From 22 April to 6 May 2016, ICAF artistic director Eugene van Erven and producer Anamaria Cruz travel around Brazil to scout community art projects that have links to the ‘Movement’ theme of ICAF 2017. This is their journey.
On Thursday May 4 we had a lovely meeting with Maria Gomide. She had flown especially from Belo Horizonte to São Paulo to talk about her company, Carroça de Mamulengos. The name means something like ‘charriot of puppetry’. But the organization is much more than that. It sees itself in a long line of medieval minstrels and commedia dell’arte performers – and like them it moves constantly around, from place to place.
Carroça de Mamulengos was founded in 1977 by Maria’s father. Since then they have never stopped travelling around Brazil, always establishing profound relations with local communities wherever they happen to stop. The company is very much a family enterprise and today encompasses three generations and many different performance disciplines. These include puppetry, music, clowning, storytelling, and a variety of arts and crafts. Carroça contains many characteristics of a family circus. The company travels around in a bus, but also frequently settles in a place for a while, sometimes even for several months or, as is the case now, a couple of years. Through workshops and easily accessible interactive arts activities for people who have little or no access to the arts, it constructs reciprocal relations with the communities it visits. In these places, it explores Brazilian cultural traditions, which can have indigenous, Afro-Brazilian, or European roots. It regards these very much as living traditions, which constantly adapt to current realities and local circumstances.
Particularly through the workshops it offers, Carroça can easily be considered an itinerant community arts company, as well as an unusual community in itself. Maria’s father firmly believed that it is possible to develop art through interaction with the popular classes of Brazilian society by activating their cultural memories. Brazilian cultural imagination is the sum total of all these indigenous, diasporic and migratory roots. They form the inspiration for the participatory art that Carroça de Mamulengos creates. It’s a deeply humane and dynamic art that can be performed on the street, in a square, in a theatre building or in a circus – and for any kind of audience: young, old, poor, or rich. Carroça prefers not to speak of workshops but of ‘living experiences’. You learn, not by being instructed, but by doing, by experimenting, by creating toys, music, dance, puppets (including giant ones), food, natural pigments for painting. In the video, Maria demonstrates some of the products she and her relatives make together with participants (after 2m30).
Carroça’s connection with parades
In Brazil whenever a circus came to small towns, it would announce its presence with boisterous parades. The people of Carroça also love to create parades – and to create them in a participatory, modular manner through dance, music, giant puppet, and stilt walking workshops. They can create these festive events in a few days’ time if needs be. Often, clowns play a major role in these parades, which are then called ‘payasiatas‘ or clownesque parades. It’s all about creating something together and to celebrate life in the process. “That’s the essence of what we want to achieve”, Maria explains: “gathering as many people as possible and through collective participation in art strengthen our humanity. After all, being an artist is simply a special way of looking at the world. And we believe everyone can be an artist, anyone can play something: they can sing, dance and find a moment to express themselves creatively to celebrate life after a long day of working and worrying about how to pay the bills.”