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Toronto
Letticia Cosbert
Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca at the Art Gallery of York University
May 30, 2018

From the moment I arrived at the splashy York University subway station, it was pretty clear that the Art Gallery of York University’s current exhibition, Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca, was going to be outstanding. Why, you ask? Well, because the TTC supervisor on duty told me so. He was totally right, by the way, and I haven’t been able to forget about our preluding conversation, nor separate it from my experience of the show. Naturally, on my way back from the gallery, we found each other at the entrance to the subway station and spoke about the show in more detail. He had never been to the AGYU before, and not only wondered how I knew about it, but how he could learn more about other galleries in the city. We talked about many things, but what we didn’t (need to) talk about is at the root of why we both loved this show so much: we’re both from the diaspora.



Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca, SET TO GO, 2015

In spite of the spoilers I received at the subway station, I still wasn’t totally clear on what kind of exhibition I was about to walk into, aside from the fact that both artists are Brazilian (and still live in the country’s northeast). I took a pamphlet, turned a corner, and was met by a wall of framed photographs (Mestres de Cerimônias/Masters of Ceremonies, 2016). Costume chains, braids, low top fades, Nike fitteds, shorter than short shorts, slingback wedges, and Kawasaki motorcycles set the scene and remind me of Kingston, JA parties in the early 2000s. The images are from music videos of brega MCs, a genre popularized in Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s and 60s, and a response to bossa nova. Wagner documents these “poor but glamorous people from the slums” as they portray the social, cultural, and economic realities of their lives in return for visibility and celebrity.

The profile of brega MCs continues in the next room in the form of a co-directed sixteen-minute short video titled Estás Vendo Coisas/You Are Seeing Things (2016) that follows a young duo on their journey to brega stardom, beginning in the recording studio and ending on set of their own music video. Exit this screening room and there is another wall of framed photographs (A Procura do 5°/In the Search of the 5th Element, 2017) – a selection of portraits of over 300 young MCs who were shortlisted for a national funk competition. My personal favourite work is a video installation found at the very end of the gallery: a “video essay” titled Faz Que Vai/SET TO GO (2015) featuring four dancers: Ryan Neves, Edson Vogue, Bhrunno Henryque, and Eduarda Lemos (Tchanna). The music is jazzy and funky, and the costumes are a clear ode to Carnivals across the Americas. There are high kicks, backbends, en-pointe footwork, dutty wining – always with a smile and sometimes while taking a selfie.



Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca, A Procura do 5°/In the Search of the 5th Element, 2017

Layered beneath (and over) this celebration of music, dance, and fashion is the traumatic cultural and social history of Brazil, namely its legacy as the largest participant in the Atlantic slave trade and the lasting economic effects it has had on its Black population, which is also the largest African diaspora in the world. Wagner and de Burca have woven these historical realities into the various narratives of the exhibition or, rather, they are fundamental to the understanding and this particular consumption of Brazilian popular culture.


Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca continues until June 24.
The Art Gallery of York University: http://theagyuisoutthere.org/
The gallery is accessible.


Letticia Cosbert is a Toronto based writer and editor, and is currently the Digital Content Coordinator at the Koffler Centre of the Arts. Letticia studied Classics, earning a B.A. from the University of Toronto, and an M.A. from Western University, where she specialized in erotic Latin poetry. Her writing and editorial work has been featured in Ephemera Magazine, Sophomore Magazine, The Ethnic Aisle, and publications by Katzman Contemporary, Younger Than Beyonce Gallery, Xpace, and Trinity Square Video. She can be followed on Instagram @prettiletti

 

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