By Clarissa Diniz
At the center of the exhibition SUTUR|AR LIBERT|AR — Marcela Cantuária’s solo show presented at Helio Oiticica Art Center in July — there was the Tarot mandala developed by Alejandro Jodorowsky with the intention of showing its simultaneous unity and plurality: “The Tarot must be seen. (…) It is a language that speaks of the present”, and not of the future.
Interpreting Tarot is also a therapy. According to Jodorowsky, when faced with his “symbol-rich images”, we must “reject [the meanings] that are the product of anguish and choose those that [take us] closer to divine consciousness”. It is, therefore, as a collective therapy that Marcela Cantuária has faced the images of trauma and colonial wounds, electing, in her vast imagination, those to which she is dedicated to interpreting, giving her meanings.
Her work produces a singular imaginary by intentionally corrupting hegemonic history and the meanings it attributes to collective memories. Cantuária causes glitches and makes the images left by the colonial world flawed, rolling up the necessary symbolic space through which its allegorical paintings sprout. Consisting of collages of diverse images, taken from different contexts and resignified under the uniqueness of the aesthetic-political regime of her paintings, the artist’s allegories dispute the current historicity, occupying it with heroines, anonymous and memories that have been programmatically excluded by her.
There were many allegories gathered in SUTUR|AR LIBERT|AR.
Around the mandala were the paintings from the Rainhas series (2018) – four women whose powers are allegorized as updating and refounding the Tarot ladies’ archetypes. As allegories, they are based on the symbolic and social force of elements such as pigeons, scythes, bikinis or balaclavas, painted in turn as part of a regime of intensity of color, matter and space that imply, at the same time, our retina, our body, our memory and our imagination.
The archetypal feminine dimensions were in turn combined with allegories of warriors, activists, mothers, militants, and other women whose lives were and are synonymous with the struggle for social justice and freedom. Among others, Jovita Feitosa, Juana Azurduy, Dolores Cacuango, Trânsito Amaguaña and Marielle Franco are part of the series Mátria Livre (2018/19), in which they are allegorized through the symbols of the struggles they have engaged. The paintings institute images in which these women are not an index of a losing battle, but icons of a free and matriarchal territoriality: historicity based on a future that they already inhabited, as their stories constituted it and allowed it to reach here in the form of a future in struggle.
No wonder, Voltarei e serei milhões –, quote by indigenous revolutionary Tupac Katari –, becomes the title of the painting that Cantuária dedicates to Marielle Franco, who, seated in a throne chair of a saint mother who became an icon of the Black Panthers (symbolized, in turn, by a panther at the feet of the central character), holds Governor Wilson Witzel’s head on a spear while holding the image of the Favela da Maré in her chest.
In the vast set of allegories proposed by Marcela, there are two that deal directly with symbols of power, colonization and the nation: the Christian cross (Jamais uma estrela na bandeira do norte, 2019) and the Brazilian flag (Fantasmas da Esperança, 2018). Fragmented by the artist’s allegorization, while the cross appears in pieces and upside down, the flag has its central circle detached from the plane of painting, acquiring verse and only fitting back when our body, in the center of that spatiality, coincides the escape lines of the installation. To these decomposed structures, Cantuária overlays adverse images of Brazil’s formation and actuality, contradicting its official interpretations and meanings.
As also happens in the series of paintings dedicated to the dictatorships in Latin America, the wars or the industrial work and its exploratory relation, the iconographic research by Marcela Cantuária finds symbols and images that, related, assemble the allegories that warn us of the cohabitation of other realities in the interstices of official history. From the memory of past struggles and the evocation of the forces of the future, she elaborates an imaginary where historicity is not limited chronologically, but politically. As an allegorist, she does not “portray” characters or “represent” historical moments: the subjects of Cantuária’s works are less the images than the imaginary ones – ambitious and insurgently – performed on their allegories.
Because they are made in the realm of the social senses, these paintings are offered to our “interpretation” like a Tarot deck, desiringly urging us to read them so that they can, in turn, come true. Its political – and socially magical – force is that it is an instituting imaginary that, by enabling it to recognize itself as the community interested and able to interpret them, establishes a kind of semantic community whose social, political and aesthetic ties are experienced through the allegories of Marcela Cantuária. Our symbolic universes are populated by the imaginary that the paintings perform and the by the bodies they magnetize: in front of so many people and so much voice, we feel less alone.
While establishing a community with which diverse subjects can be identified (including those that occupy contradictory social positions), Marcela Cantuária – who for years has been a militant with the Popular Brigades – seeks to pave the way for her unique political-economic trajectories, aiming to rub the complicity of art with a benevolent and cannibal patrimonialism that consumes everything because everything buys. So, at the end of Suturar Libertar, not selling Voltarei e serei milhões to one of the many collectors who disputed it and, alternatively, donating it to the Museu da Maré, is a political gesture that enunciates a position committed to pain and its therapy beyond an extractivist allegorization.
This is what the artist claims when, after the donation, focuses on our responsibilities regarding the social addressing of the art we produce: “give to whom it hurts”.
1 Alejandro Jodorowsky about the Marseille Tarot. Excerpt from Extras from The Holy Mountain.
2 Alejandro Jodorowsky and Marianne Costa. The Tarot Way: The Spiritual Teacher in the Letters (2004). Author’s translation.