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March 22, 2021

Interview Panmela Castro

Two year ago Brazilian grafiti artist and activist Panmela Castro was in the Netherlands to create  a work of art on the glass facade of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam for the Mama Cash Feminist Festival. She dedicated this work to Marielle Franco, a Brazilian activist who was murdered the year before. The men who pulled the trigger have been arrested, but the people who ordered the murder are still free.

Recently, Panmela gifted Mama Cash and the Stedelijk Museum with her work 'Marielle'. We took the opportunity to ask her some questions about art, activism and challenges ahead.

Why did you give this work to Mama Cash?

In 2011 my organisation received a grant from Mama Cash that we used to transform it from an informal group into a real and legal organisation. This support was essential for us to get started, our development and all the influence Rede NAMI had for the new generation of feminists and artists in Brazil and I am very glad to have had this support.

One of the works we have been dedicated to in the past years is to rewrite our history, and in this way, to promote the memory and legacy of Marielle Franco. This is essential for the future of our movement for an equal society and I would like Mama Cash to be a part of this preserving this work and her memory. To have it in your office, which is an important center for the feminist fight, will definitely help to not let her memory and the continued importance of her leadership die.

Can you tell us about this work, and why you chose to carve Marielle into your skin?

In 2017 Vilma Piedade launched a book with the concept of “dororidade”. In Portuguese, ‘dor” means pain and the suffix ‘idade” is used to name words and feelings. This concept is about the pain that we suffer from misogyny and racism, that brought women of color together as a political power for change.

The scarification is a body modification art from the last century, and is used for the concept of transgression; symbolising the tag of Marielle in our lives and the pain of her death transformed into political power.

You have also offered this work to the Stedelijk Museum. What does mean to you that it is now a part of their collection?

To be an artist with a presence in such an important collection is special for any contemporary artist for sure, but in this case, it is important for the museum and art history to change the present, the future and the past by including other artists that do not fit this “universal ” - from the Global North, European, heteronormative, white man- norm, in their collections and history.

Me and other non-white, indigenous artists from the Global South, artists with disabilities and LGBTQ artists have to be part of big collections to preserve our ideas, concepts and productions, because it is a part of the decolonialisation process and the development of the world for a more equal society. And to finish, I want to preserve and promote the legacy of Marielle Franco for future centuries and a museum is the right way to do it.

What makes art such a powerful tool to create change?

Art is an easy way to get through to people. We can make rules, create laws and change the organisation of the city. But I do not believe in punishment as a healthy way to deal with people.

Life is influenced by art and art is influenced by life. Both live together. To use the arts to shift culture, we can change the way people see the world and society. Art, and culture can be ways to create a better way of life for everybody.

What has Mama Cash’s support meant to you and to Rede Nami?

Mama Cash made the difference when I started Rede NAMI with the group of girls in 2010. Mama Cash believed in our ideas when no one was supporting us. Through this empowerment, we brought a brand new generation of activists in Brazil and definitely changed the arts in our country.

Most of the female and non binary artists now are feminist and men know they have to respect us. There are lots of things to change yet, but we are preparing this new generation of activists to deal with this and demand their rights.

What would true justice look like for Marielle Franco?

Every day we ask the justice department about who ordered to kill Marielle, and we get no answer. Brazil has to solve this crime to show that it is committed to human rights and to acting against femicide, and political femicide speficially.

After we get our answers, we dream to take Marielle’s fight forward, for our right to bodily integrity, and against abuse of power, the extermination of the black population, institutional violence, and more.

Real justice will be to live in a world where we have our rights in full. In this world her work would be done.

Is there something funders like MC could to support activists like Marielle Franco?

Brazil is in a difficult political situation and the country is only still going because people are working hard to save it. I believe Mama Cash has to support the formation of the new generation of feminist activists that will get back all the laws, rights and public policies we have lost in the past years.

I think the main investment is to put women, black and indigenous people LGBTQI, (etc) in political positions to make and decide about the new laws and government investments. For people, to get informed about the laws and politics, so we can run for office and then put pressure on the government and society bring our rights back.

What is on your To Do list for this year? What would you like to achieve?

In my organisation we want to support and take care of people while they are being vaccinated. We want everybody to understand that vaccines are safe and the best option to get out of the pandemic. At the end of the year, we would like to have everyone immunised.

What are you most proud of? 

I am an artist, but during the pandemic I could see that I am a good manager. When we started the home office all our documents and processes were already online in the cloud and we were using a manager methodology that allowed my crew to work online with no difficulty. In this way, even with the pandemic Rede NAMI’s work did not stop and we could help hundreds of families. Rede NAMI is a NGO for cultural change, but in this crisis we could do emergency work.

How has COVID affected your work? Have your priorities shifted?

We started a campaign to bring food for families led by women that were in difficulty with this access and made a grant to help the artists with money. Then we used this time to compile our 10 years using arts to promote women's rights in a book to stimulate girls to work with arts and teach them how to live and support your families working with this. Finally we transformed our class into an online course where anyone can study. We are following and sending materials for a group of 100 black women that are doing our class and we are getting better results than when it was in person, especially because we are in touch with girls that used to live far from us and can now make the classes.

What will be the biggest challenge ahead?

The biggest challenge ahead is to reorganise our cities and country. To work with the states to find sufficient vaccines and with the professionals and the population to vaccinate everybody. To fight against conservatism, setback, and all the leaders that want to take away our rights. To keep our democracy alive.