Wednesday — 08.13.14 — A workshop on the Use of Art – Mística and the Landless Worker’s Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra, MST – Brazil)

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Wednesday — 08.13.14 — A workshop on the Use of Art – Mística and the Landless Worker’s Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra, MST – Brazil)


0. About Wednesday
1. On MST
2. On mística
3. Further Links and Readings
4. Letter in Support of Persecuted Faculty at PUC São Paulo



0. About Wednesday

What: Dialogue / Mística Workshop
When: Wednesday, August 13th, 6:00 — 9:00 pm
Where: 16 Beaver St., 4th Floor
Who: Free and Open to all

This Wednesday night, we are pleased to invite you to an evening with Ana Chã, one of the coordinators for the Cultural Arm of the Landless Worker’s Movement (MST — Brazil), for a dialogue and workshop on the use of art and mística in building a movement.

The work of the MST centers around the commoning of land access and use for Brazil’s rural peasantry (campesinos) using a unique synthesis of agrarian millenarianism, direct action, liberation theology, and aspects of Marxist analysis / critique.

In light of our recent inquiries into commoning the city as well as our recent meetings toward building coalitions and affiliations between groups sharing a common(s) horizon, we are happy to invite Ana to share her insights exploring:
– MST’s unorthodox synthesis of disparate political influences and critiques
– MST’s use of mística and art to radicalize naturalized categories and terrains of political struggle (e.g., party, land, “security”, reclamation, waste and pollution and its segregation, the distribution of space, and material and immaterial common/s)


1. On MST and Mistica

The Landless Worker’s Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra or MST) is one of the largest (if not the largest) social movements in Latin America, with a current informal membership of 1.5 million people across 23 of Brazil’s 26 states.

For thirty years MST has dedicated itself to movement-building around the issue of land possession and establishing autonomy for Brazil’s rural poor; land reform at a national policy level; and activism on issues impinging upon the community control and use of land — directly challenging the epistemological structures of racism, sexism, and capitalist accumulation by dispossession and the funneling of resources and autonomous common(s) to elites in Brazil.

According to Plinio Sampaio:

“The MST is the most important and the only serious enemy of [the Brazilian] elite. The movement occupies land, blocks roads, protests in front of government buildings, and destroys transgenic crops, and it asks no permission.

While questioning, provoking, defying the establishment, the MST runs 1,800 schools with hundreds of thousands students. They are children of the settlers and they are educated according to the Movement’s own values, which are completely different from those of the educational establishment. The Movement has also helped the agricultural activity of 400,000 families already settled. In order to prevent agro-industries capturing the effort of the producers, financial orientation is given, and cooperatives and small processing plants are built.”

This focus on autonomous structures of education and empowerment, subsistence, communal control of land, and activism surrounding reclamation of the common(s) in Brazil, is happening at an impressive scale; the organizing and organizational practices for this creation of a “destituent” power — and art’s potential place in the creation of such powers — reflects an important convergence that is at the heart of the work that the MST is engaged in.


2. On mística

Excerpts and Notes from Plínio de Arruda Sampaio’s text entitled “Mística in the MST”.

To read the original text, please visit:

As a technique influenced by Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed and Paulo Friere’s writings, mística is one component in the MST’s stated aim of achieving a social covenant to provide an autonomous, self-sustainable way of life for the poor in Brazil’s rural areas.

Principles of mística: the mística technique of social practice is based on five principles:

“Solidarity. Solidarity not only to the family, to the neighborhood, to the Nation, but a broader solidarity of class and a great compassion for the suffering people all around the world.

Indignation. Indignation compels man to action. To the MST, action is crucial. A member of MST is always a nonconformist.

Hope. Hope to overcome the secular oppression on the peasant.

Tenderness. “We cannot forgive the enemy and let him free to attack again but we cannot impose on him something which can hurt the dignity of the human being”.

Utopia: “We must always be prepared for the big encounter”, they say.

The Liturgy or “Work of the People”

All mysticism is expressed through a liturgy, that is, a language of symbols that unites word and expression. All liturgies are an aesthetic that translate a transfigured vision of the world: “the reclamation of a drama that has a happy ending.”

The MST’s liturgy is diverse and beautiful. It has a simplicity that reveals the presence of the culture of rural people. This culture expresses the struggle of a population always oppressed by daily life on the edge of economic survival, humiliated by the arrogance of the social class that exploits it, subjugated by work that has been transformed into a yoke. The extraordinary thing is that, in spite of these living conditions, the Brazilian campesino has been able to create beauty, solidarity, tenderness, joy.

Below are the elements that make up this liturgy.


No one speaks with, visits or helps the MST without receiving a gift – a cap, a t-shirt, a pendant, a book, a CD, a flower. Men receive their gifts from women, women from men. A greeting, a hug, applause. Simple, modest, moving. If you still need more evidence that MST mística is linked to the deepest roots of our nationality, it should suffice to remember that giving gifts to visitors is a rural custom that has its origin in the large indigenous component of our country’s culture.

The MST Flag

A man and a woman who symbolize equality of the sexes. In MST communities, women are not obligated to play the subordinate role that the country’s macho culture imposes on them. The man swings a sickle, recalling the commitment to production. Both are framed by a map of Brazil, affirming the commitment to building the nation.

