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‘The Periphery Has Potency’ Festival Unites Art and Literature in the Peripheries at the Galpão Bela Maré

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On December 17, the Galpão Bela Maré arts center held the Periferia Tem Potência (The Periphery Has Potency) festival in partnership with the Favelas Observatory, the Instituto Maria e João Aleixo, and the Park Library. Participants gathered in the favelas of Maré, in the North Zone of Rio de Janeiro, to pay homage to artistic creations—primarily literary—of the peripheries, with roundtable conversations, games, and exhibits.

The Impact of Art

Upon entering the Galpão Bela Maré, visitors were transported to another world, thanks to the Escola Livre de Artes (Free School of Arts, ELA) and its exhibit O Nome que a Gente Dá às Coisas (The Name That We Give to Things). Based on an initiative of the Favelas Observatory in partnership with the Galpão Bela Maré, Automática Contemporary Art Productions, and the Parque Lage School of Visual Arts, ELA gathered 25 young artists from the favelas and peripheries to participate in an artistic-pedagogical training. The goal was to create a space for expression for voices and thoughts on modern society, and the result was a vast and moving exhibit, filled with photography, paintings, texts, installations, and videos. The exhibit portrays the artists’ experiences and reflections on questions of power, memory, sexuality, gender, and blackness, each carrying the potential to inspire, promote, and renew their territories. The exhibit will remain open to the public until February 1, 2020.

Literature, Poetry, and Games in the Peripheries

Next, visitors were invited to participate in a roundtable conversation about “Literature and the Peripheries.” The conversation was led by Osmar Paulino of the Imbariê Arts Festival (FAIM), together with Lizandra Cordova of Baixada Literária, and Gabriel dos Santos of Slam BXD. The three artists spoke of their projects and personal histories with the goal of showing the youth—a group invited from the Cine e Rock Cultural Center, located in the neighborhood of Rio das Pedras, in Rio’s West Zone—the realm of possibilities for those that dedicate themselves to literature in the peripheries.

A resident of Rio’s outer Baixada Fluminense region, dos Santos spoke of the difficulties he faced in participating in poetry slams, which would always take place in Rio’s South Zone or its downtown Centro area. In 2018, he finally dedicated himself to organizing competitions in the Baixada itself in order to democratize access to slams. “Because the poetry slam is the most democratic excuse available for getting people together,” says dos Santos. “There is only one rule. Each person has three minutes to present their poetry.” Based in the Baixada city of Nova Iguaçu, the Baixada Literária initiative carries the same goal. With the support of a network of community libraries, the group works to democratize access to literature in the peripheries. Paulino concluded the conversation asking each Cine e Rock youth about their dreams for the future, explaining the importance of “each choosing among the multitudes of possibilities.”

In parallel, Jaciana Melquiades of Era Uma Vez o Mundo (Once Upon a Time the World), a social impact business dedicated to producing toys for black children, formed a circle with Cine e Rock’s youngest participants, gathering them to discuss the inheritances of enslaved peoples in Brazilian culture. Next, she began an activity called Artisanal Afro-Centric Games, leading the children through a Mozambican game called Terra e Mar (land and sea), filling the space with fun and learning.

After a brief pause, visitors were invited to watch a screening of the film Carlos de Assumpção: Protesto, from the filmmaker Alberto Pucheu. In the film, which references Carlos de Assumpção’s famous poem Protesto, written in 1958, the Afro-Brazilian poet speaks of his literary activities, always in service of black resistance. Despite his work and dedication to the resistance throughout his life, de Assumpção, now 92 years old, is nearly unknown in the literary world.

At the same time, writer Lu Ain-Zaila led a workshop on critical thought in writing. After presenting her work on Afrofuturism—a theory that imagines a future in which the black population is both free and clear-eyed—Ain-Zaila explained that writing is not neutral: issues of power and dominance pervade. Thanks to critical thought, however, which Ain-Zaila defined by referencing the words of educator Mario Cortella as “the intelligent exercise of suspicion,” writing can become a tool for social transformation.

Books as Instruments of Potency

Next, the day’s visitors gathered with Pedro Gerolimich, Jaílson Sousa e Silva, Jorge Barbosa, and Rodrigo Santos for the launch of the EDUNIperiferias publisher. Together, the four spoke of the importance of creating a publisher for the peripheries, describing the launch as a highly political act of resistance, one that inserts the existence of the peripheries into literature. Santos recalled books he had read as a child: “In these books, I don’t remember seeing a place or a person that looked like me.” For Santos, the books are essential for “registering our life experiences, our stories” and for “agitating local culture.” It was for this reason that Santos decided to write Macumba, a police fiction that paints a picture of Brazilian peripheries with a strong presence of afro-amerinidian religions.

Finally, the festival’s first day closed out with a bang, with a poetry battle from the Slam Maré Cheia poetry group and music from DJ Bieta.

And the Party Goes On

The second part of the festival took place on December 19 at the Park Library, in Centro. On that night, the organizers invited, among others, authors Alice Pereira and Marcus Diniz from the LGBT scene in order to present their books and discuss the questions of marginalization and desire to be represented in literature in an authentic way, without stereotypes and hypersexualization. Next, there was music, a theater piece by the Slam Akewí poetry group, and conversation roundtables in parallel.

To close the festival, the Instituto Maria e João Alexio and UNIPeriferias launched the fourth edition of Peripheries Journala bi-annual publication that gathers the work of international researchers and artists in contemplating peripheral themes, promoting awareness of the potency of the peripheries. With the theme Public Schools: Potencies and Challenges, the recent edition offers readers a collaboration between researchers and photographers, both national and international, taking on questions of gender, inequality, racism, and vulnerability of children in the field of education.

The Periferia Tem Potência Festival united artists from diverse areas that inspired with their work, offering new impulses, ideas, and visions, centered in the peripheral perspective.