Dimir Viana

Artistic and social activism against poverty and social exclusion and for community development.

The professional journey of this actor, director and playwright, musician, educator and activist is marked by the conjunction between art and social commitment. He was born in a large favela in Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s third largest city, and grew up in an environment of poverty and social degradation.

He soon became interested in music and theater, and during his youth, in the final stage of the military dictatorship and the beginnings of re-democratization, he became involved in the social movements of the Catholic Church. It was then that he began to get involved in political actions driven from creativity, and to participate in his first theater shows and popular music festivals.

His training as an actor began at the University Theater of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and at the Clóvis Salgado Foundation in 1993. The following year he graduated in Artistic Education at the School of Music of the State University of Minas Gerais, and in 2007 he obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Theater at the UFMG. He also has a Master’s in Education, which he concluded with a thesis on the methodological implications of the Theater of the Oppressed in adult education.

Among his professional experiences, a five-year stay in Italy between 1995 and 2000 stands out. During this period, he was part of the Teatro Proskenion, and expanded his training in Oriental theater and the history of dance and mime at the University of Bologna.

Since visiting the “Cities Defenders of Human Rights” in 2018, Viana has intensified her work training “multipliers” of the Theater of the Oppressed, that is to say, he has held courses for professionals in various areas who want to use Augusto Boal’s method for social mobilization and community insertion. In addition, he has carried out training actions in rural, traditional and urban communities, and training on Theater of the Oppressed to promote human rights in areas such as the defense of the environment or the rights of LGTBIQ+ people. Finally, Viana is currently a pre-doctoral researcher at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), from where he is working on a thesis on the training of early childhood education teachers. He is also part, at the same university, of Laborarte, an art, body and education laboratory where Viana develops training activities on the Theater of the Oppressed.

Interview with Dimir Viana

Your career clearly links performing arts and social commitment.

The two areas intersect. I have always believed in the transforming and mobilizing power of the arts, which, in my opinion, have the nature of an emancipatory instrument. I am the result of this. This imbrication has been translated in practice into actions in various social movements, in which I use the methodology of the Theater and Aesthetics of the Oppressed, developed by the Brazilian playwright Augusto Boal. In addition, I look for inspiration in the libertarian ideas of the educator Paulo Freire.

Your Master’s in Education dissertation focuses on the Theater of the Oppressed and its implications for adult education. What are the main contributions of this study?

One of the main contributions is the dissemination of the methodology of the Theater of the Oppressed in the educational space. Both in schools and in non-formal education, Augusto Boal’s method has been little explored in Brazil, a country that promoted the emergence of this political and politicizing theater during the height of the military dictatorship we lived in from the sixties.

Through this research, we came to the conclusion that young subjects and adults can practice the art of theater in an educational environment, regardless of their social and cultural origin. People can be actors or actresses and spectators. But if they opt for the second category, they have to leave their comfort zone and adopt a condition of spectActor or spectActress, that is, to be someone who attends the show but takes a position and interferes in it, legitimizing their ideas and opinions about the oppressions of the real world.

Another noteworthy aspect of the research is that it points to the closeness between the Theater of the Oppressed and the Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The art of Augusto Boal and the educational thought of Paulo Freire walk together in the attempt to emancipate or empower oppressed subjects.

Could you share a significant experience for you in relation to your work with the methodology of the Theater of the Oppressed?

It is not easy to choose, but there is one that really stood out to me. For a long time I wanted to participate in some fight against pedophilia, the abuse of children has always outraged me. In fact, I was repeatedly sexually abused by my stepfather when I was only five years old.

The years passed, and throughout my career with the Theater of the Oppressed I had the opportunity to meet the social psychologist Walter Ude, a professor at the Faculty of Education at the UFMG.

This academic invited me to train public school teachers and community agents to specifically address sexual violence against children and adolescents. It was a great social education project, an action with great impact. We made forum theater pieces in three peripheral municipalities close to Belo Horizonte and constituted spaces to fight against the conditions and oppression experienced by children in those cities. A publication also came out of the experience.

You talk about the human right to beauty. What does this consist of?

In the world of the arts, there is an established logic according to which ordinary people appreciate, enjoy and consume what artists, many times considered as enlightened beings, produce. The right to beauty I refer to subverts this logic. What this perspective seeks is that oppressed subjects, beyond accessing artistic and cultural goods, can access the means of production of art and culture. Aesthetic action must be encouraged as a meaningful way of being present in the world. Therefore, it is important that the oppressed have colors to paint, instruments to play, paper to write poetry, stages and streets to perform and dance. This is a human right.

How has the human rights situation in Brazil evolved since your visit, two years ago, to the “Cities Defending Human Rights”?

The situation is very delicate, I would say that it is fragile. With the coming to power of an ultra-right executive, the most progressive sectors, social movements and environmental movements are suffering continuous attacks. We find ourselves resisting a government that has a homophobic, sexist, violent and ignorant president, who hands over our natural resources to foreign exploitation.

The minority groups, which had achieved historic conquests with the popular governments of Lula and Dilma, have lost space in public policies. Indigenous people, students, young people, the poor, homosexuals, workers, men and women in general, are losing their rights. The sectors of education, art and culture are being explicitly belittled, and destructured in a forceful way. I insist: in human rights, Brazil has gone backwards. Authoritarianism and censorship have gained space, although, obviously, the situation is not the same as that of the military dictatorship, the forms have been updated. We have a divided and polarized population: a section of society preaches against the Workers’ Party and against the left, and the most progressive movements try to reorganize, in a hesitant way. We live in a period of sadness in our beautiful country.

*This interview was conducted in February 2018, on the occasion of Dimir Viana’s first visit to the “Cities Defending Human Rights” and has been updated in March 2020.

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