In episode 001 of the Inspired Flight podcast, we speak with Jota (he/him), a Visual Artist and Seed Awardee from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, who started to paint as a high school student during the pandemic.
Using everyday materials he has available, Jota depicts the realities of life as a young Black man in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
Jota speaks to us at contemporary art festival Unfair22 about his creative journey and representation in the art scene.
Last summer, contemporary artists from the Netherlands and around the world came to Unfair22, an Amsterdam-based festival on a mission to cultivate crowd-sourced collections and contribute to a fair art community.
The Seed Awards, an initiative by the Prince Claus Fund, are designed to address the specific needs of emerging creatives in the early stages of their careers by giving cultural practitioners €5,000 to invest in their artistic practice and give visibility to their work.
Invited by Unfair to exhibit at the Inspired Flight booth, the Seed Awardees showcased their work and met face-to-face with visitors and art buyers.
As part of the Inspired Flight series, in collaboration with the Prince Claus Fund, TQTB interviewed recipients representing Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo about their artistic journeys, representation in art and the message behind their work for the Inspired Flight podcast.
It’s here that we met Jota.
Johny Gomes AKA Jota (he/him) is a Visual Artist from Brazil. He started to paint as a high school student during the pandemic using everyday objects to depict the realities of life as a young Black man living in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. He hopes to expand his practice to socio-educational projects that incentivise cultural production and development of artistic representation for his community.
Jota ended up in the art world like many successful artists – it was never his intention but something he loved.
“I simply always liked drawings,” he explains.
Another source of inspiration were his friends who showed him works of art by various painters to inspire him. He started to post his paintings on Instagram, got a lot of traction and one day was contacted by an art collector who wanted to buy. All of it.
Nowadays he is represented by a professional production team MT Projectos de Arte that takes care of promoting local artists.
Jota’s art is a product of a desire to express himself and connect to the reality of young Black men living in favelas. He paints stories which depict everyday reality of favela communities based on his own lived experience. Another source of inspiration are song lyrics from music styles particular to this space: rap and funk.
The artwork Jota presented at Unfair22 had an overall theme of survival in a chaotic situation.
“People in favelas of Rio are trying to live a normal life and keep going despite the lack of investment and attention from the state. Despite being in the centre of the city they don’t feel seen.”
He emphasises that a lot of talent is lost as a result of the status quo although these communities can be vibrant if they are given a space to do so.
All of this is depicted in Jota’s art: children involved in crime, people forced into vulnerable and dangerous situations as a result of being abandoned by the state or not having incentives to seek an alternative and mundane activities showing everyday life that needs to go on.
Jota describes this kind of life as ‘living in a bubble’, without access to art.
“Here, people are worried about other things necessary to survival and art seems like a universe very far away”.
Though he had previously exhibited in Brazil a couple of times, Jota says being in Europe and getting international recognition was a completely different experience.
Asked what he wants people to take from his work, his main hope is to encourage others by his journey and appeal to the youth in particular. He’s aware there are young people who are ”afraid, holding themselves off being artists because of the stigma in the community.”
A lot of children in Jota’s community are inspired by the success stories in football but he wants them to know there is a future for them in other fields, like the arts, too.