Virginia de Medeiros

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Feira de Santana, BA, 1973 – Lives and works in São Paulo, Brazil.
Represented by Galeria Nara Roesler.
PIPA 2014 nominee.
PIPA 2015 Winner.
PIPA 2015 Popular Vote Exhibition Winner.
PIPA Nomination Committee Member 2016 and 2019.

The work of Virginia de Medeiros centers on documentary strategies as a means to transgress mainstream accounts and question the boundaries between reality and fiction. The artist deals with three themes within the fields of art and documentation: dislocation, participation, and fabulation. Adapting documentary images and lived accounts, she employs the latter for subjective and conceptual use to revise the representation of reality and alterity. De Medeiros works primarily with video and audiovisual installations, always seeking to combine the languages of art and media and expand aesthetic and technological possibilities to achieve new modes of expression.

In 2006, “Studio Butterfly” was selected for the Programa Rumos Itaú Cultural, and, that same year, it was selected for the 27th Biennial. In 2009, she participated in the residency program “International Women for Peace Conference” in Dili, East Timor and, in 2007, she had a residency at Centro de Artes La Chambre Blanche, in Quebec, Canada. In 2009, she received the Rede Nacional Funarte Visual Arts award for the video “Fala dos Confins” which was later acquired, in 2013, by the Cultural Centre São Paulo .Also in 2009, she was the recipient of the Rede Nacional Funarte Visual Arts award for “Jardim das Torturas,” and the Prêmio de Residência ICCo (Instituto de Cultura Contemporânea) residency award at Residency Unlimited in New York, USA. In 2010, she participated in the 2nd Triennial of Luanda: “Geografias Emocionais, Arte e Afectos”. In 2011, she participated in the 32nd Panorama da Arte Brasileira at the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo.

“Sérgio e Simone” (2009/2014), selected for the 31st São Paulo Biennial (2014) and recipient of the ICCo residency award at the 18th Festival of Contemporary Art Videobrasil, documents the life of Simone, a transvestite who lived at the Ladeira da Montanha in Salvador, the capital of Bahia. Like most the residents of the borough, Simone was an avid drug user. However, after a crack overdose, she suffers a mystical delirium causing her to “find God” and circumvent death. From this episode onwards, Simone abandons her identity as a transvestite, retakes her baptismal name of Sérgio, and becomes an avid evangelical preacher in a delirious quest to save humanity.

Fracturing oneself for the encounter

Daily life is constituted by an armor of conducts, marked by an imaginary barrier that separates individuals, whose own consciousness is ignored and covered by identity-stigmas, stereotypical images by which they are represented. I believe that the imperative order that separates us from other forms of existence is fictitious, and the need to disobey it and cross the boundaries to venture into a different realm than the place I find myself in, is what motivates my artistic practice: becoming familiar with other social codes and allowing myself to be affected by them. This has been the basic material for my creative processes.

I come from a rural family. My parents are from the state of Paraíba and, until the age of 17, I lived in a farm in the countryside of Feira de Santana, a small town in the state of Bahia. My relationship with nature directed me towards art from an early age; without my knowing it, and introduced me to a wealth of experiences that both constitutes who I am and continuously constructs and gives voice to my artistic production. Viewing the streets as a powerful creative laboratory was the first step in my being exposed to other forms of existence. The streets took me back to nature, to the un-foretold newness that seems to unfold throughout the universe. The act of walking, observing places, situations, and the desire to infiltrate a given daily life – where social codes and rules and moral values are different, unlike those of where I am –, and experiencing the connections and disconnections these universes provoke in me, has come to motivate my creative process. In this type of interaction, there is room for contradictions, tensions, challenges, deconstructions, destabilizations and mutations. Not only is the Other unlike us – the foreigner, the outsider, the outcast –, it is also a feeling of incompleteness that keeps us in suspension, as though we are essentially unfinished, a waiting of ourselves. It is an encounter that requires time, complicity and a desire to approach what seems distant from us. Like Michel de Certeau, I believe there are corners of shadows and cunning, in the city’s empire of evidences, and the only ones who do not perceive them are those in a class “distinct” from the rest, and observation only captures the relationship between what it wants to produce and what resists it.

My work is endowed with an anthropological pathos; I strive to know a world that is unlike my own. I consider myself an auto-ethnographic artist (1). Human diversity is perhaps one of the hardest issues to fathom, in this endeavor I take a chance and accentuate, to viewers, the exoticism, the stigma, or even discrimination. This is the biggest challenge I am faced with when transposing lived experiences into the exhibition space. I believe I am protected by the emotional state that propels me into each of these universes, causing a kind of blindness that distorts what is real – instead of the testimony, the fable. This is the moment of “fabulation,” when the difference between what is real and what is imagined become indiscernible, and through this process the individual constitutes himself as a subject of the scene, rather than a mere object that is observed: to create a world, to believe in it, and to project oneself into it. “What is opposed to fiction is not the real; it is not the truth which is always that of the masters of or colonizers; it is the fabulatory function for the poor, insofar as it gives the false the power that makes it into a memory, a legend, a monster.” (DELEUZE). I embrace this Deleuzian notion not as a synthesis of my practice, but rather as memories peeling from the skin, the bark of an old tree that covers its hollow depth. It was my father’s country mouth that introduced me to legend and myth, and irrigated my arid countryside. Conjuring into his most commonplace stories insignias and fabulous sagas. The hero of his own stories – in every tale told, something clever that was said, a teaching that was learned, a challenge overcome, an everlasting luck in the air. My father, a self-made man: farmer, trucker, owner of a traveling cinema in the 50s, mechanic and merchant, I grew up listening to his stories, the same stories fuelled by the power of desire that gained new contours and morphed into different ones. Yes, “to know is not to seek the truth about something, about ourselves, unveiling or reproducing preexistent truths in the world. It is to create your own truths, to always constitute new worlds, new, unique forms of existence, and to make choices while risking being wrong.” (2)

