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Launch: Free School of Arts – Escola Livre de Artes – Elã

Updated: Apr 5, 2021

March 12th marks one year of the first officially registered death by COVID-19 in Brazil: Rosana Aparecida Urbano, 57 years old, domestic worker.

With more than two-hundred and sixty thousand deaths accounted for across the country, the force of the global pandemic shows no sign of an end in sight, as daily headlines continue to announce more than one-thousand deaths with every twenty-four hours that pass. While I write this, the previous 24 hours hit a record of 1910 lives lost.

While we attempt to deal with such unfathomable loss by focusing on the promise of an end to come, it is all too easy to lose sight of the reality that the post-pandemic, if we can call it that, will doubtless take a heavy toll on every aspect of our collective lives, social infrastructures, and political projects.

Coming to grips with this realization brings us to question what kind of work needs to be done now, so that the consequences that await us for years to come may preserve some possibilities of moving forward and healing from a distanced, frightened, isolating experience of coexistence.

For us of the GlobalGRACE Brazilian Work Package and our many civil society, academic, and artistic partners, it has been a year of slowing down, speeding up, and total reinventions of our modes of doing, thinking, and even imagining our political prospects and commitments. The construction of Escola Livre de Artes (Elã) – the Free School of Arts – based at Galpão Bela Maré located in the set of favelas of Maré in Rio de Janeiro, in the works since 2018, has been a materialization of a shared desire to forge long-term infrastructures to build up possibilities of artistic, educative, and political creations, in spite of the precarization of civil society work that is so often pushed into jumping from grant to grant in the face of state neglect, notably in peripheralized territories.

Through the countless WhatsApp and Zoom conversations over the last year regarding what makes sense and could be viable to guarantee the perpetuation of Elã , perhaps one of the only points that has remained constant is the political priority of ensuring the life of the School, more than the execution of discrete, intermittent residencies, workshops, or events, as a permanent place for peripheralized artists to make home and create propositions aligned with the demands of movements for the effective decolonization, democratization, and transformation of the violent and perversely unequal societies inherited from centuries of colonial occupation, exploitation, and expropriation of our territories.

This brief reflection so invites you to partake in the ensuing meditations on possible ways forward, attentive to the digital legacies of the hybrid methodologies with which we have been experimenting, and how the dream of a Free School of Arts wakes us to the many dimensions of the struggles and propositions of peripheralized territories and subjects.

The hybrid methodologies of the 2020-2021 cohort of Elã brought about a rethinking of which pedagogical, artistic, and political processes need to be transversalized within the material infrastructures of the School, and how to cultivate spaces for focused interlocution, collective experimentation, and intimate creation – as practically distinct moments.

We assembled a pedagogical committee to lead this process. Our external collaborator Natália Nichols prepared an extensive evaluation of the School´s first semester in 2019, from which we learned, in dialogue with the educative team of Galpão Bela Maré, of the preconditions necessary for an integrated approach to art education, research, production, curation, circulation, and the overall constitution of engaged public agendas.

The School´s methodology was thus reworked through on/off-line dynamics to enable the following processes and times-spaces, as stated and elaborated in the syllabus of the 2020-2021 formative-residency:

Esquenta – Warm-up

Encounters dedicated to the Concepts axis, in which we will develop theoretical reflections on the central theme of the formative-residency, from different perspectives. The roundtables will take place remotely, as a way of preparing people for the formative cycle, and will be accessible to the general public, in order to share with other interested parties, the debates that will be taking place among the group of resident artists.


Opening encounters, in which we will welcome the group, present Galpão Bela Maré, Elã, GlobalGRACE, the team, the partners of the formative-residency, and the shared agreements. It will also be the moment for the signing of the terms of responsibilities and for working through questions regarding the participation and commitments of the institution and of the resident artists.


Formed by two encounters per educator, these are organized on the basis of the following axes: Percursos (Routes), Corpos (Bodies), and Materialidades (Materialities). They will articulate the poetic languages and different possibilities of thinking about the artistic practices by way of the central theme of this edition of the School – CONSTRUINDO MASCULINIDADES OUTRAS (CONSTRUCTING MASCULINITIES OTHERWISE). They will also be spaces to reflect on the ways in which the work and the artist are presented, aiming to form the group not only for the creation, but, also, for the different contexts of circulation, exhibition, and diffusion of the work.


The purpose of the interlocution encounters is to create a space for accompaniment, between resident artists and educators, aiming at the development of the final project. The meetings will be online, in which the resident artists will be divided into subgroups for dialogue and accompaniment with educators-interlocutors. During the three meetings, resident artists will present the initial project, the intermediate project, and the final project to be developed as part of the formative process.

Agenciamentos e desenvolvimento de exposição – Agencies and exhibition development

These encounters will be coordinated by the curatorship of Galpão Bela Maré and partner Production and Publishing Company, Automatica, and will contribute to the resident artists´ final production. We also aim, with this, to form the participants to think about artistic production in a global way – creating, exhibiting, producing narratives about themselves and their work. In this sense, these meetings will be of accompaniment and production, collaborating with the proposal that the exhibition be seen as a process and not only as a final product.

