Wednesday — 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

“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 and 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 Mollecular 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


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

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: