Installation view, Jonathas de Andrade: One to One (photo by Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago, courtesy MCA Chicago)

CHICAGO — The phrase “one to one” can have multiple meanings; it can refer to scale as well as relationships. Jonathas de Andrade’s One to One exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Chicago “teases out of different meanings of the phrase in the context of northeast Brazil,” Michael Darling, James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator at the MCA, explained to Hyperallergic.

The concept of scale is most evident in the piece “Um pra um” (“One to one” in English) (2019) that consists of clay bars outlining the floor plans of a community living next to railroad tracks in Recife. Darling notes that the piece is looking at the spatial architecture of people’s homes. That sense of scale is also apparent in “Suar a camisa” (“Working up a sweat”) (2014) which features 120 shirts on wooden racks representing Brazilian workers. De Andrade approached each worker and convinced them to trade shirts with him for a clean one or cash for the piece.

Installation view, Jonathas de Andrade: One to One (photo by Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago, courtesy MCA Chicago)

For de Andrade, this idea of behind One to One also goes beyond scale. “It’s about the relations” between people, communities, and even the artist, de Andrade told Hyperallergic. The film “Jogos dirigidos” (“Directed games,” presented in HD video transferred to 2k) (2019) , commissioned by the MCA, features the deaf community members of northeastern Brazilian town Várzea Queimada who had invented their own sign language. In the film, they play games and tell each other stories. The piece explores “how people relate to themselves as a group. The making of a video becomes a platform of instigating them to tell their own stories and listen to their own stories,” de Andrade said.

But it’s also about his relationship with these groups of people. In mid-July, he returned to Várzea Queimada to show them the completed film and leave T-shirts and DVDs behind so they view them again. “It was fascinating to see the impact of the film in their eyes in their understanding of themselves,” he says.

Installation view, Jonathas de Andrade: One to One (photo by Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago, courtesy MCA Chicago)

De Andrade had to build these relationships to complete his other pieces too. “Suar a camisa,” de Andrade said, “forced me to cross the barrier of being distant or shy. I interacted with all those people.” For “Infindável Mapa da Fome” (“Endless hunger map” made of 42 paper maps, 19 photographs, 43 paintings on Canson paper) (2019), he traveled to meet the women of the Kayapó Menkragnoti tribe, and worked with them on drawing their tribe’s body patterns over a Brazilian army map, despite the language barrier.

De Andrade is working to explore the position of these groups in Brazilian society: “Democracy and politics don’t seem to officially be working towards equality,” he said. Nonetheless, he is looking at how these communities make this “big engine work. How they understand their own lives and how we can somehow have an impact of the understanding through their presence,” de Andrade said — whether that is “through their symbolic presence like the shirts, or the Indigenous people that are taken as part of Brazilian history but faced with genocide.”

Detail of Jonathas de Andrade’s “Infindável Mapa da Fome” (2019) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

In this multi-layered approach, de Andrade wears several hats as an artist. He gets to be “a little bit of a historicist, of a photographer, of an anthropologist, a researcher, a filmmaker, of a drawer,” he explains in the introductory MCA video for One to One. In our interview, he elaborated: “The art projects became the platform where I can articulate these approaches but also comment on the limitations of the idea of truth and history.” He sees his work at looking at both the consequences of the hierarchies of society as well as how people work within it and even disrupt it.

De Andrade also wears the hat of a resister. When asked about the impact of Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro on his work, he explains, “There is an atmosphere of threat, which I think we have to respond with resistance.” That is most evident with the “Infindável mapa da fome,” where the women he worked with painted over a military map: “It’s a gesture of fading the map,” Andrade says for people who don’t see nature as something to be demarcated.

Still from “Jogos dirigidos” (“Directed games”) (2019). HD video (color, sound). (image courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Commission)

But that resistance exists in the ways that people create meaning for themselves. In “Jogos dirigidos,” de Andrade explains that the people featured are the “forgotten of the forgotten,” but “they respond with creation, they invented their own language; they are full of vitality and a lot of strength.” He sees this work as full of joy and hope in contrast to the seriousness of the other works in the exhibit because “I want there to be an awareness of issues but I want the audience to be invited to think of solutions.”

That, of course, is the last “one to one” relationship, between the visitor and the art work itself, and also the US and Brazil. De Andrade says, “I hope we speak of these universal issues that puts us in conversation, even in the US or in Brazil.”

Jonathas de Andrade: One to One continues at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (220 E. Chicago Avenue, Chicago, Illinois) through August 25.

Elisa Shoenberger is a writer and journalist in Chicago. She writes regularly for Book Riot, and has written for The Boston Globe, Deadspin, The Rumpus, and many others.