Why Tremble, Woman?
Regina Parra's exhibition doesn't formulate an argument which surrenders itself right away, resisting the tired look or the quick oblivion. It's more of an environment that resonates fuzzy discomforts than a collection of things with precise meanings. Considering each piece on display individually, it's not immediately clear what moved her into assembling them as a group. Starting with the questioning title of the exhibition – Why Tremble, Woman? – there's a deliberate commitment to the inaccuracy of what's being communicated, as if it were only possible to speak clearly through the opacity of the language employed. Only when one goes from one meaning to the next, ricocheting amid paintings, drawings, video, text and audio, is a web of meanings woven.
Sounds matter as much as images here, promoting unintended or planned kinaesthetic operations. Listening to the recurrent expression “yes, Sir” and similar ones – isolated from their original contexts and linked in a broken audio narrative by the artist – evokes situations of agreement with the speech of those who hold power. Obedience that immobilizes and regulates bodies, inscribing in them movements that express agreement with the handed down orders. Bodily answers, so automated, that seem to be largely studied, as suggested by Regina Parra's drawings – which look like they were taken out of old gym handbooks. Instead, however, of the variety of gestures those handbooks had, the only movement taught in the artist's works is the head repeatedly moving up and down, clearly indicating acquiescence to what's being dictated.
In addition to the audio recordings that refer to images withheld from view, there are paintings that describe absent sculptures, in a continuous process of substituting immediate referents. They hold, nonetheless, more accurate indications of who is the one handing orders down and who merely obeys, in an unequal partition of rights and skills. They are works that set in oil and wax on paper life size depictions of black people, native people and women made with painted metal, commonly found in yards or in farmhouses in the countryside of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Sculptures of French or Italian heritage that are generically called blackamoor, whose main feature is the depiction of men and women in subservient situations, although always looking friendly and selfless. The look of someone who's resigned or satisfied in their subservient role.
These sounds and images presented by Regina Parra hold discreet yet loquacious marks of the violence that rules Brazilian history – both distant and recent. This violence falls squarely on blacks and natives, with women (including white women, who are therefore a little black and native) being one of the most frequent targets, as suggested by the question in the exhibition's name, superimposed on the blurry image of a forest, like a subtitle in a scene of an inexistent movie. Why tremble, woman? is a verse from a Castro Alves poem, which describes an enslaved woman's fear of someone abducting her son to be sold; the fear of losing something important, similar to the one felt by many Brazilian women in violent situations involving them and their children.
The dense wood is portrayed again, on a larger scale, in another painting. A symbolic projection of what is found beyond eyesight, which causes fear for being unknown territory. The ignored, however, may be the escape route, especially when the pain, just to stay alive is so great. This paradox anchors the video Capitão do Mato (which means both Green Back Trogon and slave bounty hunter), whose name is taken from the bird that inhabits many Latin-American forests and that got this nickname in the past for announcing any odd movement in the woods with its acute call, signaling fugitive slaves that arrived there to hide. In a landscape as exuberant as it is claustrophobic, the artist merges birdsong and the sounds of human voices, in a staged recollection of this unlikely and fatal alliance. A pair of small paintings portrays a green back trogon inert on the floor: the one who calls is now silent and dead. Other “capitães do mato”, however, still insist on their silent persecutory bounty hunt.
In a last attempt to change and twist and turn media, Regina Parra writes, in neon, and inverts sentences written long ago by Martinican essayist Frantz Fanon which present options on how to behave around other people's pain: to remain terrorized or to become terrifying. It's not her work's place to induce people to take clear stands. This is not its duty, being that each individual must choose to be affected or not by the rough outline of the archaeology of Brazilian violence presented by the artist. This is all art can offer to fight what is unbearable for many people. Though it's not enough, it's still quite a lot.