In researching Swiss coloniality, performer Léa Katharina Meier [CH] creates new narratives in which failure, shame, and ridicule can be embodied as a healing process.
After initial research on the construction of cleanliness carried out in 2019 in São Paulo, she set out on a new trip: inn early 2022, she to Nova Friburgo [BR], a city known as Brazilian Switzerland. With the help of institutions, artists, and historians, she dove into the history of the place, where Swiss settlers ar-rived at the beginning of the 18th century, quickly adapting to the racial segregation dynamics that op-erated in Brazil at the time.
She then conducted a series of interviews with locals (almost all white, cisgender, heterosexual, and wealthy), investigating this colonial history, the myth of Swiss Brazil, the imaginary of Swiss cleanliness and purity, and the construction of whiteness.
Léa recalls being well received by people she interviewed, welcomed as a “real Swiss” – “You must feel at home in Nova Friburgo”, people told her. “To dive into this normative whiteness, which is also part of me and my history, meeting these people was an experience as impactful as absurd. Absurd, but real,” says the performer. “Almost all the descendants of Swiss settlers who were interviewed, had violent, conservative, racist speeches and showed a great pride in being white (meaning, superior, better, pur-er in their perspective).”
In the end, the material shows a colonised and Eurocentric perspective on the process of Swiss coloni-sation in Brazil. The same process, Léa highlights, in which racialised, indigenous, and gender dissident people have been erased.
“As an artist, it was the first time I did research with people I strongly disagree with.”, she says. “It questioned me a lot about my position as an artist and also intimately. I am currently still thinking about how to conduct this kind of documentary project with respect for the people involved in the research, for the audience and for myself.”
The trip resulted in the soon-to-be-released video «Míasma Ficção», a critical and humorous fabulation featuring typical figures from the Swiss collective imagination, like the statue of William Tell, a Gruyère cheese, and a Miasma (putrefying smells) acting as the narrator.
Léa Katharina Meier [CH] is a visual artist working with performance, textiles, drawing, video and writ-ing. Within her practice, she is interested in re-signifying notions of cleanliness and dirtiness and of how these are determining factors in the construction of gender, race, and class. A graduate of the univer-sities of art in Bern and Geneva, she has shown her work in several theatres and art spaces in Swit-zerland. Since 2018, she has also been developing projects and artistic collaborations in Brazil (São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro). In 2021, she won the Jury Prize and the Audience Prize at the Swiss Perfor-mance Award with the piece «Tous les Sexes Tombent du Ciel». She is a member of the BRASA transla-tion collective from Brazilian Portuguese to French.