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Photography at first sight
Elsa Leydier: A warning sign from Brazil

Elsa Leydier: A warning sign from Brazil

For the artist Elsa Leydier, it’s not about deciding if images are more potent than words, but rather about showing the power of the two together. Her latest series, #elenão, was created during the presidential elections in Brazil won by Jair Bolsonaro.

The images, at first glance paradisiacal, are in fact fragmented and in places even oversaturated or discolored. The printing of apparent flaws or bugs is due to the image processing technique. Using images generated by searching for “Brazil” in Google, Leydier encoded some of Bolsonaro’s hateful statements directly into the images, producing several types of distortions.

“É um índio que está a solto aqui em Brasília, veio de avião, vai agora comer uma costelinha de porco, tomar um chope, provavelmente um uísque, e quem sabe telefonar para alguém para a noite sua ser mais agradável. Esse é o índio que vem falar aqui de reserva indígena. Ele devia ir comer um capim ali fora para manter as suas origens.” [Sobre uma das lideranças do sateré-maués em uma audiência na Câmara dos Deputados que tratava sobre a questão indígena em Roraima] (“This guy is an Indian who is free here in Brasilia, he came by plane, in a little while he’s going to have his pork chops, some beer, most likely some whiskey, and maybe even call someone to have a good night. And this Indian has come here to talk about native reserves. He should be eating grass right outside here, to get in touch with his origins.” [Speaking of a Sateré-Mawé leader during a Chamber of Deputies hearing on indigenous issues.]) © Elsa Leydier

Fractures & illusions

The series #elenão breaks stereotypes. By using Google search results, Leydier subverts utopian images of Brazil. From the Amazonia to carnival scenes, Leydier demonstrates that images one thought familiar may reveal another thing altogether, if one only looks close enough. Leydier is above all interested in the power of images and representations. Seaside landscapes and pictures of festivities conceal politics of violence, and Leydier’s work reminds us what’s really going in Brazil.

“Vamos fuzilar a petralhada aqui do Acre, hein? Vamos botar esses picaretas para correr do Acre. Já que eles gostam tanto da Venezuela, essa turma tem de ir pra lá.”  (“Let’s go and shoot the supporters of the Workers’ Party in the state of Acre! Since they love Venezuela so much, they should just go there.”) © Elsa Leydier

A message from Brazil

#elenão thus constitutes a critique of Bolsonaro’s politics, conducted for the most part on social media. Leydier explains: “showing specious visions of a tropical paradise (which is often the perception of Brazil, especially from the outside), seemed to me like an apt metaphor to comment on populisms and extremisms and the way they undermine peoples and territories.” By embedding messages of hate proffered by Bolsonaro since the beginning of his political career directly into the image code, Leydier suggests ways in which such statements are disguised, communicated, and revealed.

“90% desses meninos adotados vão ser homossexuais e vão ser garotos de programa com toda certeza desse casal” (“90% of these adopted kids are going to be homosexuals, and then for sure become prostitutes” [Speaking of adoption by homosexual couples]) © Elsa Leydier

The art of the Anthropocene

Lastly, the series is a painful reminder that Bolsonaro’s words are not just capable of distorting images, but that the landscapes can really be fractured, or even destroyed, through irresponsible environmental and social policies.

“O erro da ditadura foi torturar e não matar” (“The error of dictatorship is torturing without killing.”) © Elsa Leydier
“No período da ditadura, deviam ter fuzilado uns 30 mil corrutos, a começar pelo presidente Fernando Henrique, o que seria um grande ganho para a Nação” (“During the dictatorship, they should have shot 30,000 corrupt politicians, starting with President Fernando Henrique [Cardoso], which would have been a major win for the Nation.”) © Elsa Leydier
“O objetivo é fazer o cara abrir a boca. O cara tem que ser arrebentado para abrir o bico.” (Sobre a prática da tortura). (“The goal is for the guy to start talking. The guy must be shattered so he starts talking.” [On the practice of torture]) © Elsa Leydier
“Ô Preta, eu não vou discutir promiscuidade com quem quer que seja. Eu não corro esse risco porque meus filhos foram muito bem educados e não viveram em ambientes como lamentavelmente é o teu” [Sobre uma pergunta da Preta Gil sobre como reagiria se filho namorasse negra] (“Listen, Preta, I’m not about to discuss promiscuity with anybody. I’m not at risk here since my sons were raised proper and don’t live in an atmosphere such as is deplorably your lot.” [Responding to [the singer and actress] Preta Gil who asked him how he would react if one of his sons were dating a black woman.]) © Elsa Leydier
“Não sei qual é a adesão dos comandantes, mas, caso venham reduzir o efetivo [das Forças Armadas] é menos gente nas ruas para fazer frente aos marginais do MST, dos haitianos, senegaleses, bolivianos e tudo que é escória do mundo que, agora, está chegando os sírios também. A escória do mundo está chegando ao Brasil como se nós não tivéssemos problema demais para resolver.” (“I don’t know what the commanders plan to do, but if they ever reduced the Armed Forces, this would mean fewer people in the streets to stand up against the dregs of society like the Landless Movement, Haitians, Senegalese, Bolivians, and all that scum, especially that now there are also Syrians pouring in. The scum of the world is heading for Brazil, as if we didn’t have enough problems of our own.”) © Elsa Leydier

By Claire Debost

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