BY Michelle Sommer in Fan Letter | 12 MAR 19
Featured in
Issue 200

Thelma Vilas Boas's Feminist Bar in Rio Centres on Community

The Brazilian artist brought food, film, art and love to her social project

BY Michelle Sommer in Fan Letter | 12 MAR 19

The composer, singer and painter Heitor dos Prazeres (1898-1966) first named the Rio de Janiero neighborhood Little Africa; it was the city's slave trade centre until 1831, located near the city’s port and the neighbourhoods of Gamboa and Saúde. And though full abolition was not for another 50 years, freed slaves worked in the area between 1850 and 1920. Historically, it is home to the remnant quilombo – or, black settlements established before and after slavery with a history of resistance – communities.

In the midst of this very rich culture that resists oppression, inequality and marginalisation is the LANCHONETE <> LANCHONETE – OCUPAÇÃO BAR DELAS project, led by the artist and proposer Thelma Vilas Boas. The project, which has been underway since 2015, occupied Saracura in 2017 – a space for experimental art in the same area – and, in April 2018, joined Bar Delas, a feminist occupation led by Kriss Coiffeur.

The traditional bar already welcomed children, locals, passers-by and tourists, as well as vulnerable psychiatric patients from the surrounding areas, now welcomes artists, researchers, critics and curators. In adverse diversity, a hybrid network has taken shape.

Thelma Vilas Boas, LANCHONETE <> LANCHONETE – OCUPAÇÃO BAR DELAS. Courtesy: the artist

At  LANCHONETE <> LANCHONETE – OCUPAÇÃO BAR DELAS, Villas-Boas installed a small kitchen, a sign and a chalkboard that links the inside to the outside; this signage serves as an invitation. The artist’s presence, attention and affection connect local knowledge and traditions in the program of activities. She listens — the two sentences she hears most often are ‘Eu não sei ler’ (‘I can't read’) and ‘Tia tô com fome’ (‘man, I'm hungry’).

The programming fluctuates: there are study groups, workshops, informational courses on cleaning and hygiene products, the uses of discarded parts of vegetables. An open-plan office affirms that technical assistance is a right. There are film screenings (with popcorn) for children as well as screenings of African and Afro-diasporic videos on the street.

LANCHONETE <> LANCHONETE  – OCUPAÇÃO BAR DELAS cannot be summarised. In this way, in an agonising Rio de Janeiro under military intervention, in a country where the far-right is rising and threatening to eliminate all that it regards as different,  LANCHONETE <> LANCHONETE – OCUPAÇÃO BAR DELAS is a sliver of light. It is not  ‘for’ people, but‘with’ people, and its horizontal exchange takes place among varieties of participants. From from art’s confines, the project serves as a support network for local resistance movements; the bar activates the local economy with an emphasis on what is produced there and thus helps raise funds for what people who live nearby need. ‘No ato de fazer-fazendo, a tríade presença, escuta e afeto são impulsos revolucionários que alimentam as lutas para existência e resistência no presente.’

Main Image: Thelma Vilas Boas, LANCHONETE <> LANCHONETE – OCUPAÇÃO BAR DELAS. Courtesy: the artist

Michelle Sommer is an architect, researcher and curator. She is a postdoctoral researcher in Visual Languages at School of Fine Arts at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, PhD in History, Theory and Criticism of Arts in exhibition studies. She is an architect and holds a master degree in Urban and Regional Planning. In 2017 she was co-curator of the exhibition ‘Mário Pedrosa: de la naturaleza afectiva de la forma’ at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, which won the prize for curatorship by the Brazilian Association of Art Critics in 2018. As the author of several books, she contributes regularly to national and international publications and visual arts projects.