The beauty of the periphery
The beauty of the periphery
In Salvador da Bahia, the Laje Collection exhibits works by artists of the periphery, thereby contributing to locals valuing the history of their neighborhoods.
The Laje Collection (“Rooftop Collection”), a communal project shared by the couple José Eduardo Ferreira Santos and Vilma Santos, brings together paintings, pictures, masks, shells, pottery, wood, tiles and books. These are exhibited for the public in the rooms of two houses. The two houses, which are also the residences of the couple and their relatives, are located in São João do Cabrito, in the Plataforma district, in Salvador. The collection mostly consists of scraps, recovered objects and broken pieces, as well as donated materials. It’s a sort of symbolic mosaic, which was created to display a panoramic view of the artistic production of the residents of so-called Subúrbio Ferroviário, a poor region on the periphery of Salvador. The site also functions as a cultural and community center.
Subúrbio Ferroviário (meaning “suburb by the railroad tracks”) is known for its railway linking the Calçada district, in the Low City, up to Paripe, the northwest region of Salvador. The name is used to describe the home of more than 500 thousand residents, distributed into 22 districts. “Our work aims to create symbolic means of protection, starting with saying that these areas on Salvador’s periphery cannot be defined solely by what is lacking,” explains Ferreira Santos.
The initiative was launched in 2009, soon after the academic defended his doctoral dissertation Mind the Gap: Homicidal repercussions between youth of the periphery. “A sociologist friend asked me at the time: ‘Good. Now you know about the violent side. How about you research the beauty of the suburb next?’ That stayed in my mind,” the professor recalls.
Motivated by the challenge, Ferreira Santos sought out the Italian photographer Marco Illuminati and made a proposal for a collaborative project: The Invisible Art of Beauty Workers on Salvador’s Periphery. “We began by mapping the artists, one directing us to the next. I’ve always lived here, but this was a universe that I never even imagined existed,” he recalls. In 2010, José Eduardo Ferreira Santos and his wife Vilma Santos decided to start buying artwork. “The beauty of it is knowing that local artists were beginning to gain dignity and visibility as a result of our initiative,” the researcher observes.
Educating beyond the beautiful
Today, the two are arranging to acquire at least two works of art per month, using their own funds. “We’re trying to respect this goal,” the educator says, “if it doesn’t blow the family budget. The process of buying art helps generate momentum for the collection, which can always welcome something new. I want the people here in Plataforma to see a pretty thing, simply because beauty educates more than the words that children hear at school.”
The collection’s constant evolution also mobilizes children, who bring interesting objects about to be thrown away or that were already in the trash. In turn, the method teaches awareness, to develop a consciousness of the necessity to care for the place in which one lives. “Many children from Plataforma come into this world with a sense of shame toward their home, their parents. They are unable to perceive any beauty where they live. That generates a very self-destructive relationship. They don’t acquire the perception that their life has a value. We want to think that the future can offer other possibilities,” Ferreira Santos underlines.
Part of the Art Circuit
In order to get to the first exhibit space, the visitor passes through the kitchen and proceeds into the private quarters of the professors’ house, to the narrow stairway leading up to the second floor. The assortment of works that make up this part of the collection is distributed along a small corridor and throughout three rooms. Doors, windows and roof tiles – every nook and cranny is filled with a diversity of works that, often times, overlap. The pieces that are included in this space were viewed by hundreds of people during the Bahia Biennial in 2014. For the first time, Subúrbio Ferroviário was part of the expository circuit in Salvador. “The Laje Collection became part of the collective subconscious. It’s a space we don’t tamper with, because it has the aura and the force of the original project. Everything starts there,” says Ferreira Santos. The same year, the Collection was also invited to be part of São Paulo’s 31st Biennial.
A 20 minute walk through one of the main streets of São João do Cabrito takes you from the first house to the second, the construction of which was just completed after almost eight months of hard work. This building is a project the collectors achieved solely with their own resources. “Currently, we are acquiring new pieces for the collection. We examine everything closely when it arrives. It’s amazing how much history these tiles carry,” they say. To recover the aesthetic and artistic memory of the suburb, the Laje Collection creates conditions for other narratives and stories to be told about Salvador’s periphery. “Up to now, we’ve been told one history. We’re going to broaden that historical memory,” they emphasize.