Jaider Esbell, Letter to the Old World, 2021. © Victor & Simon / Joana Luz

Though it’s dark, still I sing, Works from the 34th Bienal de São Paulo

Parc des Ateliers
Les Forges
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The LUMA guides invite you to discover the exhibition! This presentation has been designed as a moment of exchange, providing keys to understanding the different artistic approaches.

  • Date and time: Wednesday and Friday at 10:30 a.m. / Thursday at 3:00 p.m. / Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. (except in exceptional cases)
  • Meeting point : Entrance to the exhibition / Les Forges
  • Duration : 15 minutes

The exhibition will show for the first time in France a number of key contemporary practitioners’ work from around the globe. It will showcase some of the most innovative concepts created by contemporary artists today alongside experimental works by established practitioners from recent decades.

The 34th Bienal de São Paulo was conceived with a desire for diversity and versatility, offering a polyphony of artistic projects. Starting at the Bienal’s main venues in São Paulo, different iterations have been presented in other cities, in São Luís (MA), Campinas (SP), São José do Rio Preto (SP), Campos do Jordão (SP), Belo Horizonte (MG), Fortaleza (CE), Belém (PA), Rio de Janeiro (RJ) and Santiago (Chile).

Though it’s dark, still I sing, Works from the 34th Bienal de São Paulo marks the first exhibition of this Bienal hosted in Europe and in France. Shown at Les Forges in LUMA Arles, the selection of artworks reflects on questions of perception, transformation and how different realities can coexist. These are presented through a plurality of media, including installations, sound experiments, paintings, videos, photographs and letters.

Structured around a series of statements, Though it’s dark, still I sing, Works from the 34th Bienal de São Paulo, highlights fourteen artists from seven countries, bringing into dialogue political narratives, post-colonialist issues, environmental concerns and indigenous beliefs.

The traveling exhibitions of the 34th Bienal de São Paulo were developed around a series of ‘statements’ that were selected by the curatorial team. The Portraits of Frederick Douglass, The Death Watch [A Ronda da Morte] by Hélio Oiticica, The Bell of Ouro Preto and Tikmū’ūn Songs punctutate the exhibition and function like conceptual structures. Focusing on ideas of immaterial objects or narratives with compelling histories around which artworks and artists come together, these ‘statements’ aim to produce new readings of the artworks’ meaning while setting the tone for a journey through time and space.  

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What does the title of the exhibition "Though it's dark, still I sing" refer to? What was the curatorial process of creating this exhibition? Why present it in Arles? How can it be a symbol of resistance in Brazil but also in Europe? We interviewed Jacopo Crivelli Visconti, the chief curator of the 34th Bienal de São Paulo. Victor & Simon

Participating artists include:

Victor Anicet, Zózimo Bulbul, Seba Calfuqueo, Manthia Diawara, Jaider Esbell, Noa Eshkol, Naomi Rincón Gallardo, Carmela Gross, Sueli Maxakali, Gala Porras-Kim, Alice Shintani, Amie Siegel, Regina Silveira, Daiara Tukano

Watch the artists' interviews


The traveling exhibitions of the 34th Bienal de São Paulo were developed around a series of ‘statements’ that were selected by the curatorial team. Focusing on ideas of immaterial objects or narratives with compelling histories, around which artworks and artists come together these ‘statements’ aim to produce new readings of the artworks’ meaning while setting the tone for a journey through time and space.

  • The Portraits of Frederick Douglass
  • The Death Watch [A Ronda da Morte] by Hélio Oiticica
  • The Bell of Ouro Preto 
  • Tikmũ’ũn Songs

About the statement The Portraits of Frederick Douglass
Born in Talbot County, Maryland (USA), in February 1817 (or 1818, depending on source), Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was the son of an enslaved black mother and a probably white father who never recognized him – perhaps the plantation owner or overseer where his mother was forced to work. Despite numerous obstacles, he learned to read and write in his childhood and adolescence. He even organized literacy classes for other enslaved people like him. After some unsuccessful attempts, in 1838 he managed to flee to New York, which had abolished slavery in 1827. However, the dread and insecurity caused by slave catchers forced him to quickly move to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he adopted the Douglass surname. Eloquent, charismatic and having lived realities that gave him a powerful perspective on society, Douglass promptly began an extraordinary career as a writer, orator, politician and, above all, activist for the abolition of slavery – which only became a reality in the United States in 1865. He became one of the most acclaimed and admired figures in the anti-slavery struggle. In 1895, when he died, Douglass was regarded as one of the most important men in US history.

