ON LEÓ’S FRIENDSHIPS
Affection shall solve the problems of Freedom yet;
Those who love each other shall become invincible.
Leonilson was born in Fortaleza in 1957. As a child, he lived in Porto Velho (Roraima) and Manaus (Amazonas). But it was São Paulo the city where his family settled, one of the many places he left and where he always returned to: Fortaleza, Rio de Janeiro, Milan, Munich, Madrid, Fortaleza, Bologna, Amsterdam, and back to São Paulo.
Friendships, trips and the relationships between them shaped the artist, who reorganized his experiences in intimate, two-dimensional diaries, appointment books and notebooks. In the process of researching for this exhibition, we visited his carefully preserved personal archive at the site of the Leonilson Project, the family home where the artist lived and died.
In the period between 1970 and 1980, Leo came to Ceará many times. In his appointment books and diaries, we find the pages almost entirely filled with tickets for exhibitions and shows, transportation tickets, napkins, laundry lists, restaurant names, cards, folders, stories, drawings, etc.
Regarding the seasons in Ceará, however, the lined pages of the appointment books are almost empty, like dunes drawn by the wind. Here and there, the names of friends and beaches appear like stakes driven into the newly marked sheets/dunes of the time: Batista, Beth, Ricardo, Efi, Hélio, Zé Tarcísio, Dodora, Hermano Sabiaguaba, Maraponga, Quixaba, Aracati, Paracuru, Barra do Ceará, Iracema. A smiling little sun lights up the joy of the pages and suggests days of shared tropical happiness. A smiling sun, a bridge, a volcano, a duckling, a diamond, a typhoon, a globe – the artist’s expressive iconographic grammar can be foreseen in his diaries and appointment books.
The intangible nature of the relational and aesthetic experiences he had during those seasons in Ceará allows us to imagine how important those moments were in the artist’s career. The military regime was still heavy – in our emerald-green sea, artists were swimming against the tide of reactionism. Fortaleza was a sunny counterpoint to the city of the drizzle, but it was also a small town, a square and prejudiced society, which did not easily welcome the production of “hippie” and protesting artists, who were already announcing the changes for which we keep fighting. It was necessary to protect the spaces of freedom, peace and love. It was essential not to stifle the desires and let them dance in the wind under the sun. Leo departed from São Paulo for the world, and then returned. Staying was harder.
The same intangible quality of Leonilson’s experiences in Ceará invites us to imagine this encounter freely, in order to avoid confusion with forgetfulness or arbitrariness, but by giving them the diaphanous quality of presences and encounters that were not recorded at the time by any device other than the stars.
“On friendships” brings together artists explicitly or implicitly mentioned in Leonilson’s diaries and appointment books: Batista Sena, Zé Tarcísio, Luiz Hermano, Efímia Meimaridou, Ricardo Bezerra. Besides, we brought in Marcus Francisco, Siegbert Franklin and Karim Aïnouz for they were contemporaries, and also because we believe that these meetings may have taken place in the blank spaces of the pages. The set of works connected creates a field of resonance that activates the power of gestures preserved in time, echoing “through shielding mountains and far away”. Time whirls like a typhoon, waking up sleeping memories, stirring up dreams and utopias.
In the process of building this exhibition, an old war took on new contours. The fight to legalize abortion still faces strong resistance, especially due to religious beliefs. The climate crisis has transformed landscapes into sadness. At the time of “friendships”, the military dictatorship tortured dissidents, the war in Vietnam took place and AIDS brought about prejudice and homophobia.
“Leo can’t change the world.”
What can art do in the face of war? The thread used by Efímia in the mid-1970s retains the intensity of the color, and the energy of the gesture is eternalized in the perfect stitch of the embroidery. This is what art can do “regarding the pain of others”, as Susan Sontag would say, and under all the macabre gloom of the world: to affirm humanity in invention, to perpetuate gestures, colors, sensations, feelings. Art can nurture dreams, preserve sensations, draw imaginations. Many of us have belatedly learned from the indigenous people to pay more attention to our dreams.
Siegbert Franklin, Marcus Francisco, Batista Sena, as well as Leonilson, are no longer alive, but their works make them present, in coexistence and dialogue. Sig’s creatures cause other kinds of strangeness. Marcus Francisco’s inconclusive and dysfunctional mechanisms still don’t work in their impossibilities. Batista’s bird-planes fly eternally over imaginary cities. Efi’s embroidery creates the joy of colors and shapes. Luiz Hermano’s rockets bring the mystery of space up to date. The music of the LP Maraponga opens up the field of sensations. In “Brazilian Passion”, Karin Aïnouz recreates the dream of Icarus, and of so many others.
The set of works presented in “On friendships” are sparks from the unquenchable fire of each artist’s production. The very thin lines of the pen nibs, the delicate watercolor, the musical arrangement, the pastel chalk, the acrylic paint, the canvas, the paper. The stuff of dreams, like that of friendships, survives time.