Last month, Adele Patrick, Lifelong Learning and Creative Development Manager at Glasgow Women’s Library, joined a British Council Scotland delegation to Brazil, where she presented at the Women of the World (WoW) Festival in Rio de Janerio, and attended Feira Preta Festival in São Paulo. Here she reflects on a transformative trip.
The ‘life-changing’ visit is something of a cliché, but being part of British Council Scotland’s delegation to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, was without doubt a compass shifting, deeply moving, and unforgettable experience.
I was fortunate to be travelling with Sekai Machache, a Dundee based artist, Milica Milosevic, Creative Scotland’s Head of Equalities, and for the Rio leg, Emily Beaney, another exciting young creative based in Glasgow. We were supported every step of the way by Isabel Moura Mendes, arts partnership manager at British Council Scotland. An ambitious programme had been developed by Isabel and her colleagues at British Council Brazil, Cristina Becker and Silvia Lunazzi, to introduce us to an array of venues and meet with creatives, curators, producers and equalities activists over an intense nine days.
WoW Rio and Feira Preta São Paulo (both supported by British Council Brazil) were the two key festivals around which our research trip pivoted. I was thrilled to have been invited to deliver a presentation at WoW Rio and be part of this hugely popular festival which is so clearly home grown in Rio and ‘owned’ by the many thousands of Brazilian women who attended.
The festival was curated by Brazilian feminist (now firmly in my pantheon of leaders to aspire to), Eliana Sousa Silva, founder of Redes de Mare, an organisation that has been championing the rights of women based in the Mare favela in Rio for over two decades. WoW Rio was a massive endeavor; both a celebration and a platform for the difficult stuff, making critical space for reflections by women from very different backgrounds on the structural inequality they experience in Rio de Janeiro where race, gender and economic disparities are still deeply entrenched.
Feira Preta, the largest black cultural event in Latin America, is another incredible platform that aims to be part of the solution. It showcases Afro-Brazilian entrepreneurs and creatives in a programme of literature, music, dance, visual arts and gastronomy. It was wonderful see Sekai’s new suite of works, Invocation, which was commissioned by British Council Scotland to mark Feira Preta 2018, installed in the breathtaking Instituto Moreira Salles in São Paulo. 50% of Brazilian entrepreneurs are black, and 88% of these are women, so it was inspiring to see how Feira Preta was fulfilling the need to showcase their vast creative and entrepreneurial potential.
A further lasting impression from the trip is of the health, vigour and scale of the artistic offer in Rio and São Paulo. We encountered world class architecture, art and curating art, including the São Paulo Biennale, the Pinacoteca São Paulo, and the Museu de Arte do Rio. We were struck by the ambition, innovation and bravery exhibited by colleagues working across literature, literary festivals and libraries. We visited the remarkable Biblioteca Parque, the Mario de Andrade Library, and heard about future plans for the ground breaking favela writer’s festival FLUPP, from Co-founder Julio Ludemir.
Our trip took place in the wake of the incalculable loss of the Museu Nacional due to fire, and national elections that could reasonably be assumed to present hugely daunting challenges for the equalities, arts and cultural sector. We learned that a history of colonialism, dictatorships, racism, patriarchy and capitalism are still painfully omnipresent, but also discovered evidence of a powerful antidote at work driven by creatives and activists across all cultural platforms.
The cultural workers and champions of equality in Rio and São Paulo are exemplary models of resilience who possess a seemingly undaunted appetite for making change happen. A fearless commitment to human rights was expressed in so many of my encounters: from feminist urban art groups like Nami, to collections professionals seeking to highlight the role of Afro-Brazilian women in the origins of Brazil’s music and dance.
The visit was made so impactful thanks to our knowledgeable and tireless British Council colleagues and my companions on the trip who provided their own insights and perspectives. I am also grateful for the time and effort expended by the hundreds of people who shared information on their projects, institutions and lives. Through their generosity we were able to discover two cities that are grappling with complex social, political and cultural challenges, but which are confidently demonstrating that they are at the forefront of global art, and are working with care, compassion and creativity towards making equality a reality.