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The Free Course at UNIperiferias – Rethinking Gender: Art, Politics, and Masculinities

Updated: Jan 1

Over the months of September to December, GlobalGRACE Brazil brought together a number of organizations, with diverse educators, artists, and activists to open a space for dialogue about intersectional expressions of masculinities, as a structuring force of the contemporary gender order.


This experience enabled us to concretize our mappings of agendas, movements, collectives, and knowledge productions that seek to put on the table a discussion so rarely advanced, for the ways in which men and masculinities continue to be largely unmarked by gender, and, in turn, preserved in a sort of false neutral universal and stand-in for humanity. It also proved to be a kind of laboratory to experiment with artistic, pedagogical, and political methodologies for the artistic residencies that we will launch next year, building momentum for a process that will culminate in our final exhibition and accompanying seminars and workshops in August of 2020.

After beginning the course with a general exploration of the field and contemporary debates, the question of why and to what end speak about masculinities? was brought to the forefront, as each participant traced their own positions and trajectories dealing with gender relations, personally, politically, and oftentimes in their work or studies. In addition to mapping the field, Henrique Restier, who works with the training of educators and carries out research in numerous related fronts, facilitated a reflexive process on the politics of representation and stereotyping in popular culture, situating the predominant debates on masculinities in the Latin American context beyond the white eurocentered conceptions of gender, and more specifically delved into its disputes in Brazil, drawing from the recent publishing of the ground-breaking book that he coedited, Diálogos Contemporâneos Sobre Homens Negros e Masculinidades (Contemporary Dialogues on Black Men and Masculinities).

Credit: Top left – Veri Vg, Top right – Marcia Farias, Bottom - Marcia Farias


In our next encounter with Tatiana Moura, she brought her experience, notably with Promundo, to speak to the rise of anti-gender discourses within global waves of reactionary conservatism, which opened space to deepen our understandings of contemporary political conjunctures – and the terms, limits, and possibilities that they present for talking about gender. Tracing the history of the idea of “gender ideology”, now widespread in Brazil as a flag for censorship, enabled us to get to what is at stake in the dialogues that we are proposing, and grapple with both hegemonic conceptions of gender and its many contestations.


In between encounters, the WhatsApp discussion group initiated and led by the participants continued many of these reflections, taking into consideration the ways that conversations about gender are being blocked and hijacked, and oftentimes criminalized, reactualized by what one participant termed as the “upgrade of gossip”: fakenews.

Credit: Veri Vg


Luciano Ramos´ experience in community education and public policy research and advocacy expanded the terms of our conversations, through a workshop that he proposed that called on us to rework our references for thinking gender – dividing into three groups, black masculinities, white masculinities, and elements of masculinities in general were mapped and later put up for debate. In a country where black men are the privileged target of lethal state violence, historically portrayed as violent, criminal, lazy, and predatorial, our focus was taken to the racial pacts that sustain the contemporary gender order. Given the ways in which we were taught to conceive humanity in the image of the white man, many of the discussions migrated to the realm of the arts as one possible space for black men, women, and others negated this space of power, to speak to their lives, and numerous participants cited examples, from samba as a space of encounter to speak about love, work, family, and daily life, to rap as a tool of denunciation, to funk as a mirror of a violent and unequal society. From here, numerous manifestations of corporal intelligence were brought up by the group, as a double-edge sword, whereby in a society in which access to spaces of knowledge production is denied and regulated according to persisting colonial hierarchies it becomes a possible space of elaboration, at the same time that it is imbricated in processes of disqualification and subordination through the eurocentered mind/body split. Art as a technology of survival, from driving peripheral economies to forging spaces of expression and dialogue, became a recurrent discussion, with numerous artists participating in the monthly encounters bringing it to life.


When we face the complexities of gender relations, we necessarily have to rework the terms of the debate. As Luciano cited of one participant in his community workshops, grappling with the limits and possibilities of reworking the standards of masculinities and fatherhood, in particular, “Eu saio desse lugar e eu vou pro limbo. Quem vai me acolher nesse limbo?”(I leave this place and I go into limbo. Who will welcome me in this limbo?).

