Pinacoteca of Sao Paulo will present from December 8, 2018 through March 4, 2019 the exhibition Rosana Paulino: The Sewing of Memory. Spanning three rooms on the first floor of Pina Luz and curated by resident curators Valéria Piccoli and Pedro Nery, this is the largest individual exhibit of Paulino’s work at a major museum in the country. Renowned for tackling social issues arising from the position black women occupy in contemporary society, the artist will present over 140 works she produced over the course of twenty-five years. This exhibit will be the last one in the year dedicated to female artists at Pinacoteca.
Going back to her own personal story, Paulino saw that the problem with the way blacks are represented translates to their almost complete absence from a wide range of activities and history, especially when it comes to visual arts, in Brazil. Beginning as an artist in the 1990s, Paulino quickly distinguished herself, having found a unique voice among her contemporaries with her bright takes on social, ethnicity, and gender issues, all troubling in the context of the Brazilian society.
Paulino’s output has addressed situations arising from racism and the stigmas left from slavery that still surround black women in Brazilian society, and the many types of violence they are subject to. To do this, the artist makes use of several different techniques—installations, engravings, drawings, sculptures etc.—to put to question the (fallacious) assertions perpetuated by the colonialist perspective of racial democracy in Brazil. Such assertions eventually ended up biasing the scientific and biological knowledge of the peoples and natures of the tropics and contaminating religious narratives until they reached a domestic realm, serving as the rationale used to legitimize the suppression of African men and women’s identities in Brazil.
Rosana Paulino: The Sewing of Memory features works produced between 1993 and 2018, such as Bastidores (Hoops, 1997) and Parede da memória (Wall of Memory, 1994-2015), momentous at the time of her beginnings. Both these pieces, situated in the main room, evoke her personal narrative and are presented as the starting point for the exhibition. Bastidores follows its namesake in showing embroidery hoops with images of female relatives printed on fabric, their eyes, mouths, and throats sewn over to express the voicelessness imposed on black women, often the consequence of domestic violence.
Parede da memória, a piece belonging to Pinacoteca’s collection, is made up of 1500 “patuás“ –small artifacts African-origin religions use as protection amulets– showing eleven family portraits that multiply, a natural form available to the artist to investigate her own identity based on her ancestors. Old family photos are thus transformed into a poetic and powerful denouncement of the invisibility of black man and women, seen not as individuals but groups of anonymous people.
Displayed in the next room are several sets of drawings, “an aspect often overlooked in Rosana Paulino’s body of work, since she is better known for her installations and engravings,” curator Valéria Piccoli commented. On these drawings, the artist reveals her fascination with science and, in special, with the idea of life as an eternal transformation. The cycles of life of an insect are drawn closer on these works to the mutations in the female body, for instance. Displayed next to the sets of drawings is the installation Tecelãs (Weavers, 2003), composed of about 100 pieces made of faience, terracotta, cotton, and yarn, taking to a three-dimensional space the theme of transformation of life Paulino explores in her drawings.
The iconography of Brazilian nature in the 19th century—including scientific illustrations of plants, animals, and people—has served as a source to Paulino. In her reworking of these images, which circulated mainly in books authored by European travelers, the artist investigates how science, and religion as well, and the notions of progress were used as a pretext for colonization, slavery, and racism. This can be seen in the collages assembled from printings, engravings, and monotypes A Geometria à brasileira chega ao paraíso tropical (Brazilian-style Geometry Arrives at Tropical Paradise, 2018) and Paraiso tropical (Tropical Paradise, 2017), found in the third and last exhibition room.
Next to them is the installation Assentamento (Settlement, 2013), consisting of life-size images of a woman slave portrayed by August Sthal for the expedition Thayer, commanded by the scientist Louis Agassiz. These monumental images printed on fabric, Paulino’s favorite material in her more recent works, are accompanied by videos and burdens. The fabrics, haphazardly sewn together, denounce the trauma of slavery and the need for a “do-over” as a strategy of survival used by those men and women that came ashore.
”The image, which was supposed to represent the racial degeneration the country was being subject to, as the racist theories of that time used to say, becomes an image representing the foundation of a Brazilian country, a Brazilian culture. This reversal is of much interest to me,” Paulino commented. The title of this work, the final one in the exhibition, carries a dual meaning: it is both the foundation of a singular culture, a singular identity, and the magical energy engulfing the worship place of African-origin religions. “It’s where you find the power of the house, its axé,” she concludes.
ABOUT ROSANA PAULINO
Born 1967, in Sao Paulo, Paulino is a Doctor of Visual Arts from the School of Communication and Art at the University of Sao Paulo – Eca/USP, is a Printmaking Specialist from London Print Studio, and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Printmaking from Eca/USP. She was a Ford Foundation fellow from 2006-2008 and a Capes fellow from 2008-2011. In 2014, she was granted residency at the Bellagio Center, of the Rockefeller Foundation, in Bellagio, Italy, and in 2017 won the Bravo and ABCA – Brazilian Association of Art Critics awards in the Contemporary Art category.
Her art is on display at major museums such as MAM – Modern Art Museum of Sao Paulo; UNM - University of New Mexico Art Museum, New Mexico, USA, and the African-Brazilian Museum, in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
She has been a constant presence in exhibitions both in Brazil and around the world, including her own’s Atlântico Vermelho, at Padrão dos Descobrimentos, in Lisbon, Portugal (2017), and Mulheres Negras – Obscure Beauté du Brésil, at Espace Cultural Fort Grifoon à Besançon, France (2014); along with the collective exhibitions: South-South: Let me Begin Again. Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa (2017); Territórios: Artistas Afrodescendentes no Acervo da Pinacoteca, Pinacoteca of Sao Paulo, Brazil (2015); Incorporations. Europália 2011, La Centrale Eletrique, Brussels, Belgium; Roots and more: the journey of the spirits. Afrika Museum, the Netherlands (2009); IV Bienal do Mercosul, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil; Côte à Côte - Art Contemporain du Brasil - Capcmusée d´Art Contemporain – Bordeaux, France.