What seems to propel Western history is an insatiable drive for transformation, construction, destruction, plunder, and conquest — strategies of survival being the forceful eect, trait, and symptom of such colonial enterprise. Across time, humankind has simultaneously navigated the past and the future, inhabiting the landscape on fictional, symbolic, and material grounds; and what had been touted as a steady and linear movement throughout existence — a Eurocentric teleological notion of evolution and progress — rather blatantly appears as an unequal accumulation of time1: overlapping layers of living constructs overridden by a collection of forged and forced narratives, technological debris, and demiurgic impulses to project life beyond its finitude.
Species, technologies, monuments, architectures of warfare, and their intertwined agencies engage in a semantic intercourse that shapes anomalous scenarios for humankind and, ultimately, any living entity on the planet. The landscapes engendered by such kaleidoscopic narratives conjure what could be called a pluriverse, in the words of anthropologists Marisol de la Cadena and Mario Blaser: “heterogeneous world formations brought together in a political ecology of diverse practices, negotiating the diculty of being together in heterogeneity.”2 Utterly amorphous future horizons thus become the battlefield for our current political struggles: the lands where operatic movements of survival and death come to endow the very matter of life with destructive plasticity,3 the collateral sphere of accident and decay in the wake of enduring traumatic experiences.
Artist Ventura Profana gives shape to convoluted histories of survival in the most intricate of all scenarios: the very present time, at once virtual and perishable, amalgamated by coatings of asphalt and machine, algorithm and hard cash, oil and rotten life. These topographies are indeed breathtaking, awesome in their stillness and violent velocity. As still lifes of sorts — dreamed of or brutally experienced — the collages she prompts before our eyes are at once familiar and strange: the collective unconscious of a world of many worlds. The Black transgender artist from Bahia, Brazil, the son of an evangelical family, soon to become the daughter of heavens and hells, engenders a myriad of artifices at her own will: as a preacher of unknown worlds, a traveler who knows no frontiers, an epitome of beauty and damnation.
Her striking approach suggests the swiftness of a juggler, the possessor of a magic wand that turns politics into spells, an agent who traverses time through black holes, emerging on the other side as a chimera, or as a sphinx eager to devour the entire universe humanity has given birth to through matter and language. And although much has been said about Ventura — in her own or other people’s words — the sphinx remains opulent in her charade, floating above convention and rule, ruling her own spectacle: the art of giving shape and acquiring new shapes unceasingly.
Looking at her photospreads, a riveting force drags the viewer into a maelstrom of histories of abuse, misuse, and spoliation. Albeit this time around almost devoid of human presence (as compared to Profana’s previous works, filled with humans and images of herself), these tableaux depict an unstoppable war between our violent ontological polarities: nature and culture, sentient being and machine — the latter seemingly invested with its own purpose and agency — an arena where body and landscape become one single torn-apart organism; almost as if every single human and unhuman creation had been designed as an anathema, a crying entity struggling to survive. But wait! Not all of it is the product of the artist’s singular imagination. No. Where one craves fiction, one stumbles upon unabashed history à plein soleil: the elements of a quite familiar omnipresent mélange of colonial forces.
Whether traversed vertically, down toward the depths of the sea or up toward the skies beyond, or horizontally, across the face of planet Earth, Ventura’s landscapes are infused with the abrasive essence of domination. Her narratives span a wide spectrum, from ancestral technologies used to commute across rivers and seas to ace-in-the-hole mechanisms for leaving planet Earth behind (Elon Musk’s failed attempts to reach outer space may ring a bell). In any case, failure sets the diapason of continuous quests for progress and advancement — concepts so conspicuously outdated relative to our current precarious reality that they look like damaged evil toys on the laps of humans. And while one might entertain the possibility of absconding, there doesn’t seem to exist an escape route from our terrestrial malaise.