Credit: Marcia Farias


Our fourth encounter took place at the opening of the exhibition of the graffiti residency on Masculinities at Galpão Bela Maré, where Andreza Jorge facilitated a conversation on masculinities, feminisms and black and favela-based movements and artistic and intellectual productions. As a dance professor – who works with orality and corporality as means of generating and transmitting knowledges negated, marginalized, and reappropriated by the modern colonial project – she began the discussions situating ourselves in our bodies and always bringing us back to our place, opening up our circle with the question, “Quando você percebeu que era “menina” ou “menino” ou nenhum dos dois? Qual situação marcou você?” (When did you realize that you were a “girl” or a “boy” or neither? What situation marked you?).


This brought about a series of reflections on gender norms, standards, and pacts, with most of the memories denoting restriction and the interruption of being, a dynamic that she extended into analyses of the totalizing references of the white, propertied, heterosexual cisnormative system from which gender is thought and contested. Opening up the space of art as a place to experiment with what she called rasura, we began to reflect on how to assume this place of fissure, cracks, and ruptures. And with this, she posed the question, “De qual feminismo nós estamos falando quando pensamos e contestamos masculinidades?” (From what feminism are we speaking when we think and contest masculinities?).


Offering black feminism as a lens through which to see our worlds, the relations of power that cut across them and the multiple and permanent reconfigurations of the gender order, we left this encounter at the Galpão, after drinking and eating and chatting with the artists, with the possibilities for self/reflection and dialogue renovated, remaking the space of art and culture beyond its colonial frontiers and civilizing missions.


When we put the conversation about masculinities to the public, it is necessary to take into account that we are talking about a country that was founded on the division between the human and the non-human, and where the category of gender served as a colonizing agent, permanently reactualized today through the coloniality of being, knowing, and power. In these ways, Andreza brought the conversation together on remaking art, culture, and politics of transformation, leaving us with the question, “De que lugares a gente está se inspirando?” (From what places are we getting inspired?).



Credit: Marcia Farias


In the spirit of a confraternization, Max Willa Morais, resident IMJA artist and researcher, led our final get-together, bringing us into the worlds of language and visuality to relate otherwise with gender. Between toasts, sitting on the floor with sharpened charcoal in hand and blank canvas sheets laid out in front, we experimented a liberty denied by the many impositions of a binary cisgender hierarchy of ways of being in the world.


Draw a line...now, someone else, continue off from it.


Write a verb...no need to justify it.


Write an article…now, turn it into a drawing.


Between pages of our book-in-writing, we watched video performances of artists who modify the sense of words, texts, discourses, impositions of any sort, consolidating a reflection on gender, race, and sexuality, introducing breath and movement in an otherwise stifling normative, rule-driven arena.


Ruminating on the political disputes in relation to the guarantee of rights, Max affirmed that “quando se entra nas questões identitárias, se encostam em várias definições, você disputa a definição das coisas, da vida. Definição para que se tenha direitos” (when you get into identitarian questions, you lean on various definitions, you dispute the definition of things, of life. Definition so as to have rights). And, how do we make home in the undefinable, she continues? The undefinability of meanings, verbs, articles, senses, life, of gender, sexuality, femininities, and masculinities.


In these ways, Max took us beyond the debates on (in)visibility – so key to systems of art and intelligibility – to the concept that artist, intellectual, activist Jota Mombaça reworks as opacity. The right to opacity as a response to the demands that life puts on us to be intelligible, categorized, and consumed. Exploring the body as colonial occupation, to learn to live in the undefinable, an embodied place in movement, is to rethink the point of arrival, and learn to permanently cross over, and, as such, generate spaces proper to our own existence.


Moving back and forth from re/inscribing words, symbols, bodies on the raw canvas, we spoke to what Jota refers to as the língua bifurcada, a bifurcated tongue, capable of traversing (in)visibilities and opacities, with the aim to be heard but not translatable, to not be erased but neither to be transparent. Through the play of words, we sought means to incorporate modes of resistance that know how to work ambiguity, to resist being captured, as visibility has not proven to protect those whom it has denied recognition.


In these ways, we closed off our monthly encounters with many openings, equipping us to deal with the (un)definable of gender, and the plentitude of being and living together. Pathways to be further explored in our artistic residencies coming up next year, where through the multiple languages of art what we perceive of our worlds through the lens of masculinities will be brought to bear on the politics of gendered violences and inequalities, and the possibilities of another world.

Credit: Marcia Farias


For more about the free-standing course and discussion group on masculinities at UNIperiferias, check out our first post here!