Empresário, 2012

Archival inkjet print, 26 x 26 in.
Documentation of performance with 11 meter scroll

Plastic and hand-stenciled lettering in acrylic paint

Empresário transcribes a conversation with a friend and resident of the favela of Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro in the aftermath of the government’s invasion and “pacification” of the favela in 2011. Reflecting on the moment when the ruling drug trafficker of the favela was arrested, we discuss the nature of peace, safety and leadership. 

English translation of Empresário: 

Stephanie: A businessman? 

Inês: Yes, a businessman - one who sold crap…sold cocaine, sold drugs, didn’t pay taxes. But he did pay off the cops!

S: He paid a lot...with his freedom. 

I: Do you understand?

S: Yes, I do. 

I: That’s about it...

S: But you’re saying he was nothing but a businessman?

I: He was a businessman! He didn’t pay taxes but he paid bribes to the police. And so what? How many others are also paying off someone? How many are stealing?

S: Before?

I: How many steal? Stephanie, see if you understand. We are in Brazil. I don’t know how it is in your country…there are thieves everywhere. How many steal? How many cheat on their taxes?

S: A lot. 

I: How many bribe the Federal Police?

S: Everyone does this.  

I: Everyone does this. Why was Nem different than the others?

S: A different soul. 

I: That’s it.

S: ...a soul.

I: ...a different soul. It doesn’t matter what he did, I see him in a different way. Yeah, you can speak badly of him...yeah, he killed! He did kill people. He did what he did. Look, he always had his motivations...there were always motives and reasons. Do you understand? 

S: Of course I do. 

I: He was a man.  

S: I felt the same thing. 

I: He had reasons and motives to act in a certain way and do certain things…he did. He didn’t kill someone just because they were a certain thing. He gave you a chance first. 

S: Nem gave you a chance?

I: Nem gave you a chance.  

S: How so?

I: You messed up once, twice, three times…when you reached four times, then he talked to you. What's going on? Are you going to keep screwing us over? Here in Rocinha robbery was something unthinkable. No one could rob.  

S: This is something Zoe and I always talked about, because we went everywhere in the city, but arriving back here, I always felt a kind of relief. To get here, only at the bottom of the hill, there’s already this…

I: It feels like you can breathe.  

S: Yeah! It’s like you can breathe.  

I: This sensation...

S: This sensation always impressed me. 

I: It’s so alive...

S: So alive...

I: Such a satisfying, warm feeling, right?

S: Seriously! A sensation I've never had in my life...of arriving home, in your space...I’m at home here, here no one’s going to mess with me...here no one...

I: No one is going to rob me...

S: No one is going to rob me here...well, in the United States I also knew that no one would mess with me, because hardly anyone messes with anyone, at least where I lived. But there wasn’t this alive feeling, there wasn’t the soul, there was never this thing of coming home…

I: I’m safe...

S: I’m safe, not only physically - here no one is going to mess with me, no one is going to rob me, but it’s like I am...I am a part of this union. 

I: Look, get this straight. In a certain way, all of us here…what has hurt us the most, what no one stops to think about…I’ve already thought about it…do you know what made me the most sad?

S: What made you the most sad?

I: What made me the most sad is that because with the police we have…I think people haven’t realized that certain things...one of the things we’ll never have here again…do you know what that is?

S: What? What Inês? Tell me.

I: Peace.

S: Peace?

I: Peace is inside each one of us…what we’re never going to have again is ease, or peace of mind [sossego].

S: Peace of mind?

I: Yeah. We will not experience the same security, the same peace of mind, to walk about freely, go out, leave our doors open, this guarantee...

S: Yeah. This is what feels so good.

I: We won’t have this anymore. We won’t have...

S: Yeah, but this unity, wait...it’s this unity that I’ve always felt here. Everywhere I went in the rest of the city, it’s like...you don’t feel a sense of unity. People don’t live as if they were living inside a community, a nation, like you said that Rocinha is a nation. 

I: I think Rocinha was a nation. I think it was…no, it continues to be…it’s just that we, to a certain extent, have to learn how to live without a leader. Without leadership…

S: Wow. We have to learn how to live without a leader? 

I: Without this leadership that kept us safe. But was Nem a leader? I think he was. He led us in a certain way. Leadership is something...

S: Wow Inês, I don’t think you realize how wise you are...is that the right word? 

I: This is why I was really sad, because…how can I say this? When that door was closed…when Nem was inside the police car and when I saw the door close, I said…fuck. With that door closed, now this other door has opened. This door to Rocinha has opened for everything bad…everything. And we’re going to go back to being a lawless land. But today, I’m an adult…you know, Stephanie. Today, I am an adult. When I lived in a lawless land, here on the inside, it was really bad. It was really bad. I was never scared - I never felt scared in here, scared of anyone. I’m not scared of the police. Behind that uniform there, there is a human being. Why would I be scared of the police? It’s the same thing as behind that gun, behind that drug trafficker, there is a human being too. The only difference between the drug traffickers and the police is that one has a formal work contract and the other doesn't.  

S: That's true.

I: One has security, official documents, and the other doesn't. We felt a lot at that moment. I said: "Man, it’s over."