The space race, still as politically grounded as it was in the 1960s, when it sustained the divide between the US and the Soviet bloc, ended up encapsulating more than an economic schism: the very possibility of leaving our planet behind, or reaching out for resources no longer found on Earth — aspirations for creating a world beyond the features of our given planet, a new colonial enterprise destined to fulfill the grandiloquent dreams of imperial conquest. But even if that were the case, please note that no tabula rasa would ever be feasible or desired in the process of building a new civilization.
Reworking found imagery from a plethora of mass communication media — the internet being the most ubiquitous and liquified resource — Ventura Profana profanes the very notion of God by recreating the world herself, engendering a universe of her own, though derived from the real one. Raised in a Baptist family, informed by Deuteronomist visions, the artist confronts her creationist background with its negative, the antidote for such obscurantist and fundamentalist assumptions. Being a transgender artist, the idea of transformation somehow envelops her entire body of work; and although her universe is in constant transformation, being created and recreated, time and time again, it nonetheless challenges the inexhaustible plasticity commonly attributed to capitalism: there are real limits to its relentless extractivist drive, and climate change signals the very end of it!
Profana’s natal city of Catu, located in a petroleum-plentiful territory in the north-east coast of Brazil, deeply affected by the mining industry, became the backdrop for her prospective new work oriented toward a symbolic and political investigation of the noxious relationships long established between humankind, nature, and technology under the sign of the Occident. Against phallocentric instruments of perforation and extraction, the artist contraposes the image of the asshole: a “holy portal” of sorts to unknown worlds, a regenerative organ she endows with the capacity of subverting the norms of exploitation as well as opening up a holistic passage from inert and poisonous material culture toward spiritual abundance. Therefore, the concept of EDIFICATION, as postulated by capitalist culture (colonial monuments, temples, spacecrafts, machines, etc.), is transmuted by Profana into a powerful counterforce emanating from the EDI: the word for asshole used by trans and gay people in Brazil, derived from the Pajubá dialect, a byproduct and legacy of the syncretism between Portuguese and African religions and languages — the latter having reached the country as a result of the slave trade triangle, needless to say. The edi (or asshole), contrary to normative white-male-degraded Western perceptions, emerges in Profana’s narratives as a sort of purifying black hole destined to drag basilicas and cathedrals into its annihilating core, as well as any other temple of subjugation erected in the history of imperialism.
While reinterpreting the Gospel through the understanding that not Christ but Jesus should be praised, Profana articulates her very own politically and spiritually charged discourse by identifying in the latter the personification of all enduring souls and bodies who were set adrift, massacred, and killed by the nefarious impulses emanating from imperial forces in their many formations across time. Notwithstanding, beyond the exclusive interpellation of one single doctrine, her work embraces the underlying presence of Afro-religious rituals and narratives in her own cultural formation — if not throughout her actual upbringing, then in the ancestral constitution of her body and soul. Therefore, Oxumaré, a deity from Candomblé — at once man and woman, generally associated with the power of connecting the waters and the skies — sets the world in motion through permanence and continuity, allowing Profana to speculate on distinct time frames, reaching expanded comprehensions of life beyond and before the life span of humans.
In this sense, the collages featured in this publication operate as a vortex that engulfs various layers of time, projecting myriad pasts and futures under the dome of destruction and regeneration. And while one may solely see apocalyptic images in these works, or passages that recall the brutal exodus imposed on many peoples due to colonial onslaughts, the artist argues that her work, beyond the obvious confrontation with human misery, is in fact moved by the notion of evangelizing: a word of Greek origin which means bringing the good news, contrary to its current vulgar use implying a conversion to Christianity.
As the world is one and various at once, so is the artist, who in her latest works has been drifting away from what had been expected from her in the aftermath of her seminal incursions in the art world. Beyond biographical notes, or her physical figure even, what we see here is a plethora of images conjuring up a universe as singular as it is plural. No unifying voice or discourse, no self-reflexive narratives; instead, a myriad of concurring voices and cries overheard from both the distant past and the not so remote future.