TALKS TUPI OR NOT TUPI Tropicalypse now
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Tropicalypse now

A prescription from existing words and images of the past 13 years, all newly translated, transformed and collaged in 2023.

I was a typical "GDR Plattenbau child", living in an apartment with merely warm water, district heating, West German television and a view of the ever-burning fire of the oil refinery out the window. Like the GDR, the concrete-slab (plattenbau) housing estates disappeared in 1990, never to be seen again. German forest grew up in the empty rectangles, and I left.

I have dealt intensively with this disappearance of entire cities in my woodcuts and installations—futile gestures of reconstruction that offered neither replacement nor renewal. I undertook biographical architectonic research to understand what was disappearing. Where had all those housing complexes gone?

I left and landed in the tropics in 2010, more precisely in Brazil, Sao Paulo. I received the same shock as on my first visit to West Berlin in 1989: there was too much of everything. It was all too high, too loud, too colourful. I got no sleep. Absolute overload.

Diary entry 16/07/2010

Sao Paulo - view from the balcony, a Eurocentric setting.
The apartment buildings stood there; the people walked there.
A building with 20 floors has 6 apartments on each floor.
Let's say that 2 people live in each apartment. That makes 240 people per building. From the balcony I count 21 houses. That makes 5040 people.
If I add up all the buildings I can see, that makes 63 buildings and 15120 people.
Most likely there are as many apartment blocks behind me.
That would mean that there are 30,240 people around me.
This city does not fit into my head.

It seemed as if I had entered a prefabricated housing estate that was sprawling into infinity, constantly growing and changing. The management of scarcity in the East was here transformed into the management of abundance. I had found the housing complexes again; they had also changed.

Jan Brokof: „Schwedt/O.“, ink on wood, 70 x 100 cm, 2010

Jan Brokof: „São Paulo.“, ink on wood, 70 x 100 cm, 2010

In 1557 he wrote a book titled the Warhaftige Historia und beschreibung eyner Landschaft der Wilden Nacketen,Grimmigen Menschenfresser-Leuthen in der Newenwelt America gelegen (The true history and description of a landscape of wild naked, fierce man-eating people located in the New World of America). It was a bestseller. This success is not surprising, because the main content of the book is that Staden is to be eaten by the Tupinambas. It describes a dramatic cannibal scenario that fascinates European readers, then as now, precisely because of its cruelty. The book is illustrated with 52 woodcuts, which contributed significantly to its success with the public. I, too, was fascinated by these woodcuts. These massacres drawn with naive lines, with body parts roasting on grills, with women holding cuts of legs in their hands, with children slurping roast juices – none of this matched my previous images of cannibalism, which drew mainly on psychologically abnormal behaviour and cheap horror movies.

Jan Brokof: „CP (Hunger)“, coloured woodcut, 70 x 50 cm, 2022, Auflage 3

Primal Scene: A voice sounded from these body parts cut into wood, a voice whose timbre expresses neither judgment nor drama. And when you hear it, the feeling coveyed is that these images are not only historical testimonies, but have far more to say. This voice is an ancient voice from Brazil that, at a certain point in time, received the name anthropophagy. This is probably precisely how Hans saw everything and certainly he listened very carefully, but I don't think he understood a word. He claims not to have eaten human flesh and that he was not eaten is proven by the publication of his book.

Was he simply a stranger? The act of devouring had to be performed.......

©Jan Brokof

©Jan Brokof

My woodcuts appear at first glance like copies of paintings from the 16th century. Upon second glance, certain confusing things can be seen: unnatural deformations of the facial features, elements that repeat themselves, distortions in the linework – all this works against the gaze that seeks to understand. Each woodcut was put together as a collage made out of two historical originals to form a new body.

The result is a hybrid being that is more than its individual parts. One model represents Hans Staden and the other Cunhambebe (a chief of the Tupinambas).

In these woodcuts something happens that did not really occur, but that is probably the only reason we still know Hans Staden today. Anthropophagy.

Anthropophagic strategy (collage as anthropophagic practice).

In his diary-like descriptions of the New World I found other writings.

Under the black letters of an ordinary legible language, I found written in white characters

"Only anthropophagy unites us. Socially. Economically. Philosophically".

In the famous first sentence of Oswald de Andrade's 1928 Anthropophagic Manifesto, Andrade proposes an anthropophagic art practice as a Brazilian strategy for dealing with Western cultural domination. I allied myself with this Brazilian and ate my way to him from the other side of the Atlantic.

I think this text was written at that time for the future. Brazilianization is for us, white Europeans who are still stuck in Eurocentrism.