The Brazilian Flag

There is no meeting large or small in which the Brazilian flag isn’t hanging in some prominent place. The odd thing is that this flag is a symbol of the power of the elite that proclaimed the republic in the nineteenth century. How can a symbol of the oppressor preside over a gathering of socialist militants? The explanation is simple: through the years, a depoliticized population appropriated this symbol of the elite and, unaware of its meaning, gave it another – that of the nation that the people want to build. Might this be what happened with the Roman symbol of execrable death that was transformed by Christians into a symbol of glorious life?


Meetings small, large and enormous always begin with a celebration. It’s short at small meeting, long and elaborate at large ones. The elements of these celebrations are always the same: earth, water, fire, ears of corn, the student’s notebook, the hoe, flowers. Not much is said. Poetically and convincingly, they reclaim the voices of popular poets and of the great Brazilian poets such as Haroldo dos Campos, Drumond de Andrade, Pedro Terra. The expressions are meaningful and significant: canto, a closed fist signifying indignation, readiness for struggle, hope. Pure canto of popular troubadors from deep in the country, people like Ze Pinto, Ze Claudio, Marquinho. This is blended with canto, delicate as the finest flower, from Brazilian artists like Chico Buarque, Tom Jobim, Caymi, Milton Nacimento.


Celebrations always occur against a backdrop of the great stories of those who have fought for the people. Here the syncretism of the landless erupts: Marighela, the communist guerilla fighter is found next to the image of Paulo Freire, the revolutionary Catholic educator. Rosa Luxembourg is next to Madre Cristina, a Catholic nun. Florestan Fernandes, profound Marxist intellectual is at the side of Padre Josimo, a monk murdered by the landholders’ assassins. Karl Marx is found next to Jesus Christ.

The truth is that those who are surprised by this mixture know very little about the mentality of the Brazilian people nor do they seem to understand the true dimensions of socialist humanism.

All liturgy is pedagogy. The celebrations that precede the work meetings remind the participants of the meaning of their mística: solidarity, internationalism, readiness for struggle. This symbolism gives the group its identity and links it to the past. But at the same time it orients the group to the future with an image of a just Brazil, rich with milk and honey.”


3. Further Links and Readings


The Sights and Voices of Dispossession: The Fight for Land and the Emerging Culture of the MST

Plinio de Arruda Sampaio,
Mística in the MST

Statement by MST regarding Gaza and the Palestinian Right to Resist (July 14, 2014)


4. In Support of the Persecuted Teachers by PUC São Paulo

We have received an email from a friend of the space notifying us of attempts to fire three prominent faculty at PUC-São Paulo, for having invited in 2012 the Brazilian theater director Zé Celso to present his work at the PUC Campus.

Among the professors being threatened is Peter Pal Pelbart. Beside his work as professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of Sao Paulo, Peter is coordinator of the Ueinzz Theater Company composed of fragile minds and mental distress. He is also a member, with Suely Rolnik, of the Centre de recherches sur la Subjectivité and collaborator of the Molecular organization. He was also a student of Deleuze and the translator of Deleuze and Guattari into Portuguese.

We include below the text of the petition and the link for signing the signature of support.


The Provost’s Office of the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo opened an investigatory procedure against professors Peter Pál Pelbart, Yolanda Glória Gamboa Muñoz and Jonnefer Barbosa, under the allegation of having invited, envisaged, supported and advertised the theatre-performance staged in the University’s facilities in November 2012 by theatre director Zé Celso Martinez. At the time, students, professors and staff protested against Cardinal Don Odilo Scherer’s appointment as Provost of the candidate who was only third place in the election. In so doing, a democratic tradition of respect for the will of the majority was broken in what is historically the first Brazilian University to implement a direct and joint electoral process for the choice of its Provost.

The accusation being pursued is that the artistic performance acted against the “moral and cultural patrimony” of the institution and that in supporting it the three aforementioned professors stimulated indiscipline among the student population. In fact, the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo has as its legacy the unrestricted defense of democracy, the pluralism of ideas, free artistic expression, independent research and a vibrant connection with society. Proof of this was the political courage of Cardinal D. Paulo Evaristo Arns, who, during the civil-military dictatorship that Brazil endured from 1964 to 1985, welcomed many professors who had been banished from other universities, such as Bento Prado Jr., Florestan Fernandes, Octavio Ianni and José Arthur Giannotti, as well as students persecuted by the repressive apparatus of the dictatorial regime or expelled from Brazilian public universities for political reasons.

The summoning of the three professors of Philosophy is a clear attempt to create an atmosphere of intimidation, fear and insecurity among academic staff and students. The accusation is, at its basis, a clear authoritarian gesture aimed at stifling the liberty of initiative and of expression within the University, signalling a disquieting reality at odds with the academic autonomy historically woven into the fabric of the PUC-SP.

In establishing, on an official basis, the Permanent Prosecuting Inquiry Commission, which is responsible for this administrative process, the Provost’s Office has decided in favor of an inquisitorial logic incompatible with Brazilian democracy, not to mention the winds of change presently blowing through the Vatican. The University which was a vigorous bastion of resistance against the dictatorship; which, for this very reason, was invaded by the police in 1977; which suffered various attacks during the ‘Years of Lead’, such as the criminal act in which its theatre was set on fire and destroyed in 1984; which gave refuge to prominent figures of Brazilian thought-production, refreshing intellectual production in the tropics – it is this very University that now sees itself vitality threatened from within.

We, the undersigned, living in various countries, manifest our solidarity with the accused professors, our outright condemnation of the administrative process under way, and demand not only its immediate cessation, but also the reestablishment of the basic conditions for research, thought-production and academic freedom at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo.

To sign the letter, please visit: