SP-Arte/Videobrasil Prize presents Haroon Gunn-Salie’s “Bittersweet”

Mar 29, 2016 1:40PM

The South African artist’s exhibit at Galpão VB revolves around the recent environmental tragedy in the town of Mariana, in Minas Gerais, Brazil 

April 2 (Saturday) from 1pm to 5pm will see the opening of Bittersweet [Agridoce, in Portuguese] an exhibition by the South African artist Haroon Gunn-Salie at Galpão VB. The idea for the solo exhibit came about through the artist’s interactions with people who were directly affected by Last disaster of last year in Mariana, Brazil. Gunn-Salie’s project, composed of film, photography and installation, aims to tell the stories often covered up by mainstream state-owned media, offering the grassroots perspective of those affected. Created in collaboration with local residents who refused to be displaced from their land, the project has bred a powerful platform – one that can give visibility to the disaster and stir public reaction. Thus, Gunn-Salie establishes his art as activism and action for social change. The show is the outcome of the first SP-Arte/Videobrasil Prize, a special award of the 19th Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil | Southern Panoramas, held from October to December 2015, and will be displayed at Galpão VB until June 11, 2016.

In Bittersweet, Gunn-Salie prompts a fresh perspective on events related to the disaster. He works with the process of collaborative practice through dialogue as a response to real-life tragedies, and insistently represents the stories that get repeatedly lost – the experience of those who have been undermined. The elements of the exhibition were produced by Gunn-Salie in collaboration with locals who had their properties flooded with layers of mud and toxic heavy metals. The disaster of the dams owned by Samarco Mineração SA – a joint venture between the Anglo-Australian mining group BHP Billiton, the world’s biggest mining company, and the Brazilian iron ore giant Vale – has created untold damage to the area, resulted in many deaths, as well as the destruction of homes and of the region’s ecosystem. All of the material that composes this site-specific work (including the mud and the walls of a partially buried house, for instance) was collected and transported from the site by the artist. Infused with the urgency of the present, this set of artworks showing at Galpão VB strives – amid the often-forced silence that pervades personal experiences and narratives – to retrieve the human dimension of the story.

The project was born after the artist travelled to Minas and connected with the communities of Paracatu de Baixo and Pedras, between October 2015 and January 2016. In his first trip to the region, he spent two weeks documenting the communities and collecting oral accounts. A few days after returning to South Africa, Gunn-Salie got wind of the tragedy in the properties run by Samarco and Vale do Rio Doce. He decided to go back, and decided this would be the theme of his exhibit at Galpão VB. 

“I took this opportunity to become involved in a transformative art project that borders on social responsibility and invites the public to participate,” explained Gunn-Salie, who concerns himself with telling stories that are usually forgotten. “By translating orally transmitted accounts and stories into works of art as well as collaborative, dialogue-based interventions, I wanted to bring to the Brazilian context a work method that insists art can be used for social change and grassroots activism,” he explains.

On the same day Bittersweet opens, Galpão VB will also showcase the results of the second Videobrasil in Context project edition, held under the Videobrasil Residency Program. Videobrasil Collection in Context #2 will feature works by Brazil’s Vitor Cesar and Poland’s Karol Radziszewski, invited by Associação Cultural Videobrasil and A-I-R Laboratory – the artist residency program of the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, in Warsaw (Poland) – to participate in this edition, with support from the Adam Mickiewicz Institute (IAM) as part of a program to promote Polish culture in Brazil, organized by Culture.pl in 2016. Just like BittersweetVideobrasil Collection in Context #2 will be showing until June 11.

The SP-Arte/Videobrasil Prize

Since its inception, in 1983, the Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil has invested in an award policy based on a grand cash prize, designed as a production incentive, and on artist residency prizes to encourage interaction and exchange processes. Last year, in its 19th edition, the Festival broke new ground with this special prize, made possible through the SP-Arte/Associação Cultural Videobrasil partnership.“For the first time ever, the Festival awarded the SP-Arte/Videobrasil Prize to encourage and publicize the work of young artists whose research contributes to discussion on the global South. The prize offers the winning artist an exhibition at Galpão VB, held concurrently with SP-Arte, at a time when São Paulo takes center stage in the international art scene,” explains the Festival chief curator and Associação Cultural Videobrasil director Solange Farkas.

The initiative is also part of SP-Arte’s artist incentive and new talent development program.  According to Fernanda Feitosa, the director of the SP-Arte Fair, this is a chance to broaden the ties that bind SP-Arte and Videobrasil together, aside from mutual professional admiration. “This is the first time SP-Arte holds an exhibition by an international artist in Brazil that results from a prize. We are very excited about this connection between Southern Hemisphere scenes, after all we have multiple narratives and contexts in common,” says the Fair’s director. The exhibition by Haroon Gunn-Salie, a leading figure in the up-and-coming generation of South African artists, is the end result of the prize created as part of this strategy by the two organizations. 

More on the 1st SP-Arte/Videobrasil Prize winning artist

Haroon Gunn-Salie (1989, Cape Town, South Africa)

Haroon Gunn-Salie’s collaborative art practice translates community oral histories into artistic interventions and installations. His multidisciplinary practice utilises a variety of mediums, drawing focus to forms of collaboration in contemporary art based on dialogue and exchange. Gunn-Salie’s graduate exhibition titled Witness presented a site-specific body of work focusing on still unresolved issues of forced removals under apartheid, working with veteran residents of District Six, an area in central Cape Town where widespread forced removals occurred.

Gunn-Salie completed his BA Hons in sculpture at the University of Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2012.

Significant exhibitions and projects that have featured Gunn-Salie’s work include: Simon Castets and Hans Ulrich Obrist’s 89plus project, for which he participated in the 89plus programme with Obrist at the 2014 Design Indaba in Cape Town; Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design, which travelled to the Vitra Design Museum and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2015); What Remains is Tomorrow, the South African Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia (2015); and the 19º Festival de Arte Contemporânea Sesc Videobrasil (2015).

Gunn-Salie was placed in the top five of the Sasol new signatures competition in 2013. At the 19º Festival de Arte Contemporânea Sesc Videobrasil in 2015 he was awarded the first ever SP-Arte/Videobrasil prize, designed to encourage and publicise the work of young artists whose lines of research focus on the debate surrounding the global south. As part of the award, Gunn-Salie will present Agridoce (Bittersweet) at Galpão VB, during the SP-Arte/2016. He is represented by Goodman Gallery in South Africa.

Haroon Gunn-Salie lives between Johannesburg (South Africa) and Belo Horizonte (Brazil).


by Haroon Gunn-Salie  (South Africa)

Opening: April 2 (Saturday), 1pm to 5pm
Dates and hours: April 5 to June 11. Tuesday to Friday, from 12pm to 6pm, Saturday, from 11am to 5pm.
Free admission 

Galpão VB | Associação Cultural Videobrasil
Av. Imperatriz Leopoldina, 1150, Vila Leopoldina, 
São Paulo/SP, Brazil
Tel: + 55 11 3645 0516