Bacarau (2019), co-directed by Klebe Mendonca Filho and production designer Juliana Dornelles, is a dystopian-stroke wild-western film that left me deciphering scenes for countless days after. Multiple reviews of the film offered a direct reading of Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right globalist regime to the violent politics of the film. And yet, Mendoca and Dornelles refute direct readings as they reveal that Bolsonaro wasn’t even in power when they started shooting. It is, however, a credit to the film to be able to capture degrees of politics that reverberate through time. What’s more, the politics of the film now feels like it portended the context of COVID-19, specifically its mis-management in Manaus, the capital of the Brazillian state of Amazonas.


Manaus is currently suffering from the foray incurred by Bolsonaro’s public health crisis, as infections proliferate whilst hospitals are left without even the most basic of supplies. I read in an article that Vinicius Lima, a young volunteer, described the horrific scenes as a ‘Dantesque situation...we feel like we’re living in a place with no government’. It was while reading these words that I started to replay Bacaura’s haunting tale.





Bacarau is set in a fictional town, somewhere in the north-east of Brazil, and the ensuring horror-like quality of the film is instigated by the town’s people realisation that they have been cut off the grid - the town no longer appears on any satellite maps. It is this brutal severration which allows the small town to descend into a game-model warzone as North American and European tourists seek to violently eliminate the townsfolk for no particular reason bar sadistic pleasure. The true source to this blood splattering violence remains anonymous, and we never quite find out who is calling the shots as the team of tourists are ordered to aslo turn on each other. Poignantly, the invisible enemy is embodied in the combination of the North American/European invading tourists, just like Manau’s horror film was incubated in a traveller from the U.K on 13th March last year. Although yes, I am perhaps making a crude comparison to the transmission of covid-19 in Manau to the western invaders in the film, I am much more interested by the unsourced violence in the film - who is controlling the invaders?


In the GOVID-19 pandemic,the violence of death continues in Manaus and on our own shores as the staggering reductive statistic of 135,613 fails to account for each life lost. Manaus’ daily average for burials In January reached 185 a week - six times higher than the pre-pandemic level.





Whilst our government rendered our invisible source of violence as the newly mutated strain - what else could that faceless, nameless, power in the film represent bar the all encompassing powers of neoliberal policies. Because whilst governments, and especially our U.K government rhetorically blame and name the invisible face of the coronavirus - we must not forget that the anonymous source of this political violence causing devastation globally is neoliberalism.


Neoliberal policies created a world in which matters of public health fell behind matters of global trade, privatisation, production and wealth. Health became a matter of economic goods and a matter of individual concern. In the U.K we saw neoliberal ideology decimate the NHS with austerity measures as efficiency ruled over patient care, and cuts underfunded the staff, and limited hospital bed capacity. That is the face of covid-19, and that is the face we should remember.




And so what solution does the film offer us?


Bacarau’s townspeople rise up against the purposeless violence in a psychedelic infused powertrip, as we see individuals arm themselves with a pill. This narcotic-based impetus seems to be part of the story's resolution, but not in a simplistic “drugs are good” manner.. The hallucinogenic drug is offered to one of the main character’s as soon as she returns to the village. Having been away for an extended period of time, it is this act that seems to envelop her back into the uniqueness of the Bacaraun community. I ask, therefore, did the community need this additional freaky strength to defeat the enemy, or is it a hyperbolization of the strength generated from the power of the community? Both answers are true to the consequences of the pandemic in Manaus, and on a much wider scale, the world.


Because the overwhelming answer to both questions is YES. If the pandemic has shown us anything it is that where governments fail, communities have prevailed. And that is why perhaps the film offers a fatalistic view of our condition as voluntary communities in Manaus and all over the world will most likely need supersonic strength to cope with the pandemic- socially, economically and culturally. And this is where my analysis departs from the fiction because we sadly do not have a hallucinogenic pill that will provide resources, equipment, time, and coherent policy to combat this violence engulfing our existence.


We don’t need a pill. We need a fully functioning government that recognises the prioritisation of wealth accumulation, privatisation, and transnational corporatism is what got us here in the first place.















I stumbled across @lailahpoetry’s insta page the same way I find most of my cultural suggestions at the moment: an IG story shoutout, posted by @incoherent articulations (a friend whilst I worked at an amazing charity @globalone, and a budding artist who is also well worth your time). In my pre-bedtime scroll, I often follow or bookmark pages which I believe my future self will find interesting – save it for a later date – kind of vibe. I probably end up looking only at a fraction of those accounts, but @lailahpoetry’s Insta stories cut through the noise as I saw her non-chalantly breaking down famous rap pieces using literary devices. Although her stories focus predominantly on rap, she also translates and deconstructs Indian and Arabic songs – works which due to my linguistic inability are closed off to me. And so, before I had even read one of her poems, I was engaged with her desire to educate. Her bitesize lectures/stories make accessible literary terms but are also her attempt at bridging the “conceived gap” between rap and poetry. She is responding to a cultural debate that has long been questioned, recalling the publication of Jay Z’s book ‘Decoded’ in 2011 where Jay Z said that ‘his new book will show that rap is poetry’.


