Like almost every other democracy in the world right now, Brazil is suffering from a serious dip into racist, misogynist, fascistic, autocratic territory. Under the leadership of Jair Bolsonaro (a man who has openly praised and yearned for his country’s dictatorial past), hate crimes are on the rise and divisions between race, class, sexuality, and gender have deepened with a vengeance. It’s all too easy for the millions left disenfranchised to give up hope, particularly in the midst of a non-response to the coronavirus pandemic that is perhaps second only to the Trump administration.
As is usually the case, art has become a vital lifeline for both resistance and preserving hope in such trying times, and there are few individuals or organizations presenting a solution as comprehensive as Cobertura. The brainchild of photographer Cassia Tabatini and art director Marcelo Alcaide, Cobertura is a multidisciplinary project aimed at representing Brazil’s disenfranchised creative youth and empowering them with the means to express themselves, which would otherwise be nonexistent.
It began as a marathon 48-hour photo shoot on various rooftops around São Paulo, functioning as a party and creative hub with an impromptu cast of models found through friends, through scouting on social media, and through random attendees who happened to be in the right moment at the right time. The foremost goal was representation; giving luscious, visual life to the multitude of youth of all backgrounds who populate Brazil, or, as Tabatini tells us over the phone, “to give some space and voice to people who are suffering more.”
The ephemeral experience of bringing everyone together proved infectious, and it led to immersive performances and events in gallery spaces around the country (pre-pandemic). In the time since it has only continued to blossom, expanding outward to encompass further photographs, artworks, and now even fashion — the overarching emphasis remaining on collaboration, community, and giving voice to the voiceless.
We spoke to Tabatini and Alcaide to expand on Cobertura and its massive potential, along with a deep dive into the genesis of the project through some of their initial photographs.
Cassia Tabatini: Most of the people [we shot] are into arts and fashion so it makes sense that they get involved. We do it all ourselves without support, so it became more what we can do together with them and make this net of connection with them a project by Marcelo and I. I guess they associate it as something they want to be part of, because it's their fight as well, and they are creatives too...
Marcelo Alcaide: Most of them are creatives, like Aya [in this photo] for example. She’s a DJ [and also] does incredible hair work. A lot of the casting was through our interpersonal networks, and we also explored the void of Instagram, through regular research on the specific characters we were looking for and open calls to see the response. On this day, we had already done around seven days in a row that we were shooting, choosing different locations in Rio, different lodges, different roof tops — particularly around this motto of how a cobertura is this interspace of congregation.
CT: This location was my favorite, it was super special... it was super high and we could see also the sea from there when the lights start to come out and the sun goes down, it was a magic moment...
MA: Ah the twins. They are insane performances, quite inspiring as you can read just from a single capture… and luckily there are many — what we’ve seen here, it’s not even like a fourth of the work that we have, because we use so many different mediums during the different series. Cassia recorded a great interview of them where we had all these discussions where they explained their motivations, their roots... They come from like a big nomad family, the father was a rodeo clown.
CT: The twins grew up traveling in Brazil with their father who was a clown in rodeo, so they have this background and they adopted some of the aesthetics, like the red blush as makeup... they also performed at the gallery during our show. It was a beautiful collaboration and full of meaning for us; it is great when we can add that to our show, the creatives that collaborated in the making of the image.
MA: One of our additional goals with Cobertura is to bring it to more institutional places — like these galleries — to bring all these parties together in a place where you usually wouldn’t see it without objectifications; Promoting the intervenient to use the space not only through the pictures we have captured but to also bring them to perform, play music, with their own art. Unfortunately there is still a long way to go in terms of access to these spaces.
MA: This was shot at the back of the laje at Morro do Pinto — it's one of my favorite shots for the representativeness of it, in general. It feels like [our project] in a nutshell, their expressions represent so well that they have their own story and complexities, but at the same time the extreme harmony together of these three so distinct stories.
CT: Even knowing, as we said, that they are all creatives, or at least into arts, fashion, music or performing... they have different backgrounds and different stories... they come from different spaces, so it is great they come meet each other and maybe become friends from there or get to work together in the future.
MA: Following that, there is still a sense, globally, and particularly in Brazil, that these three complete different backgrounds would not really mix… They would not really commute with each other, right, Cassia?
CT: It is safe to say that 10 years ago, even the teens and young people were more separated, as social classes and also different backgrounds. It has started to dissolve, and it is great that it has moved toward this way.
MA: This is a part of an overview of the installation we did here in São Paolo at Casa Triângulo. The installations in the middle, those sculptures within the mannequins and the garment, they come from one of the ramifications of the project. The full project is essentially relational.
In Rio, we have Lucas Ribeiro, who grew up in Jacarepaguá, an artist retirement community where he ended up spending a lot of time during his life and developed a big connaissance about their fabrics and fashion history. I was quite mesmerized by it when I first met him and he told me his story. That association informed our will to take these representations out of usual 2D format... we decided to visit this artist community with Lucas and select garments, which we developed a collection from. We documented the whole process, selected these pieces, and afterward invited Fabio Gurjao to work on them with silkscreen in São Paulo. We developed this silk screen technique with him and chose a couple of pictures from the first series that we shot in Rio — deciding to re-appropriate these onto the garments, to give them more layers and to re-appropriate these bodies that we were already exploring — giving them a new life.
MA: Jessie is part of our first series in São Paulo back in March 2018. Jessie came by with a friend that we had invited to participate. [It was] another blast when we saw her walking in, and immediately we asked if we could shoot her. There was destiny in the interaction, and that is clear in every picture where she is portrayed.
CT: It is great to see how we can make a fashion image in a way that bodies are more democratic or distant from what society thinks as perfection. I think that this is a beautiful image and a representation of a powerful girl in her denim.
MA: Nina is an actress from Rio de Janeiro. She’s obviously stunning and with a captivating personality. We created with Cobertura several different series — such as Polaroid, Courreges, Telfar, Y/ Project or Random Identities. For this specific one part of Telfar we did slides that we could assemble together, like all these different shapes together turning into these big piece.
CT: This guy Grillo brought his family with him to our event where he did poetry. His verse was really, really strong, it talks about death to Bolsonaro and stuff. That's why I like him, he was really radical that night in Rio.
MA: We found his Instagram. Honestly, I don’t know how we actually got to him. It was only one video that he had, but the poetry was extremely strong, and at the time he didn’t even show it to many people. So he did it publicly for the first time in Rio when we shot; we invited him, obviously, to present it at the opening of Cobertura in Rio at Fortes D’Aloia and the one at Casa Triângulo in São Paulo where his voice and words would drive people through the show.
CT: I think the good thing is that these people now start to believe that they can do these things; they can be at a gallery, they can be in art space. It's possible.