Belém, PA, 1995
Labo Young is fruit of the Amazon, the cancerian sun of Ana Cristina and Raimundo. Born and raised in Icoaraci, a district bathed by the Bay of Guajará and known for the preservation of Marajoara and Tapajônica culture. A few years ago he moved to Ilha do Mosqueiro, beginning to develop artwork that explores different medias such as photography, fashion and sound. His experiments start from the reframing of natural materials and other elements of his daily life to create a world of fantastical possibilities, where the human figure and form expand and transmute.
interview by Igor Furtado, published on 30/07/2020
What is the story of your family and how do they inspire you?
My family comes from generations of riverside dwellers, fishermen and farmers who live on islands not far from Belém. Over the years, some had to come to the capital in search of opportunities, while others remained. My paternal grandmother was born on Paquetá-Açu Island, which faces Icoaraci, where my grandfather is from and where they started their life together. They still live in the house next to mine. My mother's family is from Marajó Island. She moved to Icoaraci at a very young age looking for work and study and ended up building a relationship with my father. When I was a child we always traveled to Marajó on my maternal grandfather's boat to go to parties, to get food and not lose contact. These are memories and experiences that marked my childhood; the trips, the stories and the river. There is a lot of knowledge that has been passed down for generations and that has affected and transformed me in all ways. I was never able to enter any public or private college in my city. I feel that everything I have been learning and sharing with the world comes from a very deep place, which goes beyond academic teachings. I was very lucky to be born in a place and in a family where ancestral knowledge has always prevailed above anything. This reflects a lot on the way I have built my work in visual terms. It's about the spontaneity of my memory.
What do you like most about the sound of Pará?
My life was marked by my family's connection to music, especially from Pará. I think I had the best soundtrack of all. I remember the parties that took place on my street in the years 2000/90. I was very young, but all the articulation for an event to happen already fascinated me. Family gatherings, tables arriving, the ice truck, the açaí decorated in the days of Saint Sebastian. In addition to the affective memory that music brings me, it has also taught me a lot. One is to realize the importance of saying no to the various ways that the white and elitist world tries to impose on us. Their music may be good, but there will always be a much better Melody version. We use music as a tool to escape from colonialism. A kind of manifest and affirmation of who we are. The lyrics of the Melodys with the names of the neighborhoods of Belém, of the islands, the names of sound systems. This all carries a strength that we don't even notice, we just feel and celebrate because that's what keeps us alive, the suburbs alive.
Portrait of my Mother, Portrait of my paternal Grandmother and Father, Portrait of Aunts and Uncle, Personal Collection.
When did the interest in creating other ways of dressing and self-portraying started?
I think in my adolescence, around 15 years old, when I started to really understand my expression. In fact, I have always been a creative child, but in the beginning I did it all hidden. The experiments were only for me, with what was around. I didn't know yet that they carried power. I think there was already an urge to imagine new ways to satisfy my desires. This essence of imagination continued until I found fashion and other ways of dressing. I was creating a world of my own. Over time, I started to feel that I needed to show my friends, who were the first to encourage me to share and continue portraying myself. Building these images is also always a way of interacting with my sister, Samya, who helps me to register whatever I invent. Social media slowly started to provide a response and expansion and I went along with it.
Where did your relationship with the mask come from?
A few years ago I had to move to an island and live literally another life with my family. It was very difficult to deal with everything and stay strong. Several problems with my self-esteem and insecurity shook me a lot during this period. That's when I returned to those first child's games that still made a lot of sense to me. In this process of understanding and experiencing my body, the masks came as a shield for everything I felt. I remember times when I could only take pictures wearing masks. Maybe I was not aware of that feeling at the time, but today I realize that it may have been a symptom of these pains. The leaves have always been a cure for wounds that I didn't know how to deal with.
How do you feel about sharing your work, often done with your cell phone, on social media?
The cellphone is an accessory that's always with me and brings the possibility of recording everything at any time. My photography flows from everyday meetings and moments, so I never felt a difficulty of using it as a support. In fact, it may even be the best tool for me. If I could have a good camera it would be great too, but I have been thinking a lot about affirming my way of creating and the importance of processes. I prefer to create with people who are part of my life, like my family and friends. They aren't part of an “artistic atmosphere”, but they're always present in what I share. It reminds me of how many times I have produced visuals thinking only about Instagram. Today I realize how excluding this is. There are people on my street that have seen me grow and who don't know anything about “Labo Young”. This projection of the absurd and the need that social media creates so that we are always producing and posting, diminishes our artistic potency in a cruel way, making us forget that living is much more important than the final result of an image. I think that's why I often can't give subtitles or titles, the meaning is so big to me that it doesn't fit in words.