In many ways, Lailah’s positioning on the cultural debate, specifically, her desire for society to start viewing ‘modern day rappers…as poetic literary works’ sits in the same space that the decolonising the curriculum movement lives in. To explain – I studied an English Literature BA at Leeds uni, and I remember having lectures that mentioned Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Paul Mc Cartney, and there was even an optional module that focussed solely on David Bowie’s works. Jazz artists also made an appearance and how they influenced literary conventions – Jackie Kay’s ‘Trumpet’ springs to mind, but rap didn’t quite fit the bill. That is not to say that the lecturers definitively believed that rap isn’t poetry. But, it highlighted a mentality in which rap artists were not equated to historic greatness, or, didn’t reach a cultural apotheosis that deserved a mention. That, or they just didn’t listen to rap (also plausible). The question should be asked – why weren’t rap lyrics used as poetic examples in my course? Why, as Lailah addresses, is rap not valued in the high-brow literary sphere?


Lailah’s bitesize lectures are an artery to the decolonising the curriculum heart as she underscores the literary value in the rap’s craft and also chooses non-English pieces – beyond the coloniser’s language. It may not first seem apparent how the decolonising the curriculum movement reaches out towards your Insta feed, but it does, as an educational and systemic movement – it should live everywhere. How you personally educate yourself is your responsibility, and if your bookshelf is filled with the “classics”-aka lot’s of old white dudes, the you should think about how your online content reflects that.


Lailah’s insta page, like most millennial or gen Z poets, is her personal poetry collection: from standard to visual poems to spoken word and rap performances. In a “how I wrote” video of her rap “24 years”, she distinguishes rap from her use of the aforementioned forms by the sense of ‘bravado’ the form provides her with. This feeling acts as an enabler – it frees her from a constraining self-consciousness that is washed away by a leading beat. Lailah’s reasoning made me self-reflect: in the absence of a beat, are our authorial choices preyed upon by our linguistic and artistic insecurities? In silence, how can we drown out the noise?



Although her rap may exude more bravado, all her words are filled with character and, more often than not, political meditation. In “Times like these” (November 2020), Lailah destabilizes the reality of freedom in our current democracy, as she delineates acts of political violence the state performs. She admonishes the state’s use of terminology and classification to exert legislative power and she personally laments over the “terrorist” and “barbaric” profiles. Like many poets before her, she draws upon the strength of putting pen to paper and contrasts the freedom to create, rhyme and punctuate in her poetic space against a policed and surveillance state.


Another favourite is ‘disconnect: a lockdown inspired diary entry’ (October 2020). Lailah captures the painful longing of life before - of the insignificant made significant details of our life we can’t help but miss.


And if you can take away anything from Lailah’s page is that words matter, because she writes in “biro – not pencil”.


Link to Lailah's instagram page - https://www.instagram.com/lailahpoetry/





Hunter's Dream (2012) by Andrew Qappik - Inuit: Pangnirtung, Canada


Last week, I had the honour of slipping into the 'Arctic: Culture and Climate' Exhibition at

the British Museum just before it shut its doors due to the newly enforced Tier 3 restrictions in London. I don't take saying the word honour lightly, but this is exactly the feeling that followed my steps as I emerged from the visual and cultural reconstruction of Arctic existence, charting thousands of years of resilience. Images of blazing white landscapes lost in indistinguishable horizons; indigenous artwork; pieces of original clothing and tools all worked together to depict a unique culture that places people as part of a living, breathing ecosystem. This stands in opposition to global capitalist logic which places people and nature in distinct spheres, and has always treated nature as an infinite, and extractable resource. Ecofeminist theory argues that we have been able to sustain the chimera that economic growth is a neutral process that pursues freedom through individual wealth, precisely because the costs of these incursions are relegated to that which has already been devalued - Indigenous people, womxn, peasants, colonised territories and nature. [1] And in this exhibition we see value in what the global capitalist system has rendered invaluable. But, we also see the perverse and inequitable cost of climate change burdened first on those on the Arctic frontline, whose inter-generational knowledge is becoming increasingly worthless as melting permafrost, rising sea levels, and unstable weather patterns have entirely changed the ecosystem they once knew and understood.


