Interview with Gloria Ferreira – “You realized you went through the same things other women went through, despite being an insurgent.”

You briefly mention in some interviews and essays that you were exiled during the military dictatorship. Under what circumstances did you go abroad? How did that happen?

It got to a point where I couldn’t stay here anymore, so I left to Chile. Then the military coup in Chile came and I went to Sweden. From there I went to France and lived between the two countries.

Were you with someone?

Yes, I went there with my partner at the time.

How old were you then?

19, 20.

Looking back today, how do you see that period of your life?

I think it was interesting. I don’t regret it. Obviously today I wouldn’t be in favor of an armed fight like we were at the time. I don’t think it would work, really. At the same time, there was a sense of detachment that was nice. It was the ethos of the generation, as a friend, Vera Silvia Magalhães, says. It was good.

When did you move back to Brazil?

After amnesty was granted. They made up this story about me taking part in a robbery and I wasn’t allowed back until after everyone else was already back. It’s funny, it seems people would go to the coastline and cry, a lot of commotion. Then my lawyer figured everything out and I was allowed back after amnesty.

You graduated in France?

In a way. I also studied in Brazil. I did a very good postgraduate program in  Art History at the Architecture Department of PUCRJ, it was really great. I actually arrived in October 1979 and in January I was working at Funarte, so I learned a lot there. Paulo Sérgio Duarte called me in – he had known me for a while – and it was great, because I was working in a project called “Space for Brazilian Contemporary Art” and it was very interesting. I was completely lost with the exhibitions, the readings, but it was very important as a learning experience.

At the beginning of the book Entrefalas, you say that, after exile, interviewing artists and critics was something essential for your learning process when it comes to Brazilian art. How did you start doing those interviews?

It started with an invitation to curate an exhibition at Salão Preto e Branco, a retrospective at National Modern Art Fair. I just started talking to everyone. It was very interesting to experience that, that way of relating to the artists. After that I curated a big exhibit with Luciano Figueiredo, Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark in 1986, and I kept doing interviews. I started to “get the hang of it”.

What did you learn, in terms of technique, with all your practice?

You have more possibilities to dialogue, to understand things better. It becomes easier.

And how do you feel being interviewed?

When I interviewed Helena Trindade she said something I thought was very interesting about interviews: “Speech comes before certainty. Writing is one thing after the other, there’s more editing, it comes and goes. Speech is more contaminated by mistakes, lapses.” I think that’s very interesting, and true.

The subject matter of this book is women in the visual arts. Linking this subject to your extensive research on artists’ writings and interviews, what part of those experiences would you highlight? Have you identified  any similarities or issues worth stressing?

In a way, yes. There are common issues in art that were being dealt with at the time. On the other hand, those were feminist times, a more extremist feminism. Perhaps we don’t see much of that in the great female artists. They have a feminine element but not a feminist one. I’m thinking about people like Eva Hesse for example. It’s easy to see the feminine element, but is there something feminist there? I don’t think so. Which is funny, because those were days when feminism was going strong. There are artists that will work with more feminine issues, women’s issues, but not many. You can spot them but it’s not something very obvious. Women also started to conquer a lot more space, which is another change. For example, Lygia Clark’s letter to Mondrian is very interesting: halfway through it she says “Mondrian, you know, I am a woman.” Something that changed a lot was that women used to coyly say “I’d like to say a little something…” That’s changed. Women now just go and say whatever they want. That’s a very important change. Things also changed when it comes to trying to get a scholarship or funding opportunities. You’re not judged for not being a man.

What else could change so we can achieve more gender equality?

I think we would need a change mainly in the relationship between men and women. As a woman, out in the streets, you experience a lot more fear than a man. You’re a lot more vulnerable. But that’s a very long path of education we need to walk through. It’s something that starts in school. Yesterday I was reading in the newspaper that there’s a lot of prejudice when it comes to men being teachers. Parents are afraid of pedophiles. However, the presence of men in those spaces of learning since the beginning of the child’s education could give them a sense of equality. Boys playing with dolls, for example. That’s how I see it. It’s a long way to go. Women learn in childhood how to take care of a baby, set a table, do laundry. It all looks very normal, but to me it’s more complicated.

In the book Crítica de Arte no Brasil Temáticas Contemporâneas, we have essays from 80 writers, 15 of them being women – just short of 20%. How do you feel about those numbers?

The book starts in the 1950’s, so at first there’s just a few women critics, but there’s increasingly more as it progresses. It was a normal part of society at the time, there wasn’t a lot of women writing, but now there’s many!

Do you think it’s because of the space women have conquered?

I think so, as well as due to art’s own development. I think at first women didn’t even put themselves in that position. I’ve heard Raquel de Queiroz wrote critiques, but I have never seen them. I don’t know of any other women doing that before the 1950’s.

