Carioquice: Brazilian art today, in Rio de Janeiro

Denilson Baniwa, according to the grading of the Brazilian magazine Artequeacontece, was one of the most outstanding artists in the country in 2022. Moreover, Baniwa was also curator – together with Beatriz Lemos – of the exhibition Nakoada: estratégias para a arte moderna at MAM, the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, in the second half of last year. Until January 23, we can discover the artist’s poetic universe at A Gentil Carioca, where Baniwa’s paintings fill the gallery’s two rooms, showing the work developed over the last two years for the exhibition Frontera.

Frontera, in Spanish, is a term describing the blending of languages. For example, in the areas of the Alto Rio Negro region – Denilson’s homeland. With this word, he also intends to call attention to the “descimentos” process. In other words, the compulsory migration of indigenous people from the Amazon, who have moved to work in extractive industries, in a regime of exploitation of labour and their knowledge. However, the exploitation of the native peoples happened not only through labour, but also through land occupation, in a violent process that lasted several centuries. The aim was to turn indigenous people into slaves, a situation that has not ended yet. Denilson Baniwa’s painting mixes ancient petroglyphs – totemic animals and symbols of belonging – with the themes of current exploitation: the trafficking of human beings, women trafficking, the abandonment of traditions to accept new cultures brought in by the “free market”. Denilson also outlined this universe in the concept of the exhibition Nakoada, a word used by the Baniwa people to identify a strategy of warfare that allows new possibilities of permanence in the world. In the past, this practice was used to deal with other native peoples; today, we need to rethink Nakoada in relation to non-indigenous cultures.

At the MAR, Museu de Arte do Rio – the city’s most carioca museum – there is a major exhibition underway, Um defeito de cor, whose title is inspired by the novel by Minas Gerais writer Ana Maria Gonçalves. The narrative describes the saga of an African woman who, in Brazil, needs to fight for freedom and rebuild her life. The exhibition is like a kaleidoscope that encompasses four hundred works made by over a hundred artists, including previously unseen creations by Kwaku Ananse Kintê, Kika Carvalho, Antonio Oloxedê and Goya Lopes. A perfect representation of the atmosphere sparked by these themes, where the first perception – that of Brazilian colours and the fictitious idea of equality promoted over decades – is a trap that makes us realise the deeper meanings of difference and difficulties that Afro-descendants must face in their day-to-day lives in Brazil. It’s worth a visit, especially to face the most important themes of Brazilian art and culture today.

In the same museum, an exhibition dedicated to the singer Clara Nunes has recently opened, where we can appreciate unpublished photographs taken by Wilton Montenegro in 1976, in the Pequena África neighbourhood. They narrate the artist’s relationship with Rio de Janeiro and Afro-Brazilian religiosity.

Another artist featured in 2022 was Panmela Castro. Her work at the Inhotim Institute, at the time of the controversial exhibition of young blacks Quilombo: vida, problemas e aspirações do negro, was criticised by the painter Maxwell Alexandre, who refused to take part in an exhibition that, according to him, was anachronistic and undignified for black artists, who continue to be evaluated according to the old white colonialism. In Rio, Panmela Castro is exhibiting her Retratos relatos in Parque das Ruínas, nine paintings accompanied by the testimonies of the people portrayed.

This series was started by the artist in 2019, from the messages and testimonies she received from dozens of women from all over Brazil: together with the paintings, numerous situations of violence, racism, motherhood-related, but also many stories of overcoming traumas emerge.

Next to Parque das Ruínas, in the neighbourhood of Santa Teresa, is Museu da Chácara no Céu, dedicated to the collection of Raymundo Ottoni de Castro Maya, or simply Castro Maya, founder and sponsor of the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro in 1948, and also creator of Sociedade dos Cem Bibliófilos do Brasil and Sociedade Os Amigos da Gravura, aiming to disseminate and encourage Brazilian graphic production.

Here we can find the exhibition Reler Debret, with drawings and texts by Jean-Baptiste Debret, French painter who witnessed events associated with Brazil’s independence. There are several young Brazilian artists, among them – again – Denilson Baniwa, Herbert Sobral, Valério Ricci Montani and the duo Patricia Gouvêa and Isabel Löfgrena. After 200 years of independence, they reflect on the concept of the nation and its roots.

Also not to be missed is the exhibition of two important artists in the history of Brazilian graffiti over the last thirty years: Nossos Segredos d’OSGEMEOS, at CCBB. Gustavo and Otávio Pandolfo (born 1974, in the Cambuci neighbourhood, São Paulo) are perhaps the most famous artists in Brazil, with paintings of unmistakable features. Paintings done everywhere, including canvases, trains, walls, record covers, magazine pages, invitations, shirts, blouses, speakers and other objects. At CCBB, the duo narrates their trajectory in the first person. OSGEMEOS’ career began when they were still teenagers, in the 1990s. They then reached the best and most eminent museums in the world, in New York, Milan, Japan or London. In 2008, they painted Tate Modern’s façade. A success story, visible in the almost one thousand items on display, including works belonging to the collection of the two brothers.

The exhibition also includes a room where photos of various works that have since been erased by time or by human decision, in the cities where Gustavo and Otávio worked, are displayed – an opportunity to reflect on the ephemeral nature of graffiti art.

In Rio de Janeiro, a visit to one of the city’s most interesting artistic houses is a must: Casa Voa.

Since 2017, in the Gávea neighbourhood, there have been several completely self-financed studios selling drawings, artist books, clothes and prints (nowadays also in the online shop). When we enter this strange world/backyard, we see several personalities and peculiarities from each of the eight small galleries (as many as the resident artists) that make it up: among other “residents” are Clarice Rosadas, Mateu Velasco, Antonio Bokel and Guilherme Borsatto, who will be doing a residency over the next nine months. An experience for those who like to discover young talent, ready to be officially recognised by the art world.

Matteo Bergamini is a journalist and art critic. He’s the Director of the Italian magazine and also a collaborator in the weekly journal D La Repubblica. Besides journalist he’s also the editor and curator of several books, such as Un Musée après, by the photographer Luca Gilli, Vanilla Edizioni, 2018; Francesca Alinovi (with Veronica Santi), by Postmedia books, 2019; Prisa Mata. Diario Marocchino, by Sartoria Editoriale, 2020. The lattest published book is L'involuzione del pensiero libero, 2021, also by Postmedia books. He’s the curator of the exhibitions Marcella Vanzo. To wake up the living, to wake up the dead, at Berengo Foundation, Venezia, 2019; Luca Gilli, Di-stanze, Museo Diocesano, Milan, 2018; Aldo Runfola, Galeria Michela Rizzo, Venezia, 2018, and the co-curator of the first, 2019 edition of BienNoLo, the peripheries biennial, in Milan. He’s a professor assistant in several Fine Arts Academies and specialized courses. Lives and works in Milan, Italy.

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