22 Nov Brazilian Artist Paints The Questions And Makes People Wonder
An Interview With Brazilian Artist Alexandre Keto On His Tribute to Black Lives Lost to Racially-Driven Violence.
“Alive with Us” / “Vivo com Nós” created by Brazilian artist Alexandre Keto is a tribute to some of the many Black lives lost to racially-driven violence and an imagination of the futures they could have had. This exhibition is presented in partnership with @artsbrookfield and is part of #CityCanvas — an initiative by @nyculture.
Alexandre Keto was interviewed by Pascal DuBois, ArtBridge’s Director of Communications and Development.
You’ve done social projects across the globe on a large scale; what was the start of your career?
I got into art through social projects in my neighborhood in Brazil. A friend of mine came to my door and said, “Let’s go to this project teaching hip-hop culture.” I said, “Yeah, Let’s go.” I saw they were dancing break and doing graffiti, and it clicked with me immediately; I was, “I don’t know what it is, but I want to do it.” It’s important to say that I got into art through a social project and not a gallery or social media. I carry this social aspect in my work everywhere I go; it doesn’t matter if I’m painting a mural, a show, or whatever; art is a tool to connect with people.
You’ve chosen to create art with a social message, was there ever a moment when you thought of making art for its own sake?
Ah, no. You’re doing this interview because of how someone taught you or how you watched interviews, the same way I was taught to do art was to interact and engage with the community; there was never any other way. I’ve had shows in Paris, New York, and Miami, but I’m still doing the social work. After I’m done with this project, I’m going to donate a wall to a community garden in Brownsville. I’m painting on 6th Avenue by Times Square, one of the richest places in the world, a place I can’t believe my art is at, and later when I’m done, I’m gonna donate a wall to the community; it’s always about social work.
You’ve decided to collaborate with various communities in the making of that art; why?
When I was in school, I never was interested in art. The art they were teaching me was too rich, elite, the kind of art that I didn’t feel represented and connected with me. How could I connect with the art that didn’t show people that looked like my family, the people in my neighborhood? There was no way to be connected. I realized that so many more kids would be interested in art if we taught them in a different way. I think we should listen to the community, get them involved with the art. When I do work for the community, I don’t tell them what to do; I have an open mind, ready to listen. When it comes to street art, we have to allow them to express how they feel and listen to them; it gives them validation.
You want art to be one more tool for knowledge in social issues; what do you want current and future generations to learn?
I want my art to be knowledge, knowledge to celebrate and respect our African heritage. Brazil has the largest African population outside of Africa, but the government/society doesn’t want to acknowledge it. We have a really European-centric society that tries to mold us to think everything from Europe is good and everything from Africa is bad. I want my work to show there’s nothing wrong with having African heritage; in fact, we must be proud of it. Africa built our county and culture. Suppose you think about Brazil’s positive things, the music, the food, the capoeira, everything you say that’s positive about Brazil comes from Africa. Our identity is African; we have to recognize it, understand it, respect it.
In your previous works, you honor the Orishas; how do you want this work to honor Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, and Agatha Felix?
Being an artist is the closest I can get to be free. I paint what I like, I paint what I love, or I paint what I would love to see, and I would love to see all of them alive. All of them had dreams and those dreams were stopped because some motherfucker decided to stop their lives. What people don’t realize is that their lives became a hashtag and stop being a life that was lived. When you kill a person, you’re killing the whole family; it’s not just one person.
When you don’t stop killing people, you kill their minds, they become afraid, they fear walking outside. With this work, I want to show, they were not only a name, not only hashtags, but they were also a person, a real person that lived.
As an artist, I can paint a reality that Black people can live their dreams and not worry about being murdered by a bullet from a cop. I don’t know if I’m effectively honoring them, but what I’m trying to do as an artist is imagine what they’d do with their dreams. What’s crazy, a few days ago someone made a line on the wall I was painting. People were upset that happened. What they don’t understand is society does that every day to real people, disregards them, X them out, draws a line on their lives. If they do this to people by killing them for no reason, of course, they’ll do that to a painting on a wall. I wonder how long the wall is going to last before someone tags it; it’s the same way, Black mothers, around the world wonder, “How long will my son’s life last?”
This piece’s subject is deadly police brutality; how can art provide yet another enduring tool of awareness to these crimes?
I paint the questions and make the people wonder.
February 7, 1987 — July 13, 2015
Sandra Bland was a 28-year-old African American woman who was found hanged in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas, on July 13, 2015, three days after being arrested during a pretextual traffic stop. Her death was ruled a suicide.
February 5, 1995 — February 26, 2012
Trayvon Benjamin Martin was a 17-year-old African-American from Miami Gardens, Florida, who was fatally shot in Sanford, Florida, by George Zimmerman.
May 20, 1996 — August 9, 2014
Michael Brown Jr., an 18-year-old black man, was fatally shot by 28-year-old white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the city of Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis.
Date of birth unknown — September 20, 2019
Agatha Felix was going back home with her mother in a van when she was shot in the back in Alemão, one of Rio’s largest favelas. She was sent to a hospital but died.