Kivalina, Alaska, 2007 - Brian Adams, Anchorage, Alaska. From the series Disappearing Villages


The Arctic currently has 4 million inhabitants which are located across territories covering Russia, USA, Canada, Denmark / Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland. [2] However, only 10% are indigenous to the region and belong to one or more of the 40 different cultural groups. (Although I refer to the ‘Arctic People’ in this piece, they are not one and the same. I do not seek to essentialise them, this is just for writing practicalities.) Indigenous people’s identities are not bound by colonial notions of nationhood but instead are connected to their land in a way that is ineffable to all non-indigenous people. It is their profound relationship to the environment which forces us to reassess ours.

The exhibition exalts an immediate shift of perspective as your first steps puddle over an atlas of the circumpolar north. My dad (because going to museums with your parents is cool) called me over to another map and remarked how much closer the U.K is placed to the North than he thought. This birds-eye visual creates a rapport, a reminder that we are not that far away even if our experiences in this London concrete jungle couldn't be further apart from those on the frontline. It also places the Arctic at the centre with both its people and its environment simultaneously playing the protagonist in this exhibition’s narrative. It is a tale mixed with enchanting lustre, and deep sadness as it is undergirded by the knowledge that the Arctic is currently the fastest warming region of the world.[3] The exhibition strives to provoke such emotions: it is a global call to arms which exposes a people's adaptability and a sustainable way of life that is almost unimaginable to the highest carbon consuming capitals of the world. Because the real difference, between Arctic culture and the capitals of the world, is that our culture is no longer shaped by the environment surrounding us rather, it is our carbon culture which carves and degenerates the environment.


Whilst I meandered through the multi-faceted and multi-mediad exhibition, I paradoxically experienced a sense of deceleration. Although the differently aged artefacts force you to peruse through huge swathes of time, the way of life that emanates from the walls takes on a slower pace and one that holds a greater affinity to the changing seasons. The exhibition's outstanding feature is undoubtedly the dynamic light sequence that is paired with an arctic seasonal soundscape which transports you away and into the Arctic. You feel an incessant need to keep glancing back at the wall so that you can catch the dark bluey-purple hues blossom into a lightening spring. The seasonal lights remain front of mind due to aesthetic appeal, but also aptly mirrors the relationship of the changing seasons to the Arctic people and how their hunting routine depends on it.


Inupiat Elder Delano Barr talking on climate change


Inupiat Elder Delano Barr, in a 2 minute video, explains how climate change “messed everything up” and how they have had to change the way they think and the way they live. Hunting patterns to create food provisions which usually started in June are now carried out in April/May as the warming temperature means the ice has already melted by that time. The warming climate has forced their culture to become evanescent, a fading footprint amongst the melted snow.


I’ve recently been attending online events on how we can better communicate the problem of climate change - how can we use visual representation and culture to stir people, governments, and the world into action? Of course, this entire exhibition is exactly that, as it paints a historical narrative of adaptability and survival from a circumpolar perspective. But it poignantly does so without the mention of a statistic. There are multiple panels which seek to explain the changing effects of the environment, but it steers clear of numbers because it seeks to draw a much deeper connection to humanity.



It was these tiny two figurines, smaller than the size of my pinky and their explanatory transcript placed below them which I believe performed a perfect kind of climate change imagery in a horrifically blazé, apocalyptic manner. The transcript read:


“After producing significant amounts of art the Dorset people disappeared having failed to cope in a naturally shifting climate and competition for resources with Inuit ancestors”.


In the fell swoop of a single sentence the entire process of a people’s extinction was described, making the impermanence of our seeming permanence jarringly obvious.


What is happening now is not a naturally shifting climate, but one that has been caused by a global capitalist system that benefits off of pre-existing colonial power structures, and that will perpetually seek to expand and encroach on the many for the sake of the few.


Our cultural remnants, artefacts, iphones, TVs, cars, museums, buildings and planes may survive, the question these figurines posed was - will we?


The exhibition is open till the 2nd February (Tier 4 willing) and costs £18 for an adult ticket.


Sources:


[1] ed. by Ana Isla , Climate Chaos: Ecofeminism and the Land Question, (Toronto, Canada: INANNA Publications &Education Inc, 2019).


[2] Amber Lincoln, An introduction to the Arctic (2020) <https://blog.britishmuseum.org/an-introduction-to-the-arctic/> [accessed ].


[3] Zeke Hausfather, Analysis: Why the new Met Office temperature record shows faster warming since 1970s (2020) <https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-why-the-new-met-office-temperature-record-shows-faster-warming-since-1970s>