Heloísa Buarque de Hollanda says there’s a published essay signed by Raquel and that at the time people were so surprised by the quality of her writings that they thought “Raquel de Queiroz” was a man’s pseudonym. Graciliano Ramos himself thought it had been written by a man and then joked about this issue.

That’s quite possible.

Do you think there’s more diversity in the voices of critics as women enter this field?

Yes, I think perhaps they tend to touch more sensitive issues. I think women suffer more, there’s a certain generalized insecurity. Of course some women feel more secure. I’m not sure. I think their writings are more sensitive, in general.

More sensitive than men’s?

More sensitive in the sense that they point to more sensitive issues, not that they are written in a more compassionate manner.

Back to the book Crítica de Arte, there’s a passage on “critiquing the critique” as well as your own commentary on the decreasing role of the critical discourse, especially when it comes to deep changes in cultural journalism, in the introduction of the book. After all that research and with eight years having passed – eight years of extreme changes in media and technology – what is the role, what is the place critics should be occupying nowadays in your opinion? 

I think it’s a very complicated space. Critics have lost their public space in newspapers where they could actually criticize (which they really did!) and became something more geared towards catalogues, where you have to “be supportive”. You have to choice to write about an artist or not, but if you do, you have to talk about what’s in their work. That’s a big change. There’s also the issue of curatorship, a field where critics have gained a lot of space. So there’s those two things. Today, perhaps more than back then,  the loss of space for critics to criticize, which is how it all started out, is clearer. That’s why artists disagree more with curators than with critics.

The role of the curator has developed a lot lately. Do you see a change also when it comes to women’s presence in that field?

Yes, a lot. First of all, there used to not even be a curator. Now we have a lot of women curating.

You said that “For the artist to take the stand means they will enter the critics’ territory, putting an end to certain concepts and creating new ones” (Escritos de Artistas, anos 60/70). Considering this, what happens there when women take the stand?

That might be a bit complicated because women tend to be very precise. It’s the writings on their work – critiques, obviously – that tend to be more precise, more closed. At least that’s what comes to mind right now.

Throughout the history of Brazilian art, which women would you name as most relevant?

I would say Tarsila, Djanira, Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, Ana Maria Maiolino. From the new generation,  I think Cristina Salgado’s work is beautiful. There are many others: Lenora de Barros, Malu Fatoreli, Laura Erber, Elida Tessler, Karin Lambrecht, and so on.

Do you believe female artists have the same visibility as their male counterparts?

I believe so, but it also depends on what’s behind them – if they have a good press manager or not.

If they are marketed well.

Exactly.

Regarding visibility, I was reading your interview with Lygia Pape, where she says: “I always wanted to live my life slightly marginalized. I enjoyed being invisible, I made a point of it.” You were also inquiring about her work getting enough visibility. How do you interpret her answer?

We already knew that to a certain extent, because Lygia always kept to herself. Like she used to say, she enjoyed driving around by herself, “spinning her web”. She’s gaining momentum now. She’s a wonderful artist, but she did like to keep to herself.

What about Lygia Clark?

Lygia Clark was different; she was very much a part of the art world, more keen on its dynamics. The time she spent in France was also very important. They are different artists, of course.

Did you meet Lygia Clark?

Yes. She was still alive when I curated the exhibition Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica.

How was she in real life?

Very funny!

Why?

She was a little…crazy. Lygia could call you anytime to say anything! Something like, I don’t know… “I’m about to throw up.” You’d go over to her house and there was this thing with the clinic… You’d get there, lay down and it was great.   

In another interview, Helena Trindade talks about her artistic education and confides to you: “For my family, art was a hobby”. How do you see the evolution of this process of becoming an artist when it comes to women?

I don’t think that’s an issue for the younger generations. Perhaps it was for the older ones. It was a way to get out of the house, become independent, so they was a certain pushback. Nowadays I don’t think that’s an issue anymore – just look at how many female artists we have now. Becoming an artist used to be much harder.

Was it difficult for you to become a critic and curator?

I was very lucky to receive that invitation from Paulo Sérgio, because I had a general, basic knowledge in art.

When you received that invitation you had just gotten back from France, right?

Exactly. I already worked in the cultural world in France, that’s why he invited me. I was part of a group of women called Círculo de Mulheres (Women’s Circle). I also worked at the cultural group of the Brazilian Amnesty Committee, and in an art preschool for Brazilian children called O Saci Pererê.

So you were already “inserted”.

Absolutely. Even though I had no experience with contemporary art.

How was this Women’s Circle?

It was very interesting. We were all Brazilian, but we knew women who were French, Swedish and many other nationalities. It was very interesting, because I arrived to Sweden in November and I was invited to speak on March 8th, Women’s Day. So I prepared my speech at home with my husband at the time and a friend who kept telling me there was no separation between men and women! During the speech everyone was so quiet! Dead silent. After that, they started to give me things to read, so I could learn, it was a great wake up call to see what feminism really was. It was great because I realized I was going through the same things as all other women, despite being an “insurgent”.

