The plastic arts, including painting, sculpture, murals, and many forms of
regional artisanship, are an infinitely rich field of cultural expression in
the MST. Along with theatre, music, literature, and architecture, they present
a creative foundation for one of the primary lines of cultural critique advanced
by the Movement's Culture Collective: that the overwhelming, monopolized penetration
of mass-media into the countryside often smothers something quite fundamental
to the development of individuals and communities - the desire to create beauty.
For the MST, cultural democratization not only involves diversification of what
is available in terms of consumption, but also the democratization of the means
of cultural production, so that everyone is empowered to explore and develop
their own creativities. As Ademar Bogo, a poet and theorist of the MST Culture
Collective, writes, due to the mass-media model of exclusive inclusion 'people
end up believing that everything arrives prefabricated, and we lose the most
profound and dignified quality of human beings: the sense that we are creative.
Each one of us, in our own way, is an artist, painter, poet, sculptor . . .
We need to rescue in each person this will to create, so that what we construct
with our hands has beauty'.
The examples of plastic arts documented in these photos can be roughly divided
into two groups. The first group includes paintings, woodcarvings, and sculpture
by individual artists, most of which are left unsigned, or marked only with
a first name or initials, indicating in a certain sense a quite personal, non-professional
connection between the artist and the work. These works portray the dignity,
beauty, and hopes of the Landless, helping to re-signify that very term from
a negative - those without the very basic means of production and social reproduction
in the countryside - into a positive. As expressed in these works, Landlessness
is an affirmative identity for those who have become agents of their own dreams
for a better life and a more just world. These paintings and sculptures also
draw upon and further invest with meaning symbols of the collective history
and aspirations of the MST: tools such as machetes, scythes, and axes; the fence,
as an obstacle to be confronted and overcome; the movement's flag; land, both
asbarren and divided and as lush and accommodating modest human habitation.
These works are sporadically dispersedthroughout the spaces territorialized
by the MST, for example, state and national level offices of the movement, farmers'
markets where settled activists bring their agricultural production, and the
Agrarian Reform Store in São Paulo.
The second group of works here includes large-scale murals. Mural painting
has become an important element of state and national level congresses of the
MST. The murals, coordinated by experienced artists from organizations such
as the Movement of Artists of the March (Movimento de Artistas da Caminhada)
working in solidarity with MST activists, are conceived of and painted collectively.
Important themes defining the particular congress are allegorically developed
into the mural, and they also draw upon and strengthen the symbols of the MST.
In one mural, a group of hands joyously raises a loaf of bread over the ruins
of barbed wire fences and guns. In another mural, commemorating the congress
ending the long march to Brasília, countless feet step away from the
despair in the margins of the painting and toward the hope represented in the
center by an abundance of crops and a healthy baby held by three hands, with
skin-tones representing Brazil's African, European, and Indigenous ethnicities.