Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Buenos Aires Shanty Town With No Name

Residents are seen in the Villa 31 slum near the heart of Buenos Aires. The Corriente Villera collective brings medical care to poor areas of the city.
Residents are seen in the Villa 31 slum near the heart of Buenos Aires. The Corriente Villera collective brings medical care to poor areas of the city.

With a red star and a the face of Che Guevara emblazoned on its side, the ambulance winds its way through the dingy streets of Villa 1-11-14, a sprawling Buenos Aires shanty town so neglected by the city government that – despite being home to over 25,000 people – it does not even have a name.
But the driver, Alfredo Solano, and the nurse, Valeria Chaparro, are not hospital or city staff. They are members of Corriente Villera, a collective of activists who bring medical care to some of the the poorest districts of the city – areas where state employees rarely venture.
“Not only are they afraid to go into the shanty towns because of the crime there, but they wouldn’t know anyhow how to navigate them like we do,” says Solano.

Because they grew up in the shanty towns themselves, the collective’s members can enter areas where a combination of drug-related crime, rising poverty and government neglect conspire to leave myriad people beyond the reach of regular social services.

Their services are badly needed. An estimated 1.5 million Argentinians fell below the poverty line in 2016, bringing the total to about 13 million people – or 32.9% of the population, according to a report released this month by the Social Debt Observatory of Argentina’s prestigious Catholic University.
The figure made a mockery of election promises by the centre-right president Mauricio Macri, a wealthy businessman who took office in December 2015 with the promise of “zero poverty”.
Addressing the country the day after the figures were released, Macri said: “When we speak of zero poverty, we’re not speaking of one day to the next, we’re speaking of a goal.”
The new poverty figures coincided with mounting social unrest, including a wave of protests by teachers demanding their salaries be brought in line with Argentina’s 40% inflation index.
The government has found some cheer in small signs of growth in the second half of 2016. “We’re growing again and the figures prove it,” tweeted the economy minister, Nicolás Dujovne, on Tuesday, pointing out that GDP was up 0.5% and 0.1% during the third and fourth quarters of last year – despite the average GDP drop of 2.3% for the whole year.
But such talk rings hollow for Marina Joski, the activist who first had the idea of buying secondhand ambulances for the shanty towns of Buenos Aires.
Clean up in a shanty town in Buenos Aires, Argentina organised by Corriente Villera

 A cleanup in a Buenos Aires shanty town, organized by Corriente Villera.

The 42-year-old leader of the Corriente Villera collective grew up near Villa 1-11-14, the largest shanty town in the city of Buenos Aires, which grew out of three original settlements, known as 1 ,11 and 14.
Villera helps organize soup kitchens and other projects such as the cleanup of rubbish-strewn alleys and stagnant ponds that become the breeding ground for mosquitoes carrying dengue and zika viruses.

The Catholic University study shows that the recent growth in poverty follows a sustained reduction in poverty during the former government of Macri’s leftwing predecessor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Among the causes are a brusque devaluation of the peso at the start of Macri’s government, which benefitted agricultural exporters but cut into the purchasing power of workers; the rollback of subsidies on transport and utility rates; and the government’s failure to rein in inflation, which remains stubbornly at around 40%, where it stood at the end of Fernández’s second term.
Back then, Francis put all his weight behind the creation of the Home of Christ, a federation of recovery centres that work with young drug addicts in the shanty towns.

The Catholic University has close ties with Pope Francis, who was a champion for the country’s poor when he was still just Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires.

The federation is run by Father José María Di Paola, who has devoted much of his life to helping young people addicted to “paco”, an inexpensive and highly addictive cocaine paste smoked by many low-income youths.
Father Pepe, as he is known, who maintains a close link with Pope Francis, still lives in the often violent La Cárcova slum, and has witnessed the growing poverty first-hand.
“Many people are losing their jobs, others are lucky if they can find even temporary work,” he said.
Back at Villa 1-11-14, Marina Joski laments the lack of official concern for the medical needs of Argentina’s poorest citizens.
“The neglect of the government in the shanty towns has forced us to create a service that should be provided by the state,” she says. “We don’t want to replace the state. What we want is dignity for our neighbours.”

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Pros And Cons Of Macri's Gradualism

How Argentina's Baked Goods Reveals Its Political Past

Even the Argentinian word for baked goods that are eaten at breakfast, or for late afternoon snacks, has a labor-related meaning. The word is facturas, which, in nearly every other context, means “bill” or “invoice.” The particular, revolutionary names for facturas have remained to this day, and so certainly has an activated working class.

