Jeane Terra: Mekong, memories and currents - Janaina Torres

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Jeane Terra: Mekong, memories and currents

3 de May de 2024 | 19:33
Cecília Fortes
Jeane Terra, Paisagem de lotus para Monet, 2024, Quadrados em Pele de Tinta de 1x1cm sobre canvas, 161 x 148 cm Jeane Terra, Paisagem de lotus para Monet, 2024, Quadrados em Pele de Tinta de 1x1cm sobre canvas, 161 x 148 cm

– Why the Mekong River?
– It’s a place infused with memory, threatened with disappearing.

They say we are drawn to people, places, and situations by resonance. It’s no wonder the story of the Mekong River and its people caught Jeane Terra’s attention. If there’s one theme that has permeated the artist’s work since the beginning of her career, it’s the emotional memory connected to places and people that have ceased to exist. Memory intertwined with dwelling, with the land, with places imbued with memories, roots of an existence forced to reinvent itself for reasons beyond its will.

This story began when Terra found herself facing the ruins of her childhood home in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais. For someone who experienced close family losses from a young age, witnessing that moment was like materializing the demolition of her origins. But instead of diving into the pain, the choice was to work on the feeling through art. Turning ruins into a documentary record and poetry. The rubble gained new contours, became objects of research and a source of new discoveries. Thus was born the series about Atafona, a city on the coast of Rio de Janeiro being invaded by the sea, forcing residents to leave their homes, turned into ruins by the shore. Next came the works that focus on the cities of the Bahia hinterlands: Casa Nova, Remanso, Sento Sé, and Pilão Arcado, flooded by the São Francisco River during the construction of the Sobradinho hydroelectric dam, whose inhabitants were forced to move to a land foreign to their roots, leaving behind, unwillingly, not only emotional ties but also knowledge of the environment and a sense of belonging.

In the unfolding of her research, a second theme enters the plot and gains prominence in Jeane Terra’s production: nature’s response to the predatory exploitation of the environment. The consequences of an egocentric and destructive consumption of natural resources that are now manifesting themselves in different ways, in various places, with increasing force.

Moved by the accounts of the residents of the Bahia hinderlands, Terra continued researching places threatened by floods. That’s when she came across an article about the Mekong, one of the world’s largest rivers, which is suffering the consequences of global climate issues and a dam project aimed at turning the region into the “Asia’s battery.” Located in Southeast Asia, the Mekong rises in the Tibetan Plateau and crosses six countries along its 4,900 kilometers: China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Driven by the growing demand for energy, dam construction and

its environmental impacts threaten the livelihoods of over 70 million people residing in the vicinity. Riparian populations that, for thousands of years, have relied on the river for their sustenance, through activities such as fishing and rice farming. On the border between Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, entire villages are being relocated, in some cases due to floods resulting from dam construction, in others due to drought, a consequence of the reduced water flow retained to feed hydroelectric plants and environmental imbalance. A subject of geopolitical dispute, the Mekong is being suffocated not only by dams but also by pollution resulting from the high amount of various types of waste deposited in it, such as toxic industrial waste and human waste, among others. Attracted by this increasingly familiar plot, the artist set out to explore the distant East to personally know the stories of this population.

The body of work presented in “Mekong: Memories and Currents,” at the Anita Schwartz Gallery, is the result of this expedition. On the ground floor of the gallery, the predominant motif is the Mekong River and the different ways in which residents living nearby interact with the it. But Terra doesn’t simply present us with documentary images of the river and the population that relates to it. She transports us into the river to immerse us in its waters, enveloping us in its stories.

We are greeted by a large shattered panel, with an aerial view of an area near the village of Srae Skor, submerged by the Srepok River, a tributary of the Mekong River, in Cambodia. A monotype on ink skin, whose aspect of worn parchment, cut and incomplete, imparts melancholy to the retina and brings the density of devastation. The region was flooded due to the construction of the Sesan Dam II hydroelectric plant in 2017. Just like in the Bahia hinderlands, an entire community saw their homes, their references, and their memories covered by water, forced to find a new destiny. We, too, as spectators, submerge into questions trying to imagine the life that existed there before the flood. What was the daily life of the residents like? How did they relate to the river? And, as if to bring us back to the surface again, we are surrounded by everyday scenes from other villages in the region, also threatened with a similar fate.

Instead of destruction, we find life. What transpires in the depicted images is another form of coexistence with this same river, which now serves as food, home, path, and livelihood. There’s a hint of calmness and beauty in these paintings that captivates attention. Whether through the palette of colors, the choice of light, or the harmonious atmosphere with which Terra presents the depicted characters. There are men working in rice fields and women in Lotus flower farms in Cambodia, floating houses in Siem Reap, the floating market in Can Tho – Mekong Delta, canoes in Vietnam, and and boats that serve as collective transportation for people and goods, turning the river into a road, in Laos. The bucolic air of the works contrasts with the conflicted and chaotic idea that comes to mind when imagining the region and life around it from a distance. As she traveled through these villages, lived with their residents, and participated in local activities, Jeane Terra was surprised by the inhabitants’ acceptance of the difficulties they faced. Happy and resigned people in an unfavorable condition, a stance the artist attributes to the great influence of religion (Hinduism and Buddhism, mainly) and the relationship of these peoples with the sacred.

The chosen way to present these scenes is not random. They are paintings that resemble pixelated analog photographs. Mosaics of ink skins, cut into tiny squares of 1 x 1 cm, methodically organized on canvas, using the cross-stitch embroidery technique she learned from her grandmother and incorporated into her practice. And despite their physical materiality, their nuances are perceived more prominently when viewed through the cameras of electronic devices, such as cell phones and tablets. In a time captured by digital acceleration, Terra makes records with a sense of the past of a present reality that, it seems, in the near future will cease to exist. A mix of times that blur the senses and immerse us in pure sensation.

On the gallery’s second floor, Jeane Terra presents us with fantastic images of Angkor, in Cambodia, located north of Lake Tonlé Sap, which connects to the Mekong River. The works, monotypes on wattle and daub bases, bring surreal records of giant trees clinging to the ruins of the Ta Prohm temple. A place built in the middle of the forest, later abandoned by man and taken back by nature. Like fictional beings, the roots of the trees intertwine with the architecture, reclaiming the territory imperatively. Gaia’s response! The Ta Prohm temple is located near the Angkor Wat temple, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. The region was inhabited between the 9th and 15th centuries. There’s a mystique surrounding it, with no consensus on why the Agkor area was abandoned: war, plague, famine, flood, and even drought are cited as possibilities. Here, the most striking account is nature’s own, the way it overlaps with constructions, in a demonstration of dominion and splendor. To expose this plot, Jeane Terra rescues an ancient construction method, wattle and daub. In an allusion to primitive architecture, she creates bases using elements from the landscape itself.

Terra is an alchemist artist. Resourceful by nature, she turns her artistic practice into a creative laboratory for investigations into materials, supports, and techniques. From these experiments, ink skins, analog pixels,

and monotypes on wattle and daub bases were born. A unique language she developed to speak about themes that navigate the past, the present, and the future simultaneously. Precepts of quantum physics incorporated into her poetics. Mechanisms that sharpen curiosity and invite reflection on propositions that start autobiographical and turn into global debates such as deterritorialization, environmental issues, and possible forms of human-nature relationship.

Cecília Fortes is a curator and visual arts manager.

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