Through these artistic-pedagogical strategies, Elã seeks to create the times-spaces and feel of a formative-residency, animating the development of horizontal processes of learning and exchanges of knowledges. This year´s cohort is composed of twelve artists in residence, who work with different artistic languages, supports, and poetics, in and from peripheralized territories of Rio de Janeiro, between 18 to 35 years, with gender representation and majority Black and LGBT+.

With the final exhibition scheduled to open on May 8th, measures have been taken to transform Galpão Bela Maré into a collective studio and exhibition site for the 360 augmented virtual and immersive reality video-experience to be produced, as well as for the mobilization of a series of online educative activities for the general public and neighbouring schools to accompany the month-long exhibition period, with the possibility of scheduled visits, depending on the state of the security measures for the COVID-19 pandemic in a few months’ time.

Although we may have only met the residents, face to face – and even some of our partners and educators – at the Arrivals in the last week of February, our pathways have crossed in many and multiple ways.

They have crossed on the YouTube chat screens during our Warm-ups, over the months of November and December of 2020, and January and February of 2021.

They have also crossed through the social media presence that the Observatório de Favelas networks coordinate, from live-streamed events, shared audiovisual and intertextual narratives from previous cohorts and residents, and the circulation of exhibition archives and the exchange of resources that cut across all of the axes of the School.

In November, we began the Warm-ups of the Concepts axis with an online public roundtable on “Constructing Masculinities Otherwise”, inviting professors and researchers Osmundo Pinho (Universidade Federal do Recôncavo da Bahia) and Fabio Mariano (Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo), with the mediation of Elã pedagogical coordinator Glecy Kelly Heitor, to trace the panorama of historical, political, and social debates around masculinities in the region, as well as speak to the importance of thinking about gender relations in contemporary times and mobilizing masculinities in an intersectional perspective committed to the protagonism of peripheralized subjects and territories. Here, we worked through art and culture as sites of dispute over the politics of representation – or more precisely, derepresentation – as a necessary first step to open up a genuine and focused conversation on masculinities and racialized processes of de/humanization. After all, we have been taught to think the human in the masculine: mankind. And in the mirror of Europe´s whitened, narcissistic ideals and self/images of the subjects and objects of knowledge, art, and politics.

In December, the Warm-ups continued with the online public roundtable that opened a three-part series on “Bodies and Masculinities in the Processes of Artistic Creation”. First, inviting Dennis Novaes, co-creator of the Favela Sounds festival, which brings together artists from peripheries around Brazil and the world, and Ulisses Carrilho, curator of the Visual Arts School of Parque Lage (EAV), with the mediation of Elã production partner Marisa Mello, to rethink the political economic structures and conditions of possibility for art to take form and circulate in ways recognizable as valued contributions to cultural and social formation. Attentive to the perverse imbrications of the art world with processes of capital accumulation and the legitimation of stereotypes and controlling images around prescriptions of “high culture” and “low culture” and ensuing interventionist politics, they continued to explore what it means to think masculinities in a country where the privileged target of lethal state violence is Black boys and young men – assassinated at the registered rate of one every twenty-three minutes – and how epistemicidic and genocidic politics reproduces itself in and through the arts, calling forth, more than counternarratives, the multiplication of systems of references forged in the first person. Going beyond the idea of art as exclusively poetic, symbolic, narrative representations, they left us with the challenge of thinking how artistic experimentations that do not commit to revindicate a possible space for their creations fail at realizing the transformative potential of art.

In January, the Warm-ups took a turn to set up a space for former GlobalGRACE Brazil artistic residents to share their experiences and reflections with the upcoming Elã cohort. On the call of thinking “Bodies and Masculinities in the Processes of Artistic Creation”, we invited Andreza Jorge and Simonne Alves of the Maré-base dance collective, Mulheres ao Vento (Women of the Wind), together with the Dance Company Passinho Carioca, represented by Ayesca Mayara and Daniiel Ritmado, and with the mediation of GlobalGRACE researcher Andréa Gill, to carry forward the conversations proposed by the previous roundtables and connect experiences across GlobalGRACE residencies, while delving into their final collective production of the videodance, Na Manha. Bringing to the fore the practice of articulating these artistic and political debates, the residents and interlocutors concretized how processes of artistic creation mobilize questions of gendered and racialized violence, and propose ways of dealing with their a/effects in and through the body, democratizing conversations often confined to academic spaces.

In February, we closed off the Warm-ups with the final online roundtable in the series on “Bodies and Masculinities in the Processes of Artistic Creation”, inviting Amora Moreira, Tainá Rocha, Tiago Tosh, and GlobalGRACE researcher Jimmy Turner of the graffiti residency NoBela – Masculinities at Bela – to take us into the house of Elã, and share their immersive experience at Galpão Bela Maré, as well as their creative processes, reflections on gender and masculinities, and interactions with the public and territory. With the mediation of GlobalGRACE collaborator and director of Observatório de Favelas Isabela Souza, the Q&A took us into the worlds re/created by the individual and collective artworks, as materializations of an immersive experience that allowed for the sharing of ideas, experiences, practices, and lasting partnerships, such as took form through the online store created by two of the resident artists: Cinna & Amora Store. The conversations around how to give audience and how to form audiences were intertwined with discussions into the dialogical structure of relations with artists. With regards to the artistic experience, as more than one of the residents put it, we need to be prepared to “leave with more questions than we arrived”, welcoming the role of the educative team in transforming art into a tool for dialogue and communication – to affect and be affected.