The text kept eating into me. In the open places, more cannibals gnawed the white skin from my bones.

Solley Rolniky, Viveiro de Castro, Mario de Andrade, Lygia clark, Helio Oticica – these great cannibalistic politicians taught me their strategies for propagating a consequential displacement of the notion of a (psychological, geographical, political) ‘centre’. They showed me a way of working that has nothing to do with signifying, explaining, interpreting, systematizing, or revealing truths.

I search with them for what can emerge beyond these terms.

We are all cannibals!

Jan Brokof: “EXOTICA” , Collage, 30 cm x 22 cm, 2018

We are all cannibals!

The phrase offends because it reminds us of what the human can be. It works like an offensive verbal artifice, a tool of personal aggression. A weapon of war with explosive content. When used, it frees us from the pressure of ethical, social, religious and political opposition.

Jan Brokof: “Teacher”, Collage, 28 cm x 22 cm, 2017

Jan Brokof: "Student", Collage, 27 cm x 20 cm, 2017

My collages are hybrid beings made from mainstream topics (fashion, soccer, art, lifestyle) and from my own anthropophagic research.

The source material is eaten mercilessly.

I do not work in opposition to the material nor do I advocate it. I am simultaneously an observer and a perpetrator. There is no point of view only movement.

This practice has no value system of its own but is guided by what works, thus allowing the flow of intensities and the production of meaning.

But nothing is meant to signify, explain or reveal truths, because "the truth is only a lie often repeated".

The process is the production of culture not the final product. All the beings on these collages break the division of the world. They are no longer the Other; they are part of me, of us. There is no more outside, no more opposition, only an irreverent sticking on and to each other.

These anthropophagic subjects exist because they do not define themselves as something that would be animated by a tension of opposites.

Jan Brokof: “The Hand of God”, Collage, 30 cm x 22 cm, 2022

Jan Brokof: “Exoticar”, Collage, 28 cm x 20 cm, 2017

Jan Brokof: “it is cold”, Collage, 30 cm x 22 cm, 2022

Anthropophagic practice (eating is thinking – thinking is eating)

"Let's ask ourselves the "impossible" question:

What happens when cannibalistic thinking is taken seriously?

When the intention is no longer to explain, interpret, contextualize, or rationalize this thinking, and when instead we move to using it, to drawing consequences from it, to examining the effects it can have on our thinking. What does it mean to think through the cannibalistic? To think it through, I mean, without thinking about whether what we are thinking – the Other – is (apparently irrational) or, worse (naturally rational), to think it through, rather, as something that cannot be thought in opposition, as something that is altogether alien to this game".

My upper lip begins to tremble.

With scissors and scalpel, I make the first targeted cuts through the aesthetics of glossy images. The cuts made in the paper look like the traces of a crime of passion. Some sweet revenge perhaps? I follow my cutting of lines through the fabric of the paper skin, through stacks of travel, porn and fashion magazines, through ever more layers of iconic imagery from high and pop culture pertaining to the tropics, the other, and paradise.

Flesh-images caught in the act. Creatures made of image and flesh. Excrescent masses of hair, the vivid red or dark purple of blood, mutilated bodies, vaseline-glossy lumps of skin, one unrecognizable body part replacing the next: abject parts form a collaged labyrinth that forces the image from perception and into affective consciousness. A carnival of creatures lies scattered across beaches and jungles, apparitions emerge on seas and in the air. Are the victims still alive, or are they the perpetrators? The loss of limb doesn't seem to hurt them. Some stare at me. Is this gaze an invitation to join in, or am I the next victim? Ah, too late.

Jan Brokof: “Love and Anthropology”, Collage, 27 cm x 20 cm, 2017

"Against the background of intensive research into content, and paying as much attention to questions of the conquest of South America in the early modern period as to media-theoretical and psychological reflections on the subject, Brokof develops a visual world that oscillates at first glance between fascination and disgust".


The foreign material is absorbed and digested – like in a digestive process – before it finds its way into my artistic production and is fermented with love, sympathy and a large dash of irony.

Jan Brokof: “thinking and ordering”, Collage, 42 cm x 30 cm, 2022

Jan Brokof: “thinking and ordering”, Collage, 42 cm x 30 cm, 2022

Never in my life have I consumed another human being and I never will. I will describe eating humans as a description, understand the act of eating as understanding, and portray the cannibal imagination.

This thinking turns into images, these images generate new concepts, and these concepts can be turned back toward anthropophagic practice.

It is a thought experiment, an exercise in anthropophagic fiction.