How has it been the process of starting to produce pieces that are beyond the photographic image construction dimension?
Earlier this year I had my first experience working this way. It was very difficult to have to create a look thinking about how to hold it for hours, since the fit of the leaf requires a certain sensibility. But I was able to share this project with people who were incredible and honest throughout the process. I believe working with people who bring lightness helps a lot in the creative process and makes things flow without so many worries about the idea of experimenting. I used as a basis the same techniques that I had been using in previous works. I usually make the moorings without using any material, only the leaf itself. This time I had to do a lot of research and understand how I could work with different vegetations, what are the names, their sensitivity, if they were malleable or not. In this experience I learned a lot about styling, even though I don't consider myself a stylist. I prefer to believe in the infinite possibilities of creative experimentation of the body, where the value is not only in a product but also in it's history.
M Magazine, 2019; Styling: Labo Young, Ib Kamara and Sasha Harris, Photography: Theo De Gueltzl, Art: Pedro Flutt, Model: Wictor de Paula
How were the experiences of working in the southeast?
It was challenging and important to have to go through the process of creating in a more mechanical way, perhaps the first one that I understood my visual experiments as as a job and a way to earn money. I love meeting people and connecting with the unknown. It is always surreal to have the opportunity to work in places that I never imagined being in, or that I have been denied in some way. But I continue to see constantly, especially in the southeast, some using our creativity in a completely colonizing way, making us invisible. It is as if we were always a reference and trend, but our bodies still did not fit, as if we were not able to provide the “service” of creating an image that is ours. There are few that do not reproduce this logic, so I don’t care about reaching that imagined place anymore, I think it’s not necessarily about occupying, but rather strengthening my people and doing it for them.
Which places would you still like to visit?
There are so many. One of my greatest wishes is to get to know Salvador. In fact, the entire Northeast. I think there is a very strong connection between the North and the Northeast. I feel the same energy coming from the artists I know that live there. They seem to be very sensitive to their experiences. But I also still need to know myself fully, go deeper. There are so many places here in Pará and in the Amazon that I feel the need to go, to allow myself to better know and understand those places. I always try to imagine the number of incredible artists that are not part of the virtual atmosphere. I wish I could be closer to them.
Are nature and religiosity opposite or synonymous to you?
It seems obvious that they are different from each other, but considering the Amazonian context, it is difficult to separate religion and nature. At 4:00 am there will always be a fisherman asking Our Lady for protection and a good day of fishing. What are people if not the Amazon rainforest itself? It reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend about the separation that some make between Amazonia and Amazonian population and culture. When there are strong fires, social networks are filled with posts against it. However, in most cases, those who share these complaints are the same who are discriminatory against our people. So there's a hypocrisy in all this. Amazonia is the periphery of urban centers. It is the riverside population, the sound system parties and the procession that takes place in the river and every second sunday in October. Our Lady of Nazaré here is called “Queen of the Amazon”. As the story goes, her image was found by a fisherman on the banks of a stream. It is as if she was born right here. Despite all the rotten, genocidal and colonizing history of Christianity, we ended up turning this worship into something unique that goes far beyond the Christian context. It's very hard to explain.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
In Icoaraci with my family. It's the place where all my strength comes from, It goes beyond me. Having worked in distant places made me realize how important it's to be here. There's no other place where I feel as nourished by knowledge and intuitions that have made me what I am today. It doesn't make sense to me to be anywhere else for a long time. I have understood that I always have to come back and not forget who I am. The world is putting us as small, in the “dump room”. They don't even imagine the strength that this place carries. Our references are different and more profound. My grandparents, my friends and especially my mother, who always taught me to see a life of possibilities and wealth in small things. When I didn't have a toy, we would go to the yard to make an oxen with mango and pupunha thorns, to play with the stones, make leaf dolls. So it's about not giving in to the gentrification the center is always imposing. It means saying no and staying, sharing our legacy for the next generations. I believe that the Cabano blood still flows in our rivers and veins and that's how I want the world to know me, son of a Marajoara woman, descendant of the Cabana force.
Corpo Trópico, 2020; Styling: Labo Young, Photography: Igor Furtado, Model: Cassie Capeta, Production: Junior Ferreira