In 1841, Douglass commissioned his first photographic portrait. He was fully aware that his image as a free black man could reverberate and amplify the anti-slavery fight. In a pioneering way, Douglass realized that the extensive circulation that the photographic medium allowed would be of utmost importance in helping the anti-racist struggle and the fight against post-abolition segregation. No wonder, over the next five decades or so, he would become the most photographed person in nineteenth century America, demonstrating enormous mastery over his pose, dress, appearance, and framing. This unique portrait corpus is presented in the 34th Bienal de São Paulo, in almost its entirety, for the first time as part of an art exhibition.

Under Douglass’ penetrating and challenging gaze, works produced in different moments and contexts weave a complex and rhizomatic narrative, which reaffirms the importance of looking back, today, to the displacement, violence and resistance processes that scarred and continue to wound the lives of uncountable people. In these works, flows of images, cultures, and bodies intersect. They are the witnesses of the possibility to metabolize past and present traumas as fuel to demand the construction of the foundations of a fairer future.

About the statement The Death Watch [A Ronda da Morte] by Hélio Oiticica
Hélio Oiticica (b. Brazil, 1937 – 1980) lived in New York during the military dictatorship’s most violent years, those after Institutional Act No. 5 (AI-5) promulgation in December 1968. Back in Brazil in 1978, the artist realized he could no longer meet many of the people he befriended in Rio’s favelas and samba parties in the mid-1960s. He attributed these absences to the State’s systematic annihilation of part of the population. Shaken by the brutal execution of yet another of his friends in the following year, Oiticica wrote a letter to photographer Martine Barrat describing a “parangolé-area” called A Ronda da Morte [The Death Watch]. Similar to a black circus tent, it would be an inviting environment with strobe lights and music playing inside for people to come in and dance. While the party would go on inside the tent, horseback men emulating a police patrol would surround it.

The work, which was never carried out, was planned to be presented for the first time in 2020 for the 34th Bienal. This was made impossible due to the pandemic. However, A Ronda da Morte, represented by archival documents, was incorporated as a statement, in dialogue with works that had already been exhibited in past Biennials – as the present mobilizes the opportunity to revisit its original meaning, or even to elaborate on it – as well as alongside works that address situations of State violence and stress the limit between past and present and the idea of repetition in history.

About the statement The Bell of Ouro Preto 
The Capela de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Brancos [Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary of the White Men], most commonly known as Padre Faria Chapel, is a small church in Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais, which has a bell tower that bears a bronze bell that was cast in Germany in 1750. On April 21, 1792, this bell was the only one in the colony to toll in open disobedience to the official order that forbade homage to the crown’s enemy. The bell tolled as regret for Tiradentes’ execution, the only Inconfidência Mineira [Minas Gerais Conspiracy] participant whose death sentence was not revoked. With the independence of Brazil and the Proclamation of the Republic, the Minas Gerais’ martyr was declared a national hero. And the bell that tolled in his homage became a symbol of the struggle for the country’s sovereignty and, in 1960, on another April 21, it was taken to Brasília, hoisted beside a replica of the cross used in the first mass held in Brazil, and rang for the new capital’s inauguration.

At the 34th Bienal, the statement raises questions such as: what does it mean, today, to look again at this bell so strongly marked by the history of the colonial period, to feel the time that continues to settle on it? What echoes from Brazil and the world reach, today, to the old Vila Rica and reverberates in the bronze of this bell?