The Warm-ups paved the way to stretch the possibilities of the formative-residency to come, compressed in times-spaces due to the digital and hybrid methodologies. With this shared conceptual basis and starting point for investigations, the Arrivals were able to assume another tone. First, online, with the possibility of artists recognizing themselves and the times-spaces of the residency, and second, at Galpão Bela Maré, where across our masks and distances of 1.5 meters, we were able to initiate a process with the territory in which the Galpão is housed, with a light step and open heart to give and receive permission and affirm our collective responsibilities.

As one of the territories´ artists and cultural producers, Carlos Marra, put it during our Arrivals: “To come to the territory means to receive and give back; otherwise, it´s stealing.”

The Arrivals kicked off the Routes axis of the formative-residency, where educator Pâmela Carvalho facilitated this integration with the territory, launching the invitation to approach “art as the possibility of reeducating the gaze”, and ensuring that we are all doing the necessary work to perceive and express these possibilities in and through all of the senses. That is, the idea of routes and pathways as an artistic practice in and of itself.

Perhaps the collage stickers that one of the invited young artists of the territory, Felipe Bacelar, gifted us, best illustrates this shift:

The intergenerational dialogues among the territory´s artists at our Arrivals allowed for a more grounded orientation of all involved. As the elder artist, Mestre Manoel, put in, in one of Maré´s cherished centres for popular culture and Black art, Centro de Cultura Popular Ypiranga de Pastinha, “art is a strategy of communication, a way of getting at certain conversations”.

The openings and closings of pathways – corporal and territorial – were key to the Arrivals of the new cohort and accompanying educative and production team.

In these ways, the Laboratories that will continue to take place at Galpão Bela Maré on Saturdays, and the online encounters every Wednesday evening, alternating between Interlocutions and the crafting of diaries of the process of creation and Agencies and the interventions into the political economies of art, can build from this solid ground to think the conceptual, poetic, and material languages of the artworks proposed, more than objects and installations to be externally curated, as processes that implicate a series of structures and relations between artists, curators, producers, and the so-called public. When curatorship and cultural production are approached as artistic languages in and of themselves, it becomes possible to remake the hierarchies reflected by and reproduced within and beyond the worlds of art, the art of worlds.

Perhaps the three questions that sew together the Interlocution diaries to be workshopped at the beginning, middle, and final stages of the processes of creation, best sum up what is at stake in these artistic-pedagogical strategies:

1/ Reflecting on your poetics and research, formulate a question that synthesizes the type of provocation that you want to share with the world.

2/ How does the topic of “masculinities otherwise” cut across your research and poetics, and how do you feel implicated by it?

3/ How do you intend to present your research in the final exhibition? Share with us your expectations in terms of materializing your project.

How, then, dear reader, would you position yourself in these disputes over the politics of knowing, being, and creating?

As a collaborator of the School, also articulating the processes of systematizing the research and dissemination elements of the project, everything becomes data, to put it in the straightforward language of academic business. From the selection processes and the reading of more than 100 portfolios engaging with this year´s thematic proposal of the School, to the collective drafting of the syllabus and production meetings regarding how to set up the times-spaces of the residency, to the on and offline encounters where dialogues are reworked and take form in ways that no interview or distant observation could allow for. It's all data. No need to make up separate questionaries or focus groups.

That said, to make this work, positionality is key. How to receive and give back, as a researcher? The work of systematizing the methodologies, debates, proposals, what works and what needs to be reworked, can also be approached as a sort of pedagogical review, not only of the School, but of the available means to forge pathways for the artworks and exhibition project to circulate and transform into educative resources for schools, universities, and communities at large, in ways that take what is created as a process and not product to be consumed at whim, out of context, out of place. This work requires a radical honesty and confrontation with inherited hierarchies of knowledge, power, and being, so that each one can assume the responsibility that fits them as a necessary precondition for trust and partnership. It´s not about friendship, hospitality or cordiality – the new “going native”. It´s about doing the work that is called for, each and every one of us, in and from our own places, socially and institutionally demarcated.

And speaking of honesty, let´s get right to the point: who, after all, likes to be ethnographized?

Perhaps the pivotal challenge of these hybrid methodologies, which are enabling us to put Elã in the world, is that what once was communicated by whole bodies – the ways that we hold ourselves, touch, posture, and move that signal and assure connections – now falls largely on the gaze, our unmasked eyes that peer over fabric and through plastic shields, to reach out toward possible relations of trust and partnership. Of course, a job unsuited to vision. And so, we must re/discover ways of communicating, being, and forming relations and collaborations, in the affirmation that life always finds a way, even in death, to evoke possibilities of other worlds.

Written by Andréa Gill ( and recorded in collaboration with the Galpão Bela Maré production team


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