Beto Shwafaty is an artist and researcher based in Brazil. He has been involved with collective, curatorial and spatial practices since the early 2000s, and as a result, he develops a research-based practice on spaces, histories and visualities in which he seeks to connect formally and conceptually political, social and cultural issues that are converging to the field of art.
Beto Shwafaty, Contat of Risk @ Luisa Strina, 2015
The exhibition held at Luisa Strina’s gallery in 2015, gathers works that act both symbolically and evocatively on various aspects and episodes regarding the oil exploitation cycles, considered as one of the main ‘lubricants’ of the political and historical narratives of the past century. For this project, on which he has been working since 2009, the artist digs into the effects, presences, and echoes of the speeches and actions surrounding the oil universe and its local cycles when they spread through different times and ranges of the public sphere, such as the media, advertising, political speech, cartography, and everyday objects.
Beto Shwafaty, Contract of Risk (the Worker, Politician, Intellectual and Revolutionary), 2009/2015
Two hands of rusted iron are united, one open and the other closed, fixed in an aluminum lunch box whose interior receives black silicone rubber (in an allusion to oil). The object is fixed on a base that resembles a popular market box and all the materials and their respective organization in the work – as well as the action that the hands do – can be read in a symbolic way: be the fist of political struggles or the famous dictum ‘stick your hand in gourds’ … hands and their possibilities engender acts linked to the most basic levels of human relationships. In this case, the title gives to this assembly of symbols and materials, outlines allusive to the many struggle cycles for power, as well as to nature and social role of its actors.
Beto Shwafaty, Dirty Abstractions, 2015
The 3 independent parts evoke, each, moments in the history of the Edise building – the Petrobras headquarters in Rio de Janeiro. Newspaper clippings act as both documents and interpretations of the sociopolitical cycles that the company went through, and become witnesses of the formation of public opinion about the building and the company (via print journalism). In a first piece we see the development promises, to then observe the building plans and urbanism in the second piece, to finally realize the collapse of those promises of progress and expansion cycles linked to that redevelopment area. The confrontation between these public readings about the building, which instill connotations and readings to the building and the company, and the apparent self-sufficiency of the abstract reliefs (which means nothing a priori) are the main axis of these works: how something that means nothing (aesthetical forms, reliefs) may receive several interpretations through the sociopolitical contexts in which it is communicated.
Beto Shwafaty, The Phantom Matrix (Old Structures, New Glories), 2016
@ Situ Project, Leme Gallery, São Paulo
Sugarcane wood mill* (150 years old), electrical motor and components.
02.04.2026 – 23.04.2016 – Mill exhibited in its initial state.
28.04.2016 – 10.06.2016 – Dismantled mill with its pieces cataloged and rearranged.
11.06.2016 – 25.06.2016 – Pieces removed from the space. Audio installation with the sounds of processes connected to that engine.
This project is based on a historical and geographical research about the region where Leme gallery is located, the district of Butantã in São Paulo. While delving into the colonial past of the site the artist notes that, in the seventeenth century, São Paulo’s first sugar cane mill was created there (in what was then called Ubatatá farm), a device used to grind sugarcane, which was moved by human or animal traction.
For his installation, Beto Shwafaty takes hold of an original wooden sugar mill, using it to structure the entire project, both materially and conceptually. With this piece the artist occupies the gallery’s courtyard and engenders an installation that is transformed in successive moments.
This specific type of relationship between power and land ownership precedes what would be the structuring model of the Brazilian territory over the past 200 years. Which, still today, is expressed by a late urbanization loaded with many disorders arising from a patriarchal and patrimonial society whose political, economic and social powers are concentrated in the hands of a minor elite.
By bringing this type of colonial engine back to the neighbourhood where it first appeared, the artist voluntarily creates a collision between two different historical epochs. And what could be just regarded as an operation of rescuing an historical fact of the city, becomes a process of displacement, dematerialization and disappearance. This colonial piece, a proto-industrial device, becomes an artefact, so as to vanish during the exhibition, evoking the same erasure and disappearance processes that permeate the spatial development of cities as well as the very history of urbanism, as also the economies and cultures that inform it. With these successive actions, Beto Shwafaty ponders upon the notion of “heritage” that occurs in parallel to the imminent obliteration of certain historical buildings, cultures, information and societies. The work provides, in the end, a space for reflection that makes possible to question whether the modernization project in Brazil effectively meant a rupture with its colonial past, or if, in fact, it is just the continuity of a colonizing process, with a repressed logic that still persists in many contexts.
*Engine moved by animal or human traction and designed to grind sugarcane
Beto Shwafaty, Foundations of the Design Substance: Cultural Metaphors to Design a New Future, 2013 (in development)
Based on an extensive research on the progressivist activities of the Italian company Olivetti – materialized after World War II through the design of products , sociocultural services, architecture and urban planning – the project investigates certain episodes of this modern techno-industrial enterprise in which cultural languages supported a sociopolitical project of progress. This first formalization consists of the production of an installation and graphic materials that reflect on interdisciplinary and philosophical aspects of the company in moments of public communication: when developing exhibition displays, structures for industrial and office environments. Informed by archival material of Olivetti, the project aims to productively speculate on the possibilities of compromises between aesthetics, design, economy and technology with socio-cultural practices, at the turn of a mechanical age towards a new techno-industrial period.
In the pictures:
Beto Shwafaty, Operational structure for a conceptual field: Centro direzionale (diagram transformed into structure), 2013.
Beto Shwafaty, Video stills of ‘Visit to a factory’ 2014 (in development).
Beto Shwafaty, Brasilia Broadcast, 2006-2015
(click on the picture to listen to the audio)
In Brasília Broadcast, the shadow of the coup d’etat comes up in the audio of the last speech of Juscelino Kubitschek as a senator, before his cassation and political clearance. The sound of the voice of the ex-president comes from a loudspeaker tied to a tumbled wooden trunk, a reference to traditional parish bazaar posts, surrounded by tools and debris. The audio alters between silence and eloquence, leading to a sensation of return and repetition, reinforced by the cycle of construction and destruction suggested by the scene. (text by Tomas Toledo, Colonial Enterprise show, 2015).
Beto Shwafaty,The Freedom Festival, 2009