krenak reformatory | fragments of an underground memory
The indigenous communities inhabited key lands for the construction of roads, railways, and hydroelectric plants. A stone in the shoes of the Brazilian government. A huge obstacle to "progress". The solution? Forced confinement and the construction of the Krenak Reformatory. An exclusive prison for indigenous peoples. And one of the biggest atrocities committed by the country's leaders during a bloody and cruel military dictatorship period that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985.
The Krenak Reformatory was a prison center for the correction of all indigenous peoples that the government considered a problem. No judges. Without any right of defense. The prison was built in the city of Resplendor, Minas Gerais, a territory occupied by the Krenak ethnic group. Over time, indigenous peoples of different ethnicities from all over the country were forcibly relocated to the area, not only as prisoners but also as traumatized individuals in search of their disappeared family members.
Prohibited from speaking their own language. Forbidden to perform their rituals. Prohibited from doing any activities related to their culture. The reason? Exist. To exist, simply. And be the people who own a coveted land.
The state of affairs worsened with the creation of the Indigenous Rural Guard (GRIN), an alternative for the government to end the relationship problems between soldiers and indigenous peoples. This guard was formed exclusively by indigenous peoples who were forced to leave their lands, and were trained in fighting tactics - and even torture – to control the prisoners. Once again, the arbitrary use of power, abuse in all spheres.
In 1972, another coup. Local farmers showed interest in the lands where the prison was located so the military command decided to transfer the entire population of Resplendor to the city of Carmésia, also in Minas. To forcefully transport all the indigenous peoples, they used closed cargo wagons and handcuffed the most resistant.
Involuntary removals at gunpoint. Internments were analogous to concentration camps. Forced labor. Exile. Sexual violence. Socially degraded ethnicities. Physical and cultural destruction. Torture and violence of all kinds. The horror was so intense in this attempt to decimate the culture of the original peoples that it was compared with the worst crimes against humanity in history. These three episodes constitute serious violations of human rights. The Krenak Reformatory is seen as a judicial aberration, an idea whose sole intention was to commit ethnocide.
Only at the end of the 1980s, the prison was deactivated and the Krenak indigenous people returned to their land, in Resplendor, where the ruins of the old prison now remain. Others, with nowhere to go, remained in Carmésia. Many members of GRIN, who belonged to the Maxacali ethnic group, sought shelter in new lands, one of them in the city of Ladainha, in the state of Minas Gerais.
“Our project for the Indigenous communities is to make them just like us.”
Quote from the ex-president Jair Bolsonaro.
The prison is still there but in ruins. The people too. The military government is back.
Brazil is a country built on untold stories. The project investigates the consequences of an episode that occurred during the 1964 military dictatorship. A large part of Brazilian society considers the military period to be milder than in other Latin American countries. Our collective memory was built mainly from the lack of knowledge of hidden facts, destroyed documents, and the manipulation of the country's history.
Started in 2019, the project aims to transcend the factual episode, revealing not only the memories of survivors of a series of atrocities but also inspiring the search for the identity of a new generation, who must live, literally, amidst the ruins. The intention is to investigate the psychological side of those who were forced to remain in a place with wounds from past traumas, trying to find a sense of place in a world that is not theirs and is still the only world they have ever known. Reveal the landscapes; the objects, walls, and windows that today are symbols of those who had the courage to remain standing.
The project, since its inception, has always been designed to open dialogue with society as the story needs to be revealed. There are some concepts that inspired me to arrive at the proposed format. First, is "underground memory", by Michael Pollak, an Austrian sociologist who defined underground memory in opposition to “official memory” as part of the culture of marginalized, excluded, and oppressed populations. With this, although in a symbolic way, the project does not intend to be just a historical document, but rather a collection of fragments of memories.
In the visual approach, a cloud of fragments was created with symbolic and iconographic photographs. With this, we try to express the different layers of the story that do not follow linearity and contain significant moments that navigate between reality and metaphor. Colors mix with the black and white past. The clouds are divided into chapters that in their construction were guided by some words of important reference: in the first cloud, we talk about silence and vestiges, in the second about forgetting, obliteration, stricture, and imprisonment and finally in the third about discomfort and resignification.
In each of the clouds, my images are mixed with archive images. In this way, I intend to create a conflict between history and memory. I follow the concept of Pierre Nora, a French historian, who tells us the contrasts. According to him, memory has roots in concrete, space, gesture, image, and object. It is not something constant but rather changeable depending on your interlocutor. On the other hand, history is always problematic and incomplete reconstruction of what no longer exists. Memory is an always current phenomenon, a link lived in the eternal present; history is a representation of the past. History wants to portray them only as victims, but memory shows them as resistance.