Juliana Notari revolutionizes Usina de Arte with Diva

Usina de Arte (inaugurated in 2015) is an exceptional initiative of the Pessoa de Queiroz family in Água Preta, Zona da Mata Sul, Pernambuco, a place that is currently marked by great cultural controversy.

Usina emerges as a provocation to give another meaning to the past and redesign future perspectives. A change of focus, where the decadence of sugarcane monoculture is exchanged for the plural and transforming power of art. An ancient icon of the sugar-alcohol industry in the state, Usina Santa Terezinha is now an artistic-botanic park, in a new form of environmental, economic and cultural occupation of the region. The landscape is filled with a dozen or so large installations by Brazilian artists. But we would like to highlight, in partnership with the Museu de Arte Moderna Aloísio Magalhães – MAMAM (Recife), the shocking and overwhelming (in the good sense) work of the artist Juliana Notari (born in 1975, in Recife), inaugurated in December with remarkable courage.

Diva is a sculptural installation in concrete, painted with resin in a burning red colour, 33 metres long, 16 metres wide and 6 metres deep, positioned on the slope of a slight hill, which makes it possible to see the work from great distances. It looks like a woman’s vulva. The work reflects on striking issues of the artist’s poetics; marked, since 2003, by the female anatomy and the discussion of the sexual taboos imposed on women. But the interpretation of the work also extends to the capitalist exploitation of the land.

It is in line with works that have aroused great controversy in recent centuries. For example, The Origin of the World, the famous painting by Gustave Courbet, made in 1866, which, among other things, was owned by the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and has been on display at the Musée d’Orsay since 1995. It explicitly shows the belly and groin of a naked woman lying in bed.

The Origin of the World, now presented without limits, has found its place in the history of modern painting, but it does not fail to present the question of the gaze disturbingly. This is the message that Juliana Notari intends to convey. Often, art takes us out of our comfort zone to rethink our world. We must go beyond the shocking to think in greater depth, especially at a time when several intellectual revolutions are advancing, such as the #MeToo movement, and the issue of abortion in many South American countries.

Juliana Notari joins some of her colleagues, such as the famous British artist Anish Kapoor. In 2011, he caused outrage with Dirty Corner (nicknamed by journalists “the queen’s vagina”) in the gardens of Versailles. The work was received with violent and spontaneous hatred, being vandalised several times. About the things written in his sculpture, the artist declared triumphantly: “Those infamous words are part of my work, they go beyond it, they stigmatise it in the name of our universal principles. (…) I now challenge museums all over the world to show it as it is, with the hatred it has attracted. Such is the challenge of art.”

Placed on the main axis of the park, on the Green Carpet, the work was an open tunnel of rusty steel, 60 metres long, pointed at the castle through a kind of trunk, described as “very sexual” by Kapoor. The tunnel was surrounded by excavations and huge blocks of stone (up to 25 tons), some painted blood-red. In the solar and geometric gardens of Le Nôtre, the artist looked for the dark side and the original chaos of that place. Versailles before Versailles, the darkness that witnessed the birth of the Sun King, the return of mayhem, where André Le Nôtre put so much determination and genius to tame nature and to constrict its landscapes… This is the story that Anish Kapoor wanted to tell.

In Brazil, Juliana Notari was preceded in 2010 by the illustrious colleague Henrique Oliveira. At the 29th São Paulo Art Biennial, he presented his massive cave-shaped installation, inviting the public to “enter”. A Origem do Terceiro Mundo, made of wood, plywood, PVC and metal, 4.9 x 45 x 5 m. The crevice through which the public entered left no doubt as to the artist’s intention. Ricardo Resende wrote: “In this three-dimensional work, the viewer’s position was reversed. We saw it from the inside out. Like a body that opened to the public…” Resende underlines the relationship with the work of the German artist Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) Merzbau. Aware that the original name he had given to this construction was The Cathedral of Erotic Misery, whose content was also shocking at the time, as much as anything that today’s radical artists can produce. “A determining artist in the unfolding of Henrique Oliveira’s artistic process. Merzbau would treat in a general way the idea of a great constructive and three-dimensional collage, a house made with pieces of wood. A collage-sculpture that reminded the interior of caves. Or even the cavernous bodies constitutive of the vagina. The installation A Origem do Terceiro Mundo, at São Paulo Art Biennial 2010, somehow recovered the idea of Merzbau… It’s as if we were thrown into the tunnel where Alice fell, in Wonderland. An endless cave. It’s as if we were thrown into the abyss, into the entrails of a painting, with all its pigments in large scale. It’s as if we were thrown into the human body. A female body, more precisely. Into an enormous uterus.”

I wish that Juliana Notari, after this wave of rejection and attacks, sees this work as a magnificent trigger capable of provoking adult reactions and encouraging thought. But, to conclude, it is good to see that culture is far from dead in Brazil. It is still alive and well. We have good reason to rejoice and thank the artist for this new boldness!


This article was originally published in DASartes magazine, which translated it from French into Portuguese.

Specialist in modern and contemporary art for over 30 years. Marc Pottier, a Frenchman, living between Paris and Rio de Janeiro, is an international curator of contemporary art, author, specializing in art in public spaces. He also is involved with cultural digital platforms, television and webtv.

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