Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca Swinguerra

  • 27 August — 31 October 2020

Further Information

Temple Bar Gallery + Studios is excited to present the first exhibition of Swinguerra by Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca, following its original presentation at the Brazilian Pavilion, 58th Venice Biennale, 2019.

Through their collaborative and responsive attitude to filmmaking, Wagner and de Burca demonstrate the values of vernacular pop culture and its potential to unify and empower, and to stimulate social change. With an affirmation of self-expression through popular music and dance, Swinguerra gives positive representations of Black, queer, transgender, and non-binary people in Brazil, and foregrounds action and energy – of its performers, and for its viewers. In the midst of the current worldwide political and public health crises, which have immensely and particularly impacted Brazil’s marginalised communities, the film’s depiction of collective solidarity and self-representation becomes even more vital and globally significant (1).

The power of Swinguerra lies in its nuanced exploration of social injustice and systematic oppression. While the film and its cast are not declarative in their political stances, the performances and the narrative build a striking atmosphere of resilience and resistance. The film achieves its unique dynamism through Wagner and de Burca’s careful and direct collaboration with the performers at each stage of production. Their multi-layered and non-hierarchical consideration of perspectives welcomes expertise and input from all dancers and crew equally. What results is a merging of reality and fiction, the stage and the street. The filming itself is steady and focused, giving the movement of the dancers full and dedicated attention, enhancing the strength of their performances and personhood. Wagner and de Burca not only value the aesthetics of the dance forms they document but also underscore the social factors such as race, gender and economics by which the performers are ‘defined’ outside of the film. Through a deliberate visual identity in both the film and exhibition layout, the viewer is invited into the performance, rather than being limited to the role of spectator (2).

The film includes several integrated and rival dance groups: Cia. Extremo, Grupo La Máfia, Bonde do Passinho, and As do Passinho S.A., performing charged and flawlessly rehearsed routines of swingueira, brega funk and passinho do maloca, genres of popular music in the outskirts of Recife (3). The three styles are represented in order to emphasise the fluidity of movement and complexity of forms that translate out of, and expand between, the different genres, as well as providing a musical narrative to the film. Lyrics build from the sexy swingueira (-eira meaning ‘abundance’), through the explicit and highly popular brega (‘bad taste’), to the hyper-masculine and essentially pornographic passinho do maloca (maloca is a pejorative term and the dance emphasises the agility of the performers). All of these styles are adaptations of traditional Brazilian music such as samba and bossa nova, as well as reggae and dancehall. This adaption and ‘re-fashioning’ of several familiar and past cultural forms is a response to economic and social conditions, and the development of these new styles often takes place in the most low-income areas. The strategy of increasing visibility through self-authorship is a route to status and celebrity and a new generation of subcultural MCs are infiltrating the Brazilian mainstream as professional recording and performing artists. Platforms such as Instagram allow the performers to continue their process of self-advocation on their own terms, also bringing their particular mode of self-expression and solidarity through mass media. Swinguerra documents this ambition for success and the open-ended fluidity of artistic diversity against the monolith of capitalist homogeneity.

Moving through the different styles of dance, and ending with a powerful finale filmed in daylight at a military training ground, the performers take a strong stand for unity and equality in Brazil (4). Standing in formation, in front of a raised banner, the dancers evoke the motto of the Brazilian flag, ‘Order and Progress’, followed by the promising chant, ‘Pleasure! I’m Coming Back!’. This closing message is all the more poignant in the current circumstances of Brazil and one year on from the film’s debut at Venice Biennale. Rather than aligning themselves with the nationalistic ideologies of contemporary Brazil, the Swinguerra dancers, along with Wagner and de Burca, step outside the existing structures of power to propose a new vision of belonging (5).

Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca are exhibiting a new work made between the West of Ireland and Marseilles as part of Manifesta 13, Marseilles, opening 28 August. This new commission has been supported by the Arts Council of Ireland and was developed as part of a partnership between Temple Bar Gallery + Studios and VISUAL, Carlow, and will be exhibited in a national tour around Ireland beginning in Winter 2020.

In addition to representing Brazil at the 58th Venice Biennale (2019), Wagner and de Burca have held solo exhibitions in major museums and galleries around the world, including: Stedelijk, Amsterdam (2019), Museo Jumex, Mexico City (2019); Art Gallery of York University, Toronto (2018), and have participated in major group exhibitions such as Skulptur Projekte, Münster (2017); and São Paulo Bienal (2016). Their work has also been included in the Berlin International Film Festival (2019, 2018, 2017); Locarno Film Festival (2019); and Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival (2017); and is held in the permanent collections of the Kadist Art Foundation, France; The Arts Council Collection, Ireland; Pérez Art Museum, USA; among others.

(1) Far Right-wing politician Jair Bolsonaro was elected President of Brazil in October 2018. He has repeatedly demonstrated anti-feminist and homophobic agendas, cancelled protections of indigenous peoples and the conservation of the Amazon rainforest, and has endorsed police violence. During the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Bolsonaro has downplayed the severity of the virus and its impact on the Brazilian population, with Brazil being one of the worst affected countries by the virus in the world.

(2) Wagner and de Burca commissioned exhibition architect Marcus Vinícius to adapt Temple Bar Gallery + Studios’ exhibition space to give the audience a participatory role in the screening, including seating that reflects the dancers’ own formations, and implementing rubber surfaces reminiscent of the outdoor public sports halls and community centres in which the dancers practice.

(3) Recife is a large city in the northeast of Brazil, home to the performers of Swinguerra as well as the nomadic Wagner and de Burca. It has become a site of much inspiration for the artists and their first film, Faz que Vai (‘Set to Go’, 2015), documents four dancers (including Eduarda Lemos, protagonist of Swinguerra) as they perform traditional frevo moves from the surrounding region of Pernambuco. Frevo was originally performed on the streets by freed slaves, and continues to be a reflection of Black resistance to oppression.

(4) This location is the historical site of the Dutch defeat by the Portuguese in the 17th century, and essentially the birthplace of Brazil as a nation. De Burca shares a warm anecdote in a recent interview describing the dancers from Swinguerra sharing a meal with the soldiers in the barracks, with Wagner adding that several of the dancers had previously served in the army.
Matteo Lucchetti, ‘Recife, Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca on the Complexity of an Encounter’, Extra Extra, No 13, Rotterdam, 2019.

(5) “All manner of representation is problematic, especially when it comes to nation states, but that does not necessarily suggest it should not be done. The point is to open up readings that embrace complexity and variation as opposed to narrowing down and pinpointing some unilateral proposal of what makes a country tick.” Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca discussing what it means to ‘represent’ Brazil at the Venice Biennale.
‘The Venice Questionnaire: Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca’, ArtReview, London, 15 May 2019

Download the Exhibition Leaflet in Portuguese:

Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca. Swinguerra (excerpt), 2019. 2 channel video installation 2K, colour, sound, 23 minutes. Courtesy the artists and Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo/Rio de Janeiro.