation, but also to think about the plurality of projects to be generated. Instituto Transarte will continue to include exhibitions, public notices, book publications and artistic residencies. “We are talking about an Institute, but it would be a non-profit NGO. Our proposal is anti-market, we start selling at a low price between three and five thousand reais, divided into up to 10 times, and the artist can still receive it in advance, except for works by foreigners.”
Maria Helena’s boldness in adolescence, living in a conservative society, seems to be the foundation of her strong and determined personality today. Born and socialized in an elite family, she has always been involved in art, influenced by her close relationship with her uncle Arthur Luiz Piza and by her marriage to Maria Bonomi, both emblematic engravers in the history of Brazilian art. Maria Helena remembers the time of delusions, of love deprivation, when a kiss with another teenager was only possible inside an elevator. She talks about her part of a void that was only filled after she left São Paulo to settle in San Francisco, a city with loose social rules and where she got even closer to art. Graduated in chemistry and with an MBA from FGV, Maria Helena completed her studies in the United States with Masters in Marketing and in Arts Administration, working at SFMOMA, at the San Francisco Opera House and at the Catharine Clark gallery.
She returned to Brazil in 2002 and, since then, produces and coordinates exhibitions in several museums. All this learning was leveraged with other initiatives permeated with social and political issues. Last year, with the Covid-19 pandemic advancing, Transarte sought an art response to the matter, producing the quarantena edict, which totaled 400 entries and distributed six R$1200 prizes. Artists responded to the call with works about this cruel time of physical exclusion. The Transarte Institute appears at the time of the dismantling of culture in Brazil. The prognosis is that this pioneering, challenging project, with an artistic and social impact, will survive in the direction of long-requested transformations.
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