Assortment of <em>Facturas</em>, Spanish for 'invoices.'
Assortment of Facturas, Spanish for ‘invoices.’ MUSHII
The perseverance of these names can perhaps be explained by the significant political turmoil that dominated Argentina throughout the late 19th century.
The political climate at the time was a dangerous one for radical anti-state leftists, and even moreso for indigenous populations. In 1879, General Julio Argentino Roca led a genocidal military campaign in Patagonia against indigenous Argentines, “physically obliterating” them from the region, according to A. Dinerstein’s America: Organising Hope.
Roca became president of Argentina in 1880, and despite his bloody rise to power, Argentina’s economy grew substantially in the early 1880s as Buenos Aires became a major manufacturing and exportation hub. This was the same time that the country received an influx of Spanish and Italian immigrants, who brought anarchism with them.
The baker's union was one of the first organized in Argentina, as early as 1886.
The baker’s union was one of the first organized in Argentina, as early as 1886. CHIVILCOY MUNICIPAL LITERARY ARCHIVE/PUBLIC DOMAIN
In 1886, when the bakers’ union was formed, Roca’s predecessor, Miguel Juárez Celman, was in year two of his presidency (to which he was fraudulently elected), and Buenos Aires saw an explosion of union activity regarding pay and working conditions. A new party formed to take Celman out of office.
Following the bakers’ strike in Buenos Aires, other unions and anti-government political parties quickly organized and took action. Rail and steelworkers went on strike in Rosario, Argentina, the same year. The anti-government Youth Civic Union formed in 1889, and rebranded as the Civic Union in 1890, revolted against Celman in the Revolution of the Park. Celman was forced to resign.
In 1901, the largely anarchist Argentine Regional Workers’ Federation (FORA) was founded, bringing together 35 unions (the group underwent many divisions and changes throughout the early first decades of the 20th century, but still exists in some form today). The anarchist dockworkers union successfully fought for a nine-hour work day in 1902. Between 1889 and 1910, Global Connections states that anarchists organized six general strikes. The original articles of association written by Malatesta for the bakers’ union served as a model for many of these subsequently formed unions.
The unionization of Argentina’s working class was a struggle in the truest sense of the word, and the radical christening of the facturas can be read as incisive, clever, and celebratory simultaneously. The bakers’ union and strikes came at a critical moment of economic growth and political tyranny, the likes of which the nation has experienced in various fashions ever since. While the complicated political landscape continues to shift, the facturas remain.

