Jonathas de Andrade’s Micro-histories

By Jacopo Crivelli Visconti | January 09, 2013

For one of his most recent works, entitled O levante (The Uprising), 2012 − the brute material for which is still in the process of being structured in order to provide it with a definitive format − Jonathas de Andrade organized the 1st Horse-drawn Cart Race in the center of Recife, where he lives.

Jonathas de Andrade’s Micro-histories

As the artist himself explains, the circulation of farm animals is prohibited everywhere in the city, and therefore the presence of the cart drivers in its day to day life is barely tolerated “in the marginalization and by virtue of a certain pact of cynicism.” Since it was impossible to obtain the authorization for the race to take place, the artist only succeeded in obtaining the permission required by arguing that the race was the mise-en-scène for a film, which in a certain way is an accurate description, considering that Andrade filmed the event and will use this material to create a video-installation. On the other hand, the shooting and the work derived from it are, evidently, secondary elements in this action: what is important for the artist is that the horses and the cart drivers have the chance, for one day, to tear the veil of hypocrisy that consigns them to invisibility and take the city by storm. The existence of two possible and plausible versions for one same situation is recurring, or even central, in Jonathas de Andrade’s body of work. In fact, in most of his works the possible readings become confused, and it is almost impossible to define the position of the artist, who, for his part, seems to endeavor to nourish this indefinability. In Amor e felicidade no casamento (Love and happiness in marriage), 2007, which may be considered his first figurative work, photographs of a young couple (exhibited and treated in such a way as to foster doubt regarding the circumstances and the time when they were taken) are juxtaposed to pages of the homonymous book, written in the 1960s by the German psychiatrist Fritz Kahn with the aim of helping couples to build a shared life filled with happiness through precepts and instructions that today seem frankly outdated and even retrograde. The artist does not share Kahn’s view on what may lead a couple to happiness (or unhappiness), but the work does not take sides; the juxtaposition of the photographs and the text creates a parallel narrative which does not overtly show, yet suggests in a subtle but powerful way, the absurdity of bourgeois conventions. In 2 em1 (2 in 1), 2011, a series of posters showing the steps to be followed in order to transform two single beds into a double bed, Jonathas de Andrade goes back to the domestic universe, resorting once again to the manual or instruction booklet format, and re-entrenching doubts about the effective applicability of these instructions in practice, and about the public they were aimed at. Independently of this, despite the undeniable quality of the work in the case of the bed used as model in the photographs, its final appearance is curious: evidently, after the carpenter’s intervention, we no longer see two single beds, but it is also true that what we see is not a conventional double bed, either. Somehow, at the same time that it suggests, metaphorically, the path to be followed to fuse two souls in one, the manual illustrates the impossibility of such task, the unfeasibility of a perfect marriage, in which each of the personalities may fuse into pure love and happiness.
The frequent emphasis on domestic situations reveals the artist’s conception of the political dimension of his work. On more than one occasion, Jonathas de Andrade has declared that he considers himself a member of a generation of Latin American artists who have recovered interest in political issues, after an interval imposed by the dictatorships and repressive regimes of the 1960s and 1970s. However, the political dimension he makes reference to is not, or is not restricted solely to, that of the great resistance and rebellion movements, but it also alludes to a personal, intimate and particular dimension in which what is reconstructed, what is narrated, or is perhaps invented, is not History but micro-history , that is, the narrative that highlights theoretically small events, but events which, however, make it possible to read in filigree, the battles, the changes and the failures of a country or a continent. And the fact is that, even in the most ambitious works, such as Ressaca Tropical (Tropical Hangover), 2009, the point of departure is, often, a fortuitous event: in this particular case, an anonymous diary, found among the garbage, salvaged and delivered to the artist by a friend. Based on this laconic catalogue of sexual encounters and everyday events that took place in Recife in the course of the 1970s, Jonathas de Andrade constructed, combining elements which he appropriated and his own photographs, an elusive portrait of a city (Recife, but also or foremost, that of any other tropical metropolis), of a character (the unknown author of the diary, whose real figure, however, ends up almost diluted and transformed into narrative), and of a movement (that of modernist architecture in Northeastern Brazil, and of its very precocious and dramatic obsolescence, which the artist suggests is, in this context, an integral part of the modern project itself). In Educação para adultos (Adult Education), 2010, research is triggered by a series of posters used over the years by his mother − a teacher − and discarded at the time of her retirement. On discovering that the posters followed educator Paulo Freire’s system, which made it possible to very quickly teach the illiterate adults whose project had been abruptly interrupted by the 1964 military coup to read and write, Jonathas de Andrade decided to embark on his own teaching campaign and work for a month with six illiterate women, in a totally new process in which, in his own words, “the daily conversations became the photographic guideline for new posters I created, which then returned to the conversations, creating a sort of artistic-educational mechanism,” finally constituting a set of posters “that may be read, depending on the repertory of the viewer, as a photographic encyclopedia, an archive of a national chronicle, or even a revised, contradictory and expanded educational plan.” In other words, once again, despite the apparently simple and didactic graphic representation, the work is complex and elusive, it is difficult to grasp, and its aim is, rather than constructing a meaning or providing an explanation, to destabilize, implanting in the midst of false certainties a genuine doubt.


Jonathas de Andrade was born in 1982 in Maceió and he lives in Recife, Brazil. He works with installations, videos, and photographic research. In addition to having presented solo shows in institutions such as the Itaú Cultural Institute, in Sao Paulo, and Gasworks, London, he has participated with his work in important group shows such as the 12th New Museum Triennial, the 12th Istanbul Biennial, Turkey, the 7th Sharjah Biennial and the 29th Sao Paulo Biennial.
He was a Marcantonio Vilaça Award and a Pipa Prize finalist in Brazil, and was included in the shortlist for the Future Generation Art Prize, Ukraine.