Political turmoil has embroiled Brazil for the last half-decade, exposing the country’s deep social divisions, which persisted over years of auspicious economic development. Walls of Air: The Brazilian Pavilion at the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale, currently on view at Americas Society, depicts the country’s contemporary cleavages through a series of maps. The exhibition was originally curated for the Brazilian Pavilion at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. Its four curators, Sol Camacho, Laura González Fierro, Gabriel Kozlowski, and Marcelo Maia Rosa — all architects — chose to explore how the 2018 Biennale’s theme, “Freespace,” manifests in Brazil by representing the tension between “free space” in the country and other socioeconomic forces.
In a video about the exhibition, Kozlowski asks “What prevents Brazil from being free?” To answer this question, Walls of Air’s cartographies elucidate both literal and metaphorical walls that limit equality and freedom in Brazilian society and Latin America at large. The massive size of the maps magnifies their details, allowing onlookers to take in the depth of information on display.
The four curators conducted the research for their 10 large-scale maps with a multidisciplinary approach, bringing in over 200 collaborators across 10 different disciplines, including anthropology, politics, and medicine. Their research provided data on topics as disparate as migration, carbon emissions, and Brazil’s geographical border.
“Human Flows” shows how between 2000 and 2016, internal migrants and immigrants have shaped the fluid culture of regions within Brazil. The research for this map was derived from a workshop of 60 immigrants to the country. The collaborators who helped design this workshop include film director Eliane Caffee, as well as Preta Ferreira and her mother Carmen Silva Ferreira, two leaders in the movement to fight homelessness in São Paulo. Brazilian authorities recently arrested Preta Ferreira and other leaders on suspicion of “extortion.” This move has been called part of the “criminalization of social movements” that has taken place since the inauguration on January 1, 2019, of Brazil’s right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro. Ferreira’s workshop contribution to Walls of Air reflects her background in social movements, and her arrest shows how the current sociopolitical situation in Brazil continues to infringe upon collaborative spaces.
Curator Laura González Fierro told Hyperallergic via email that the research conducted for Walls of Air might be much more difficult today, just a year after the Venice Biennale, due to limitations that Bolsonaro’s administration has placed on access to information. González Fierro said that while the curators were conducting research for Walls of Air, they were able to easily access public information for the project, but that “some of the data [the curators] used to create the maps has been given a confidentiality level that would make it impossible to have the cartographies today.” Due to the current administration’s hostility to government transparency, Walls of Air has become an instant-artifact from a more open Brazil, making it an even more vital project.
Walls of Air: The Brazilian Pavilion at the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale continues at Americas Society (680 Park Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through August 3.