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The Sights and Voices of Dispossession: The Fight for the Land and the Emerging Culture of the MST (The Movement of the Landless Rural Workers of Brazil)


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Emerging culture by media type -> Paintings 9 resources (Edited by Malcolm McNee. Translation © Else R P Vieira.)

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Malcolm K. McNee


The Plastic Arts in the MST: Beauty as a Human Right

The plastic arts, including painting, sculpture, murals, and many forms of regional artisanship, are an infinitely rich field of cultural expression in the MST. Along with theatre, music, literature, and architecture, they present a creative foundation for one of the primary lines of cultural critique advanced by the Movement's Culture Collective: that the overwhelming, monopolized penetration of mass-media into the countryside often smothers something quite fundamental to the development of individuals and communities - the desire to create beauty. For the MST, cultural democratization not only involves diversification of what is available in terms of consumption, but also the democratization of the means of cultural production, so that everyone is empowered to explore and develop their own creativities. As Ademar Bogo, a poet and theorist of the MST Culture Collective, writes, due to the mass-media model of exclusive inclusion 'people end up believing that everything arrives prefabricated, and we lose the most profound and dignified quality of human beings: the sense that we are creative. Each one of us, in our own way, is an artist, painter, poet, sculptor . . . We need to rescue in each person this will to create, so that what we construct with our hands has beauty'.

The examples of plastic arts documented in these photos can be roughly divided into two groups. The first group includes paintings, woodcarvings, and sculpture by individual artists, most of which are left unsigned, or marked only with a first name or initials, indicating in a certain sense a quite personal, non-professional connection between the artist and the work. These works portray the dignity, beauty, and hopes of the Landless, helping to re-signify that very term from a negative - those without the very basic means of production and social reproduction in the countryside - into a positive. As expressed in these works, Landlessness is an affirmative identity for those who have become agents of their own dreams for a better life and a more just world. These paintings and sculptures also draw upon and further invest with meaning symbols of the collective history and aspirations of the MST: tools such as machetes, scythes, and axes; the fence, as an obstacle to be confronted and overcome; the movement's flag; land, both asbarren and divided and as lush and accommodating modest human habitation. These works are sporadically dispersedthroughout the spaces territorialized by the MST, for example, state and national level offices of the movement, farmers' markets where settled activists bring their agricultural production, and the Agrarian Reform Store in São Paulo.

The second group of works here includes large-scale murals. Mural painting has become an important element of state and national level congresses of the MST. The murals, coordinated by experienced artists from organizations such as the Movement of Artists of the March (Movimento de Artistas da Caminhada) working in solidarity with MST activists, are conceived of and painted collectively. Important themes defining the particular congress are allegorically developed into the mural, and they also draw upon and strengthen the symbols of the MST. In one mural, a group of hands joyously raises a loaf of bread over the ruins of barbed wire fences and guns. In another mural, commemorating the congress ending the long march to Brasília, countless feet step away from the despair in the margins of the painting and toward the hope represented in the center by an abundance of crops and a healthy baby held by three hands, with skin-tones representing Brazil's African, European, and Indigenous ethnicities.


November 2002

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