The first universe I entered was that of transvestites. For about a year and a half, I rented out a small room at Sulacap, a commercial building in central Salvador. The place was designed as a meeting point for transvestites; located in an area where they live and work. The elements used in the setting were based on visual memories I have of the rooms of the transvestites who lived in a pension owned by Rosana – the first transvestite I met, who caused me to enter this universe. The outcome of this immersion is the piece Studio Butterfly (2003/2005). In the studio, the transvestites would bring me old and new photographs, taken with relatives, friends, lovers, and while sitting on the “emotion armchair,” they would tell me a few stories from their lives, which I would record in video. In return, I would do a photo shoot with them and in the end I would hand them a portfolio book. All of this experience was recorded in a journal that became a booklet of tales. From atop the Sulacap building I could see the Ladeira da Montanha hill, a place that had long caressed me with its fingers corroded by abandonment, and scraped me with nails dirty from the garbage of time. A degraded area in old Salvador, a shelter to mundane and decadent women, their sons, thieves, and those “whose violence is the habitual climate are simple in the face of themselves…” Jean Genet. I desired to descend from the Mountain and enter the opaque that my senses could not reach from the top of Sulacap, and I met Simone, a transvestite. When I met Simone, she had just moved with her companion to a ruined house on Ladeira da Montanha. Like most transvestites, Simone was a drug user, but she also spontaneously tended to a nearby fountain, the “Fonte da Misericórdia,” which she treated as a sanctuary to honor her orishas. After the first month of filming, Simone went into convulsion due to a crack overdose, followed by a mystical delirium in which she believed to have met God, an encounter that supposedly spared her from death. From then on, she ceased to be a transvestite, returned to her parents’ house, reassumed her birth name Sérgio and, in a fanatical fit, considered herself one of the last people sent by God to save mankind. This story gave rise to the video Sergio e Simone (2008/2009).

In the Fábula do Olhar (2013) project I delve into the universe of the homeless. The desire to portray them came from issues relating to the widespread use of images brought about by the availability of devices and the popularization of different types of cameras. The image devoid of any value, political or aesthetic, becomes pure information. The sensation one gets is that such extent and intensity of image diffusion has rendered audiences indifferent, and all images equivalent to one another. How is it possible to reestablish the exceptional statute of an image that brings the world to an end, one that is not its expression, and is at once its emanation, a form of intuition coming from elsewhere? The fascination caused by a few old photographs gave me a clue. The enchantment is sometimes due to the fact that one does not know where these recordings come from; They come from a universe without vestiges, or from another time – they create a suggestive boundary to vision, a chimaera-like cross-section of perception. Out of all my childhood photographs, one in particular set in motion this ineluctable game between reality and imagination, causing a strange incision in my gaze. The photo-painted portrait of my first dress, made the pillars in my house yellow, dyed the white rocking chair pale blue, and under shades of grey in my hair a ruby ribbon shined, conjuring a strange magic in front of my eyes, a latency in the real. That memory gave me the idea of retrieving the profession of photo-painting, in this artistic experience, a near-extinct tradition in Northeast Brazil with a highly specific characteristic: to retouch the image with paint, adding accessories – such as suits, jewelry, makeup, dresses –, these new details granted some prestige to the character being portrayed. I decided to combine this technique with pictures of people who live on the streets, whose material poverty is confused with subjective, existential misery, looking for a way to remove that image from the information system, causing it to open up to the world in a way that we did not know beforehand, reiterating it via the art circuit. For a month and a half, I set up a photographic studio at two mess halls for homeless people in the city of Fortaleza: Refeitório São Vicente de Paulo and Casa da Sopa. I took black-and-white photographs of homeless people, recorded video statements of their personal histories, and asked a key question which directs and identifies the nature of the work: How would you like to see yourself or be seen by society? This question opens up the field of subjectivity of the individuals portrayed. Upon fabulating their condition, they make themselves into characters of the “Fábula do Olhar” exhibition. The Ceará state-born artist Mestre Júlio dos Santos, using the photo-painting technique, colored the black-and-white portraits, creating interferences on the photographs based on what each homeless individual said. The outcome is a fabulous-image that sets in motion this ineluctable game between the real and imagination.

I believe that recording what is imperceptible in the eyes of many, like a vital sign of the power of otherness, is also a function of art. As it enables the recognition of different ways of seeing and positioning oneself in the world, configuring a distinctive feature of the human experience, we discover a field that is open to the possibilities of encounter and the promotion of dialogue.
– Virginia de Medeiros


1. According to Daniela Beccaccia Verdiani’s notion, in auto-ethnography the myth of the self is confronted by the cacophony of multiple, unsynthesized voices; the description of the other as an object is replaced with the endless, tense dialogue between distinct subjectivities, and writing, generally regarded as a transparent reproduction of external realities, is questioned in favor of its performance-like statute as event.

2. Gilles Deleuze

Virginia de Medeiros na Residency Unlimited, Nova York, EUA – 1º Vídeo | Video produced by Matrioska Filmes, exclusively for PIPA 2016: Duration 04’51”
Virginia de Medeiros na Residency Unlimited, Nova York, EUA – 2º Vídeo | Video produced by Matrioska Filmes, exclusively for PIPA 2016: Duration 04’52”
Video produced by Matrioska Filmes exclusively for PIPA 2016
Video produced byMatrioska Filmes exclusively for PIPA 2015
Video produced by Matrioska Filmes exclusively for PIPA 2014
To learn more about Virginia de Medeiros, please visit her full profile on the PIPA Prize website.