About the statement Tikmũ’ũn Songs
The Tikmũ’ũn, also known as Maxakali, are Indigenous people from the area that today encompasses the Minas Gerais, Bahia, and Espírito Santo states. After countless and recurrent episodes of violence and abuse dating to colonial times, the Tikmũ’ũn came to the brink of extinction in the 1940s and were forced to abandon their ancestral lands to survive. Songs organize life in the villages, constituting almost an index of all the elements of their daily lives, like plants, animals, places, objects, knowledge, and of their rich cosmology. Often intended for healing, most of these songs are collectively sung. 

In the context of an exhibition conceived, lyrically and metaphorically, in and through the songs’ necessity and power, the example of the Tikmũ’ũn resonates powerfully, also from a political point of view: the community effort is renewed constantly through their singing to collectively create a universe. In the 34th Bienal de São Paulo’s traveling exhibition, around this statement are grouped works that address reflections on the need to preserve the environment and safeguard cultures and knowledge that are transmitted orally from generation to generation, such as the Tikmũ’ũn songs.

About the Bienal de São Paulo traveling exhibition program
The traveling exhibition program of the Bienal de São Paulo is in its sixth edition in 2022. Throughout 2019, the traveling exhibition for the 33rd Bienal visited eight cities, one of which was abroad, totalling more than 170,000 visitors.

“The program supports art and its positive impact on the area of education and citizenship. Partnerships with institutions in each location allow for the diffusion of the work outside of the art circuit in the city of São Paulo, allowing it to be seen by new eyes and fresh sensibilities. In addition to the exhibitions, the initiative includes educational and promotional activities tied into the Fundação’s mission of integrating culture and education into everyday life”, affirms José Olympio da Veiga Pereira, president of the Fundação Bienal.

This year the program has already visited the following cities: São Luís (MA), Campinas (SP), São José do Rio Preto (SP), Campos do Jordão (SP), Belo Horizonte (MG), Fortaleza (CE), Belém (PA), Rio de Janeiro (RJ) and Santiago (Chile). 

About Fundação Bienal de São Paulo
Founded in 1962, Fundação Bienal de São Paulo is a non-profit private institution with no political or religious affiliations, whose actions aim to democratize access to culture and stimulate interest in artistic creation. Every two years Fundação Bienal organizes the Bienal de São Paulo, the largest art exhibition in the southern hemisphere, and its itinerant exhibitions in several cities in Brazil and abroad. The institution is also the guardian of two artistic and cultural heritages in Latin America: a historical archive of modern and contemporary art that is a reference in Latin America (Arquivo Histórico Wanda Svevo), and the Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion, the Foundation’s headquarters, designed by Oscar Niemeyer, listed by the National Historic and Artistic Heritage Institute. The Fundação Bienal de São Paulo is also responsible for the task of idealizing and producing Brazilian representations at the Venice Biennale of art and architecture, a prerogative granted decades ago by the Federal Government in recognition of the excellence of its contributions to the culture of Brazil.

The title of the 34th Bienal de São Paulo, ‘‘Faz escuro mas eu canto’’ [Though it’s dark, still I sing], is a verse by Brazilian poet Thiago de Mello.

Curated by Jacopo Crivelli Visconti, Chief Curator of the 34th Bienal de São Paulo and Vassilis Oikonomopoulos, Director of Exhibitions and Programs  LUMA Arles  – Though it’s dark, still I sing is part of the traveling program of the Bienal.

The exhibition is produced and organized by LUMA Arles and Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, with kind support from ENGIE Foundation.

The Fundação Bienal de São Paulo is sponsored by Itaú; Instituto Vale; Instituto Votorantim; Bloomberg; Bahia Asset; Unipar; SESC; Alupar; EMS; Rede D’Or; XP; CSN; B3; Verde Asset; JP Morgan; Iguatemi São Paulo; Osklen; JHSF; Credit Suisse; Iochpe-Maxion; Klabin; JSL; BR Partners; Mattos Filho; Racional; Ageo Terminais; Grupo Ultra; Singulare; Hermes Pardini; Banco ABC; Rodobens.


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