Latin American Contemporary Art
GUAVA's founder Mariana Destro

On the online artist-run gallery which focuses on Latin American contemporary art by women, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+ artists and curators.

9 min read

We recently visited In the midst of a global pandemic, where so many exhibitions and art events have gone virtual, GUAVA offered a fresh approach, a much needed bottom up dynamic contrasting proudly with the many titans currently in the scene. A true artist-run space focused on Latin American contemporary art by women, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+ artists and curators.

We were immediately hooked. From the interface, which allows you to meander truly mimicking a museum experience, not by allowing the user to pan around a scanned physical space, but by allowing you to flow from hyperlink to hyperlink seamlessly and freely, visiting at each click completely different atmospheres and creating a journey that most likely is not repeatable.

Declarations, translations, gardens, whatsapps, lists, letters and disasters are some of the things you are meant to encounter when visiting GUAVA and it will all be thanks to the young and talented founder of the platform Mariana Destro.
After a first conversation with Mariana, O-LA made a interview in the form of topics on which she has written her thoughts:

The Global North as benchmark
I started thinking about becoming an artist when I entered the University of Brasilia. At first I was a Philosophy student and, as such, it struck me really hard how we resort to the Global North to think about ourselves, about our social and historical processes.
For instance, one of the most recurrent images in Brazilian History books is Theodor de Bry's depiction of Tupinambá people, known as “Scene of Cannibalism”. It is inspired by Hans Staden’s account of his experience as a captive of the Tupinambá, in the sixteenth century. Just as Theodor de Bry has never been to Brazil, Hans Staden left us an one-sided story rooted in European colonial domination, to say the least. The rhetoric of "cannibalism" to refer to anthropophagy in the Americas constituted one of the main bases of racism engendered by Europe.
Why do we still resort to those sources especially on academic and cultural institutions?
Instigated by that question, I made a video performance in 2019, “Rainforest”. In it, I juxtapose excerpts of writings about Brazil by European authors that even today are reference to us on how we produce knowledge and meanings, such as, besides Hans Staden, Caspar Barlaeus, Diderot and Claude Lévi-Strauss (with the only exception being the Martinican psychiatrist/philosopher Frantz Fanon), to images of me as a cam girl made out of fake plants and “tropical” party props.

Why does one enemy devour the other? They do not do it out of hunger, but out of great hatred and envy; and when they fight in war, they cry out to each other out of great hatred: “Depe marapá xe remiu ram beguée”, “all misfortunes befall you, my food”. They do all this out of great hostility. – Still from "Rainforest" (2019).

On Brazil’s art scene
Despite being the capital of Brazil, Brasilia is on the margin of the Brazilian art world, which still basically revolves around Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the two largest cities in the country. So I see two interesting aspects: there are artists who are well known in Brasilia, but have little reach outside, and some artists, especially the emerging artists who have pretensions of national reach, end up moving to Sao Paulo or to Rio in order to get into these larger art circuits.

Penetrating the economic system (As a young artist)
Living in a country where labor relations in the arts and culture sector are extremely precarious makes it hard to make a living as an artist, but being non-white and/or non-male makes it even harder. The circuits are dominated by expectations of what a "profitable" artist should be; the thing is, those expectations are overwhelmingly narrow.

Brasilia’s contradictions
Brasilia is internationally recognized by its modernist architecture and this is intensely reflected in the local artistic production, which, although not always modernist, is still very formalist. This is one characteristic that I identify in Brasilia's art scene. Another one is that it's also very influenced by what happens in the University of Brasilia. All in all, the art scene ends up being less welcoming to artistic manifestations that do not come from these places.

On intuition
In 2019 I was working for about a year at a local art gallery. By then I had already been involved in the production of quite a few exhibitions. An interest in curation and collective creation by artists' groups began to grow. Shortly before working at the art gallery, while being an art student, I worked as a graphic designer. Digital marketing was booming so, feeling like it could be an interesting gesture, I wondered how I could use everyday resources for artistic creation. GUAVA emerged then as a project of insertion of contemporary art imagery into daily circuits of a life increasingly overrun by the rulings of neoliberalism.

Creating space where there wasn’t  
So I had the technical skills to put together an online art gallery. Being online would allow me to present complex projects with limited resources. Plus, added to my previous interest in the epistemology of images was the desire to present curatorial projects that could engage with recurring subjects in my artwork, such as gender, decoloniality, body, and self-representation in contemporaneity. I decided to focus GUAVA on Latin American contemporary art by women, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+ artists and curators.

The dropped last names
Naming is definitely one of the most difficult steps in the process. When conceiving GUAVA I started by the easy way, that is, I thought about how a lot of art galleries are named after their owners. Then I mapped the last names of women from my family, all of whom were immigrants obliged to legally change their last names at marriage and to name their children after their husbands only, in an attempt to restore their identities. Gava was one of those dropped last names. It stuck in my mind. Gava is both short and strong. I could simply add one vogal to turn it into guava, an English word for a native fruit of Latin America. It was perfect not only because of its sound and meaning, but also because I could work with the sphere when developing GUAVA's logo.

The sphere as a non-phallic shape  
I've been intuitively surrounding myself with spheric shapes for a while now and, upon realizing that, I started speculating on how it could be a counterpoint to phallic architecture, to phallogocentrism. The moon is often regarded as a connection to the indomitableness of womanhood. There's the Moon Salutation, which has Utkata Konasana, the Goddess squat, in its sequence. So I decided to adopt a white sphere, that is, a minimalist representation of a guava that could also be a representation of anything that's white, or colorless, and round, as GUAVA's logo.

