The exhibition Adriana Varejão – for a cannibal rhetoric rekindles the inquiries about the baroque and the Brazilian colonization under the sharp eyes of the artist born in Rio. Exhibited at Mamam – Aloísio Magalhães Museum of Modern Art, in Recife, the show brings together 25 works produced between 1992 and 2018 and brings out obscure points in Brazilian history.
The interest aroused by these works, already known from the Rio/São Paulo axis, now comes from the correct combination of curator Luisa Duarte’s cut, with specific works inserted in the Northeast, territory strongly influenced by the Baroque. Above all, a privileged place to think about the colonization that made forced use of slave labor in the massive exploitation of sugar cane. Just remember that the Pernambuco Captaincy, in 1534, was the richest and most powerful among the 14 created by the Portuguese. To experience this confrontation is to surface submerged impressions of a vast undigested past.
The exhibition begins with the visitor being led, naturally, to the screening room where Transbarroco, video installation authored and directed by the artist and Adriano Pedrosa, is displayed on a large screen. Chosen scenes from four films, with simultaneous projections, show fragments of Brazilian Baroque churches. The visual excitation of the images functions as a living organism, entering each other in such a way that the viewer does not remain in a contemplative state. The soundtrack mixes Oludum percussion, Mariana’s Church organ chords, ringing bells, samba rhythms. Almost like a whisper, one hears the voice of the Angolan writer José Eduardo Agualusa speaking an excerpt from Casa Grande e Senzala, by Gilberto Freyre. Transbarroco is a free interpretation that puts the visitor in the midst of photography, cinema and installation, reinforcing Mário Pedrosa: “art is an experimental exercise of freedom”.
Mamam’s architecture, as a spatial plane, suspends time in poetic reverie and embraces exposure without interference. Some works, born in different temporalities, dialogue with the contemporary as the painting Incisions a la fontana, 2000, which exposes the internal matter, living human flesh, inspired by the famous canvas of Italian–Argentine artist Lucio Fontana. In the course of a revisit to colonialism, it is worth reflecting on the Proposal for a Catechesis – Part 1 Diptytic: Death by quartering, 1993. This work alone gives explores the concept of catechesis, defended by Varejão. In a detail of the work, a man is impaled, a method of torture and execution that consists of inserting a stake in the body of the victim until his/her death. The transgression of the scene resets the senses and opens a new place to feel and think about the violence in Brazil today and its colonial heritage.
There is a strong authorial mark in Varejão’s works inspired by tiles, an icon of Portuguese culture, by the systematization of the repetition movement and multiplicity of geometric shapes, present in both older and newer works. The Jerked–beef Ruins, 2000, simulates pieces of architecture with paintings of these tiles, interspersed with the representation of beef jerky. Throughout her research Adriana has collected over six thousand of them, recorded by her since 1988, with images that inspire her.
Consuming various poetics, digesting and returning them in an authorial work, is part of the record of reality and fantasy that populate the production by Varejão and almost all Brazilian art. The inaugural mark of national anthropophagism may be the episode in which Father Don Pero Sardinha is devoured by the Caetés Indians in 1556, in a cannibal ritual on the northeast coast. This occurred 372 years before Oswald de Andrade’s The Anthropophagic Manifesto was launched in 1928.
Varejão’s interest in Baroque comes from her early days in the arts when I met her in 1988 at Thomas Cohn Gallery in Rio de Janeiro. It was her first individual when she was 23 and said the paintings on display were the result of a trip to Minas, where she was surprised by the baroque churches. This inspiration that persists to this day led her to study and research in Salvador and Cachoeirinha (Bahia), Recife (Pernambuco), Mariana (Minas Gerais) and later in Portugal. Hal Forster, in his text The artist as ethnographer, talks about the role that anthropology as discourse plays in contemporary production, considering the growing interest in the Other as an ethnographic turning point.
Varejão’s show was inserted by Mamam in its project Solo Exhibitions of Women Artists, being the third in the series. The director Mabel Medeiros comments that the museum is currently re–studying the collection with attention to female production, still scarce in the collection. The exhibition Adriana Varejão – for a cannibal rhetoric should continue until the end of the year to other Brazilian states outside the Rio/São Paulo axis.