Mapping Psycho-Social Connections: A Review of Jonathas de Andrade at the MCA

Installation view, Jonathas de Andrade: “One to One,” MCA Chicago April 13 – August 25, 2019/ Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

Fifteen-by-eight grid, 120 T-shirts and forty-two maps; these are not arbitrary numbers and descriptors in Jonathas de Andrade’s “One to One” exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, these numbers tie to scale, together they link us to place. Maps are not only about cartography, they reinstate histories and connections beyond linear time. De Andrade maps the psychosocial connections of “Nordeste,” the often-ignored Northeast region of Brazil.

Jonathas de Andrade, born in 1982, studied communications at the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife. Since 2007, he has been part of the art collective, “A Casa como Convém” (The House as It Should Be), that is based there. The artist calls Recife home; it was one of the first places colonized by the Portuguese as the outposts of the slave trade in the Americas. This history is framed by the present through structural inequality that limits access to education, opportunity and food. But where on a map do we see the afterlife of slavery, colonization or labor? De Andrade answers that by creating a one-to-one large-scale outline, made of clay-blocks, that replicates the small compartment spaces people live in by the railway in Recife, titled, “Um pra um” (One to One). (This installation shares the title with the exhibition.) There are more than fifteen families featured in the clay-block outline, the minimal installation techniques of clay bricks hooked to wires and nailed to the wall refer to the radical precarity in which these communities live. The blocks make a rectangular and abstract form, that from afar, resemble a line drawing. Up close, our bodies become enmeshed with the grid work. That is what Andrade is asking of us—to put our bodies in relation to the objects, and in turn, to the people present in his work.

Installation view, Jonathas de Andrade: “One to One,” MCA Chicago April 13 – August 25, 2019/ Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

Nowhere is this more apt than “Suar a camisa” (Working up a sweat), a large-scale installation, second in a set of three in this exhibition, where 120 t-shirts are arranged in a fifteen-by-eight grid formation. The shirts feature political campaigns, significant due to the controversial imprisonment of Workers’ Party ex-president Lula, and Petrobas, Brazil’s national oil company, in contrast to the current Bolsonaro’s government for mass privatization. Worn by Brazilian laborers, Andrade exchanged them for a fresh shirt or bought them in 2014. These are t-shirts which the workers have sweat in. He brings us the invisible product of sweat—much like how migrant laborers and workers are brought to the United States, and then disposed of—with their embodiment extracted. Only the sweat remains. Without names, all the U.S. consumers see are the products before them, not the people who made items in stores or perhaps, in de Andrade’s case, the people who laid bricks to make the buildings. Hung on wooden supports, we are reminded that each shirt was worn by someone. These 120 t-shirts are shown for the first time as a grid, their arrangement alluding to a workers’ strike. In previous iterations, they were arranged in a serial manner. Ultimately, labor is extracted out of worker’s bodies and all we see are the artifacts. Global commerce renders these communities invisible while their labor power is extracted for material goods. Brazil, like the United States, India and the U.K., has a far-right figure in power; this political turbulence affects the northwest, indigenous communities, communities who are seen in the “periphery.”

Taking this into account, in “Fome de Resistência” (Hunger of Resistance), from the series “Infindavel Mapa de Fome” (Endless Hunger Map), de Andrade has collaborated with the indigenous Kayapó Menkragnoti women from the Pukany village, known for patterned body painting, to create traditional designs on forty-two Brazilian military maps. The government would like to maintain oversight of the Amazon rainforest in order to exploit it for mining, and logging industries, and in turn, pollute the air and water. These drawings are arranged with the hand of each painter, with their names and type of design used to alter the map such as Kakjana’s use of “Breaking” painting style, which resembles a zigzag vertical pattern with repeating lines on both sides. These drawings are ancestral patterns that re-inscribe indigenous sovereignty on land that should never have been in the hands of the government.

The work featured in the exhibition is the work of multiple makers, and creators such as the artisan, not mentioned in the exhibition, who made the wooden pedestals for the t-shirts to hang on, or Valdik Graciano, who was a consultant and fabricator for “Fome de Resistênca.” They deserve to be recognized for their talents and adequately compensated. Proceeds from the “Infindavel Mapa de Fome” (Endless Hunger Map) will be split into thirds, going to Kayapó Menkragnoti artists, Andrade’s gallery in Rio de Janeiro and to de Andrade.

“One to One” refers to the mapping of language, labor, gender in the “Nordeste” region of Brazil and indigenous sovereignty. The slave trade of the past is brought forth to present as structural exclusion and connects the Americas to which the United States is a part of. Therefore, in this exhibition we see our place in relation to others, in order to conceive of a whole. We are not solitary entities but made communal in relation to each other. (Hiba Ali)

Jonathas de Andrade: “One to One,” Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 220 East Chicago Avenue, through August 25.

All images: Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago.

Published in Newcity Chicago