"This is not an experience achieved by way of thinking but access to thinking by way of real experience. It is not a matter of imagining an experience, but of experiencing an idea and trying it out. It is a matter of trying out thinking itself".  I understand with my teeth and experiment while chewing.

Luise Meier,Jan Brokof: “absent text”, mixed Media, 310 x 380 cm, 2023

The thought experiment THINKING PICTURES (the cannibal is never alone)

THINKING PICTURES was an attempt to understand texts with the help of signs and images and to produce new meanings through their combinations.
Together with Luise Meier and guests (Verena Issel, Monika Rinck, Henrik Schrat and Oliver Precht) I engaged in the THINKING PICTURES lab in order to make thinking visible as a conversational process and as collective experience. Each of the four-day-long conversations produced maps of shared thinking, detailed information graphics, reassembled worldviews, sprawling legends, and emojis for new emotional states.

We transferred the collage of heads and the collages in our heads onto wall panels, which in turn interacted with us and triggered new processes of thinking, talking, and image production.

The conversation was geared from the outset to mediation through the image. Control, or the possibility of subsequent correction, was surrendered to the emerging image.

Misunderstandings became new understandings, unexpected trains of thought that the image qua actor triggered. The trains of thought became detached from speaking and thinking persons, became simultaneously object and subject in the picture, that is, they became independent and volitional and started to contradict the thinkers. We practiced thinking in a way that did not exclude the other, foreign thoughts, misinterpretations or misunderstandings, but welcomed all these as necessary impulses for further thinking.

In the THINKING PICTURES lab there was no right or wrong, no true or untrue, but only the process of thinking ahead, of thought’s thinking itself along, by making provisional results and momentary failures new starting points, and constantly expanding images instead of curtailing or unifying them. Working in the mode of collage, THINKING PICTURES played on the boundaries of collaboration, of thinking together in conversation and in viewing images. It focused on the fragility and permeability of transitions from the self-made and the self-thought to the alien, the mediated, and the digested.

Oliver Precht, Luise Meier, Jan Brokof: “the impermanence of the wild soul”, mixed Media, 310 x 380 cm, 2023

As a system of image making, I understand collage not as a product, but instead as a means of further production. As a serious game it creates new environments for unsuspected insights. Its freedom of improvisation creates ever new mixtures of different repertoires.

With collage, information, quotes, views, opinions, and references all get "eaten" and mutually digested. The brittleness and permeability evoked by images of digestion call into question the very nature of what we consider our "own" beliefs, inclinations, and desires. How does collage – the mixed together, the compounded, the glued on, and the distorted – affect thought and the thinker, speech and the speaker? Which new ways of thinking emerge in the picture? Which forms and patterns of thinking does it take for granted?

Jan Brokof: “Cannibal Politics (the thing with the palm trees)”, colour woodblock print, 73 x 105 cm, 2021

Truly forward-looking, constructive, and productive images and image strategies can be recognized by the fact that they must be continually written further, rethought, rebuilt, rewritten, overwritten, mixed, mixed up, covered up, pasted over, and (of course in vain) completed.

We are not alone in this. We are what we have eaten.

The eaten include:  Hans Staden, Oswald de Andrade, Suely Rolnik, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Luise Meier, Joachim Robbrecht, Hubert Fichte, Till Ansgar Baumhauer, Claude Lévi-Strauss.

Berlin, the 1st of June 2023, provisional state



Jan Brokof is a visual artist, stage designer and theatre maker from Schwedt (Oder). After studying fine art at the HfBK Dresden, he was a graduate student of Professor Ralf Kerbach. He received the Marion Ermer Prize, the Arras Prize for Art and Culture, and grants from the Stiftung Kunstfonds des Bundes and the Otto Dix Prize. Exhibitions at the Gropiusbau, Kupferstichkabinett Dresden, Folkwang Museum Essen, Spendhaus Museum Reutlingen and the Leonhardi Museum Dresden followed. He has exhibited in individual shows and group projects in Brazil, Taiwan, France, Poland and the Netherlands. Since 2010 he has developed stage designs for andcompany&Co for various productions at HAU Berlin. In 2017 he developed the theatre project "Tropical Healing" in Amsterdam with Joachim Robbrecht and De Warme Winkel. 2020 saw his play "C4L - Cannibal 4 Life" at Ballhaus Ost, for which he developed the form of Delivery Theatre. The research for the project "Imaginary Journey" (AT) 2021, the interdisciplinary project "Thinking Picture" 2023 and the book / film project "Telenovela Mundo Braz" 2023 were funded by the Fonds Darstellende Künste.

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