Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca, Swinguerra, 2019. Two-channel video (color, sound; 21:16 minutes), dimensions variable. General Acquisition Fund, Fotene Demoulas and Tom Coté Art Acquisition Fund, and Anonymous Art Acquisition Fund. Courtesy the artists and Fortes D’aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. © Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca
In a collaborative practice begun in 2013, Brazilian photojournalist Bárbara Wagner and German-born Irish artist Benjamin de Burca create video and installation works that explore contemporary histories of underground dance and musical genres. Initially trained in journalism and fine arts, respectively, their prolific moving image works have centered on urban subcultures in the South Atlantic diaspora, from the Franco-Indo creole musical genre maloya to frevo dancers and brega singers in Recife, Brazil, where the artists live and work. Their approach merges the cinematic with the fictional, documentary, and ethnographic to address questions of surveillance, visibility, and creativity in an increasingly connected, postcolonial world.
A representative example of their acclaimed collaborative approach, Swinguerra focuses on disadvantaged queer communities of color in Recife, with an emphasis on transgender and nonbinary performers. The film features three contemporary dance styles—swingueira, brega funk, and passinho da maloca—as performed by the competitive dance groups Cia; Extremo; Grupo La Mafia; and Bonde do Passinho/As do Passinho S.A. These mixed dance styles recall Brazil’s colonial history and the slave trade, where music and dance functioned as discreet methods of organizing politically under an oppressive state. With a nod to this history, the two-channel video, which takes its title from a blending of the words “swingueira” (the dance style) and “guerra” (“war” in both Portuguese and Spanish), frames its subjects and its viewers in opposing yet not antagonistic positions. Rather, the dual screen installation echoes the dance battle’s call-and-response form of public address, set to the rhythmic stylings of Brazilian hip-hop. Fast-paced, athletic, sexy, dreamlike, and aggressive, the dance styles, like the music, make Swinguerra an exhilarating and unforgettable viewing experience and illustrates how dance and music offer rich sources of agency, resistance, and community for marginalized subjects.