On social media projects
At first GUAVA took place on Instagram, but soon I realized that it was fairly limited for artistic proposals. I cannot post a nude, this canonical subject in the male-dominated Western art, without censoring the nipples and the genitals. Even intricate digital pieces need to be adapted for an Instagram post, a move that could potentially flatten a wide range of interpretations of the artwork and its experience.

The -web- space
We have seen since 2020 the rise of many online art exhibitions and projects on websites. It seemed that GUAVA should grow bigger. I felt a huge excitement for the fact that net art was gaining more acceptance. One year before I had somewhat struggled to find opportunities to gain exposure for my work, but I felt like maybe now I should take a step further. So, once again, I drew on my experience as a graphic designer and on some background in HTML/CSS and I started to design a website for GUAVA.

In 2019, as well as founding GUAVA, I began working on an internet art project, "Nonada". I'd been experimenting with digital art a lot and I wasn't quite sure on how to exhibit my digital pieces. For five months I made video performances, self-portraits, texts, a virtual installation, and more. I published  "Nonada" first in December 2019. After a couple of months I felt like it was not ready yet, so I took it offline. From the end of 2020 to January 2021 I refined the website. I guess I was more aware of the fact that I was working on a "website-specific" project, so I could go deep into digital culture. Nudes and GIFs were added to the website, as well as interactive audio players, overlayed texts and a bunch of hyperlinks. Throughout the whole process I checked Rhizome's Net Art Anthology out a lot of times. I love it and highly recommend it.

Nonada is an internet art project composed of five videos, four texts, a virtual installation, and dozens of images. The result of approximately five months of digital file production in 2019, Nonada is a website that emulates my desktop. The digital pieces are accessed by clicks according to the will of whoever is exploring the work. Strongly influenced by notions of psychoanalytic theory, post-pornography, and autofiction, I turned dreams, emotional and political experiences, and images such as nudes and gifs into a digital archive conceived as a hypermedia platform.

Screen captures of "Nonada" (2019 – 2021).

To sell or not to sell
From the very start GUAVA gravitates towards a will to do differently. You see, I'm not saying I have the answer, but I can tell you for sure that there are many examples of what not to do. GUAVA strives to keep distance from what is seen as the dominant centers of artistic production. By the sheer experience of living in the Global South we can tell that this is not working. It is clear that the structures that ground society are in ruins because they're rooted in control and violence. It's a cycle that perpetuates itself. So I'm trying to figure out how not to be part of this cycle of control and violence.

On NFT´s
In my experience, NFTs might be an alternative for artists on the margins of the art world to support themselves by selling their artwork. Since the blockchain allows transactions to be made directly by its users, it also allows for the decentralization of trust, as we don't have to rely on third parties, such as banks, to make financial transactions. I've been in touch with the community of Hic et Nunc, a Brazilian NFT platform, since last March. Hic et Nunc is a eco-friendly Crypto art marketplace and it's heavily based on decentralized systems. When we launched "jardim", a project by Taís Koshino, we linked it to her Hic et Nunc page, which was filled with images she made from her digital simulation, and called it "gift shop (御土産)".

Intersection between production and curation
Recently I invited Thiago Granai, a long-time friend and contributor, to be a resident curator at GUAVA. We're planning to present a couple of exhibitions later this year. We're keen to explore ways to horizontalize and expand the platform while enhancing the thinking behind presenting and executing online art projects.

Being an artist-curator puts me in a place of freedom. I feel like I have a very free attitude towards curating, in the sense of artistic research. As my curatorial projects dialogue with my artwork, I realize that my view as an artist has an effect on my work as a curator and, at the same time, my view as a curator has an effect on my work as an artist. Like a snake eating its own tail.

GUAVA is an online artist-run gallery. Founded in 2019 by Mariana Destro, it is a curatorial platform for exhibitions and projects made especially for the internet. Focused on Latin American contemporary art by women, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+ artists and curators, GUAVA aims to build closer dialogue between artistic practices and the broader fields of society, never letting go of the ephemeral nature of a world in constant change.

Mariana Destro (Brasilia, 1993) lives and works between Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia. She is a Brazilian visual artist and curator, graduated in Visual Arts from the University of Brasilia (UnB). Since 2015 she has participated in exhibitions in Brazilian cities such as Brasilia, Curitiba, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo. Guided by notions of gender, decoloniality, eroticism, and self-representation in contemporaneity, her artistic practice explores the nature of image-making of women in the Global South through mixed media like video, performance, photography, and installation, often associated with curation. Recent exhibitions include the solo shows Garden (deCurators, Brasilia, Brazil), curated by Marília Panitz, and Monstera deliciosa (Casa Voa, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) and the group shows Festival de C4nn3$ (Lona Galeria, São Paulo, Brazil), Palavra, animal não doméstico (Espaço Piloto, Brasilia, Brazil), O Lado Côncavo (Casa da Cultura da América Latina, Brasilia, Brazil), ONDEANDAAONDA (Espaço Cultural 508 Sul, Brasilia, Brazil), and the 12th Curitiba International Biennial of Contemporary Art (Curitiba, Brazil).

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