At that time things were really heating up.

Totally! We talked like crazy, we did a lot of things. We gained a lot of space, actually. But there are still many issues that are very complicated on many levels, especially when it comes to our relationships with men.

You mean in our domestic lives?

Yes. Just looking at the amount of women getting abused or murdered In Brazil shows us that this is a very delicate matter. At the Women’s Circle, it was interesting because we talked a lot, we talked like crazy! It was like the floodgates were suddenly open! It was good because then we could be aware of what we were doing, how we were dealing with things and experiencing them. We organized a lot of events. For example, we had an event where I took all the Impressionist’s works and analyzed their representation of women. It was tough. They’re all either taking care of children, or of the house, or they are naked. All their representations reinforce this condition. We placed a few cubes in the middle of the room, and they all have paintings inside, so when people moved the cubes they would see them. It was very interesting. We also had a screening of “Salt of the Earth”, a film about women. Our discussions were never-ending.

How did you arrive at this Women’s Circle?

After Sweden I was prepared for anything! Sweden was really “hardcore”.

Why?

They were angry! There was this Swedish newspaper, Aftonbladet, that had a picture on its cover of a woman on her period for a whole week. The whole cycle was in the cover of this newspaper. It was a scandal. 

Were you there at the time?

Yes.

What did you think when you saw that?

I thought it was great! Something so forbidden, a taboo…

On the cover of a newspaper, the most conservative setting possible.

Exactly. It was interesting. Swedish society was already very open, very liberal. Feminism was more radical there, especially when it comes to men and issues like that. Of course it had to have been a feminist who put those pictures there, after a lot of fighting, I’m sure. It was a great environment.  Here in Brazil, my generation, our ethos like I said before, was also somewhat open – perhaps not feminist, but at least more open. Women were part of armed groups like anyone else. There were complications, but at least it was more open.

What kind of complications?

For example, where you would stand in an action. Usually things were initiated by men. Also, when you were hiding and had to share a bed with someone for security reasons, sometimes there would be abuse. Then you really had to talk through things, discuss everything. Either way, those places were a lot more open. 

It is very interesting that despite all that you arrived in Sweden and gave that speech on Women’s Day without realizing the issues that feminists there were fighting for.

I think that back then I saw feminism as something that would divert from the social struggles. I think that’s what it was. That’s a common prejudice.

Do you believe it was important to keep these discussions exclusively amongst women?

All the events were open, but it was important to keep the discussions between women only so we could truly share things with each other. We always had men coming in at the end of the discussions to talk to us. Sometimes things would get a bit heated. That went on for almost four years.

What was it like to come back to Brazil after that?

We tried to keep it going, having a “Women’s House”. It didn’t work out, but a lot of people from the circle kept working with those issues. In Recife, for example, they have an interesting group of women fighting against gender violence and for equality called SOS Mulher (SOS Women). I recently published a series of photographs of the Circle in their magazine. France had a very strong feminist movement. They made abortion legal very early on, for example, something people are trying to reverse nowadays.

There are some very conservative movements as well.

Yes. I think Uruguay’s Mujica is a very interesting person. He was a tupamaro. An interesting man.

What was it like to watch Márcia X’s “Pancake”?

It was amazing – she was spilling that condensed milk everywhere and I felt like I was seeing Donatello’s “Magdalene”, that young body with such expressionist layers. It was very interesting. The funny thing is, once she was done, Tunga, wearing a suit, gave her a hug and was covered in condensed milk!

It must have made quite an impression on you.

Márcia X was really amazing.

In an interview with Cláudia Saldanha and Ana Teresa Jardim, published in the catalogue for “Márcia X”, Márcia says that “the artist does not have to be the spokesman for the most perfect political positions“, in the sense that she did not link her work to militant work, to properly labeled “feminist” issues. Still, we see elements of sexuality, the feminine universe, taboos and cultural aspects connected to women in her work. How do you see this connection between the discourse of the work itself and the discourse voiced by the artist?

I think what the artist says is very important, we have to take that into account. Especially since the 1960’s. Their discourse is interconnected with the work. It’s not just a document. Now, that doesn’t mean you agree with everything. Being labeled as a feminist is something very complicated. To be honest, I think her work had more to do with sexuality and Catholicism than with feminism. Can we say a woman using a rosary to draw out a penis is something feminist? In a way. But it’s actually basically just about repression.

She said it herself that some of her works were more about masculine sexuality.

Yes, and as a woman, for you to allow yourself to do that, is a big step. In that sense it’s definitely a step.

A feminist step?

Yes, feminist in a way.

Who would you like to interview, either for the first time or again?

I’d say Nelson Leirner, who invited me to curate an exhibition.

Which interview surprised you the most?

Amilcar de Castro. It was wonderful. Especially because I was very shy and his answers were so incredibly kind… I did a piece on him for my History of Art postgraduate work and we became friends. He was very nice, very caring.

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