At the end of 1999 I quit my job and sold my car to make a move to New York, with the intention of learning English. As the only trip abroad I had taken until then had been the previous holiday season in the city, some friends took upon themselves to warn me against racism in the US. I heard stories about other Brazilians who got enough accent reduction to pass as Israelis, and how that was supposed to be a good thing.
I wasn’t intimidated, but I braced for it. As it turned out, throughout the next 16 years I got fluent, found a community, lived in the five boroughs and honed a skill – all with a pronounced Brazilian accent, and yet racism didn’t materialize. The warnings faded in my mind. I didn’t think of myself as the other.
Then, in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, things changed. Just like that. The expression White Fragility entered my vocabulary through the chimney, landing with a thump and a cloud of soot. Connections within NYPD became reason for name dropping. ICE power was bragged about. Insinuations were made. A small but loud handful of people no longer wasted their energies being angry with their own failures. Suddenly, almost mysteriously, these individuals found themselves somewhat smug. My presence here was questioned: in these situations, I became not only the other but that leverageable other.
Body of Evidence is my four-years long response to this climate. Originally conceived to hold only a poem and an essay, it grew to 30 pages with all that got on my nerves from each news cycle, each social media storm, each disaster, each atrocity. Artist books are time-based narratives by nature, and that is true for this one even though it has no fixed chronology. A story line without much of a line, as it is the case for those of us who have lived on short term perspective for so long. My crooked path as an immigrant it is – not the kind of immigrant who had felt horrors inflicted upon but as a witnessing immigrant, an immigrant who could choose and whose choice was to stay and to work. As Agnes Martin wrote: “we are not the instruments of fate [n]or are we pawns of fate, we are the material of fate”.
The book was printed in red & blue over white, plus all shades of gray. It is shaped as an envelope with flaps open, folded lengthwise. By design, it is unable to stand on its feet.
All images are from my neighborhood in Northern Manhattan, historically an immigrant sanctuary. They were printed from woodcuts, photogravures, alternative photographic processes, screenprints, and photopolymer plates. The book is bound with meeting guards, and the covers are full leather lacunose panels with tree bark and mother-pearl inclusions. It is an edition of 09 numbered copies, to be bound upon request and personalized.
The photogravures plates and printing are by Aurora De Armendi. Screenprints were possible thanks to a scholarship by the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA.
The letterpress text is mainly a selection of journal entries related to my experience of 20 years as an immigrant artist, supplemented with quotes from Rebecca Solnit, Emily Dickinson, William James, Agnes Martin, and Fernando Pessoa. It was printed at The Center for Book Arts in a Vandercook Universal III Proofing Press, using the house type collection.
Either I work very slowly or the pace of history got faster (probably both.) During the time it took me to create and print this edition, both the climate and the political emergencies have picked up. These past four years were a litany of environmental and humanitarian disasters, right up to the pandemic and the racial justice crisis. As result of New York City being the COVID19 epicenter for a while, I ended up binding the first AP in my bedroom.
Meanwhile, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro could be seen competing with Donald Trump for the nomination of worse leader ever. The text messages between my family members (all of which live in Brazil) and me in the city are but a brave attempt to produce a smile from one side to another, with small successes. I was one of the finalists for a residency application process, and during the Zoom interview I was asked if the present moment would reveal itself in my body of work.
Why, it is coming out of the woodwork.
Fun fact, the binding has a concealed apotropaic image in the spine lining. As per the Wikipedia entry, this word comes
From Ancient Greek ἀποτρόπαιος (apotrópaios), from ἀπό (apó, “away”) and τρόπος (trópos, “turn”); thus meaning “causing things to turn away”, as in “turns away evil”.
As Georgious Boudalis mentioned in “The Codex and Crafts in Late Antiquity”: Books and bodies were vulnerable and the fact that pains were taken to protect both books and bodies alludes to their power
For reasons of force majeure, only my first name is visible in the book.
This project was made possible with support from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. It was produced at The Center for Book Arts, with additional help from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA.
I wish to express my deepest gratitude to my dear friends
Aurora De Armendi
This post has a follow-up post for the book colophon,
and the Artist Statement may be seen here.
Tech specs: 30 pages, 9×16″ (closed), mixed media, 2020
Images with an * indicates photo credit: Argenis Apolinario