Lygia Pape: The New York Times Honors A Great Brasilian Artist

A replica of part of Lygia Pape’s “Livro da Criação” (“Book of Creation”), from 1959-60, in a retrospective at the Met Breuer. CreditMichael Nagle for The New York Times
And now, a brief update from the modernist halls of Brazilian power. The president, Michel Temer, has an approval rating of about 10 percent. The giant corruption investigation Operação Lava Jato — Operation Carwash — has ensnared dozens of members of the Brazilian political class. The country continues to endure its worst recession in history. And since the contested impeachment of Mr. Temer’s left-wing predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, the new government has amended the constitution to freeze social spending for two decades, an act that a United Nations rapporteur says “will place Brazil in a socially retrogressive category all of its own.” Outside the Met Breuer this week, at the opening of an exhibition of works by the Brazilian artist Lygia Pape, protesting expatriates denounced the Temer government as illegitimate, and warned of an “ongoing coup.”
What do you do when your government cracks, and when dreams for the future die? How should your art change when social circumstances worsen? Pape, the most experimental and restless of Brazil’s great postwar artists, offers one answer. She spent her whole life in Rio de Janeiro, and the upbeat abstract forms of her early paintings and reliefs rhyme with the buoyant mood of a nation on the move, when Brasília, a futuristic capital, was rising in the heartland. But for the bulk of her career, from 1964 to 1985, she lived and worked under a dictatorship. She was briefly imprisoned, and tortured.
Pape’s “Livro dos Caminhos” (“Book of Paths”) series at the Met Breuer. CreditMichael Nagle for The New York Times
New times called for a new art of public intervention, communal action, anthropological inquiry and boundless risk. Whether or not you agree with the protesters that Brazil’s current political situation amounts to a coup, her edgy, unsettled art should be a standard for artists today in Brazil, and in another large, politically fraught country in this hemisphere.
The Met Breuer’s retrospective, “Lygia Pape: A Multitude of Forms,” is the first for Pape in the United States, and it has been organized by Iria Candela, a Met curator of Latin American art. Though it’s hardly perfect — stumbling particularly with Pape’s films — it features galleries of exquisite beauty and command, especially in the early stretches.
“Roda dos Prazeros” (“Wheel of Pleasures”). CreditMichael Nagle for The New York Times
Pape (1927-2004) came of age as World War II ended and the authoritarian government of President Getúlio Vargas dissolved. A new, democratic Brazil was born; society exploded, the economy boomed and art responded in kind. Pape, who never studied art, joined Grupo Frente — a movement whose members included Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica — and embraced a geometric, methodical style, opposed to the Brazilian realism then in favor and drawing on the foreign abstraction seen at new museums like the Museu de Arte Moderna, which opened in Rio in 1948.
Pape’s paintings from this first period, in which rotated squares and askew, spindly lines lie in fields of white, draw heavily on the example of Soviet Constructivism. More interesting are her reliefs of the mid-1950s: blocks fitted with squares or stripes painted red, blue or yellow on different sides, so that the whole can never be fully perceived from a single angle. Exacting line drawings from that time, as well as lovely black-and-white prints of oblongs and half-moons, speak to her engagement with form as a sign of modernization, much like Oscar NiemeyerRoberto Burle Marx and the other designers of Brasília.
“Ttéia 1.”
CreditMichael Nagle for The New York Times
Yet where artists in São Paulo often took a rigorous approach to abstraction, Pape and her Rio colleagues Clark and Oiticica were dreamier. In 1959 they veered into a more active, experimental mode they called Neo-Concretism, which prioritized participation, sensuality and the integration of art into daily life. (A copy of the Neo-Concrete Manifesto is on display here, from an age when artists still got their messages out in the Sunday paper.) Clark began her hinged bichos (critters), Oiticica made hanging wood constructions, and Pape started to make unbound books, meant to be handled, that channeled nature or the built environment into joyous abstraction.
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“Livro da Criação” (“Book of Creation”), from 1959-60, comprises 16 square boards that translate prehistory into pure form: Red and white triangles suggest the discovery of fire, a folding fan stands for the invention of the wheel, and a rotating red disk symbolizes the invention of timekeeping. (You can fiddle with a replica here, fitting its cutouts together or spinning one page’s concentric rings.) Later, displayed on a cramped wall you wish were a little longer, comes the 365-element “Livro do Tempo” (“Book of Time”), 1961-63, a major work from Pape’s Neo-Concrete period whose red, yellow and blue reliefs function as a sort of abstract calendar.
An image from a staging of “Divisor” (“Divider”). CreditMichael Nagle for The New York Times
So Pape’s art was already taking on elements of action and personal experience before April 1, 1964, a few days before her 37th birthday. That day, a coup d’état overthrew the left-wing president João Goulart, prefiguring two decades of military rule. In the coming years, the junta’s stance on freedom of expression hardened, culminating in the notorious Institutional Act No. 5, which legalized censorship, banned protests and cleared the way for torture. So Pape, who marched against the dictatorship, veered again. “Caixa das Baratas” (“Box of Cockroaches”), from 1967, is just what it says it is: an entomological graveyard, displayed in a mirrored acrylic box.
The same year, she took a huge white sheet, sliced at regular intervals, to one of Rio’s many favelas. The children to whom she presented the sheet popped their heads through the slits, laughing and sticking out their tongues, as they unified their bodies into a collective organism that breathed and undulated, as gracefully as an octopus in the sea. “Divisor” (“Divider”) became one of Pape’s most significant artworks; she restaged it several times in 1968 in much more glamorous parts of Rio. A social sculpture, it was complete only with group participation — though it was also, in a reversal typical of ’60s Brazilian art, a biting metaphor for government surveillance and limits to freedom.
“Livro do Tempo” (“Book of Time”). CreditMichael Nagle for The New York Times
“Divisor” stands at the heart of this retrospective. Along with footage from the 1967 favela performance, there is a video of a re-enactment in 2010 projected on a full wall. (“Divisor” is also being restaged at 11 a.m. on Saturday, in a walk from the Met Breuer to the museum’s principal home on Fifth Avenue.) Yet the compressed installation of this show shortchanges other moving-image works, particularly her politically trenchant films of the 1970s, made while many other Brazilian artists were in exile.
Several of these films play on a loop in a tiny black box, and interesting but unessential materials, like title designs she did for Cinema Novo directors, delay the projection of major later works like “Carnival in Rio” (1974), a sociological portrait with a samba beat, and “Catiti-Catiti” (1978), a biting superimposition of Ipanema Beach glamour shots and darker texts about Brazil’s colonization. Others are shown awkwardly at waist height, or on small screens in a darkened hallway. A proper film program would have helped.
Visitors may interact with a facsimile of “Livro da Criação” (“Book of Creation”).CreditMichael Nagle for The New York Times
Much of the Breuer’s fourth floor has been cleared for a ravishing late work, “Ttéia 1,” in which hundreds of golden filaments stretch from the ceiling to a large central platform. It’s dazzling; it’s sultry; it’ll be selfie central. But don’t let it sidetrack you from Pape’s more pugnacious work with the camera, from her Super 8 footage shot in a favela on the sea to her documentary “A Mão do Povo” (“The Hand of the People”), from 1975, which contrasts indigenous Brazilian art and handicraft with consumerist junk in Brazil’s big cities.
The films, more than anything here, offer a model for how to make art when the world outside seems to demand something more urgent. “Brazil is made of perpetual disasters,” Pape said in a 1997 interview. “We build the way Penelope weaves, and then someone undoes it.”
What the times required — and what today’s Brazil, today’s America, may require, too — was neither art for art’s sake nor blunt propaganda, each in its own way a cop-out. They required an art plunged into life itself, uniting disparate figures into new fellowship, all under a common sheet.
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