Three girls standing alongside Maranhão folklore creatures - a wolf, man, and anteater - stare at visitors entering the Panorama of Brazilian Art at the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo.
The exuberance of the colors on Gê Viana's canvases give an idea of the backwoods that inspired the project, very different from the drought and hunger that dominates our the imagination.
According to Julia Rebouças, curator of the 36th edition of the show, the sertão is "an epistemology," a way of thinking and acting that uses collectivity and invention to face the precariousness and dominance of urban centers. And right now it's fashionable to be from the Northeast.
"It is important to look there because it is a place that has always been set aside, linked to poverty, infertility. But the concept escapes this", he explained, adding that, in the dictionary, the sertão is defined as a harsh place, far from cities and agricultural areas.
It is not the first show of the year to propose reviewing stereotypes associated with the region. "À Nordeste," at Sesc 24 de Maio, speaks of it not as a geographical place, but as an alternative point of view.
Other exhibitions, such as "Vaivém," at the Banco do Brasil Cultural Center, and Marepe's retrospective, at Pinacoteca Station, are also planned. According to Durval Muniz de Albuquerque Júnior, author of "The Invention of the Northeast and Other Arts," this reflects a political moment in which the northeastern states, where Bolsonaro lost the election, are seen as a center of resistance to the government.
When asked if turning the backlands into a symbol of resistance is not a kind of cultural appropriation--almost half of the participants come from São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais--Rebouças argued that the show seeks to expand the term sertão.
"I care much more that the exhibition has fewer whites than indigenous and black people, more women than men, and two trans and transvestite artists," he says.
Translated by Kiratiana Freelon