Jonathas de Andrade’s untamed and seductive olho-faísca

Saveiro partiu de noite foi /

I like the word «intimacy». There is something about the rhythm of in-ti-ma, the inside, the outside and the inside again that elicits a sense of mystery, dance, sea. Beyond poetry, the return to the «intimate» as a theoretical-analytical caption also represents a primordial appeal: rigor, intimacy, beyond the limits of the categories of affection and care that we have socially, politically and economically inherited [1]. Like water, it flows through fingers pointing impetuously towards homeland, identity and family, soaking the beings, things and relations imagined by desire.

In olho–faísca, the first monographic exhibition by Jonathas de Andrade (Maceió, 1982) in Portugal, we feel this anonymous, invisible, clandestine libertarian desire. Whether in the undergrounds of an elitist club in Alagoas, an ultra-conservative government or a historically romanticised anthropological narrative, the geographies of desire find space, time, and body. In this show, curated by João Mourão and Luís Silva, the male body – although always present in the Brazilian artist’s work – acquires an unprecedented centrality.

Madrugada não voltou /

Paths are opened at Central Tejo, MAAT – Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, from a panel of twenty photographs of young Jordanian men, including Christ. Procurando Jesus (2013) is an indication of Jonathas de Andrade’s – very successful – attempt with this exhibition: to tense the elements of our fragile, and yet resistant and static, idea of man, men and, of course, Man. Faced with these two dozen faces and postures, we vote with the pit of a date in the ballot box corresponding to the new Jesus, without fair skin, hair or eyes. The proposal is made: as in a plebiscite, the definition of what is masculine is open and subject to popular deconstruction and reconstruction.

And, if we make our way along the right-hand side, we immediately find clear references to this constructor and under construction man. In the same room, 2 em 1 (2010) presents a didactic guide to the transformation of two single beds into a double bed; Suar a Camisa (2014) brings together an extensive collection of work uniforms, metonymic imprints of 120 men and their daily efforts, ephemerally and eternally preserved in worn, dirty, nauseating shirts.

Two lovers in search of a bed or a crowd in search of labour dignity try to redesign gestures, images and intimate and public vocabularies, invent and make possible a narrative for their own love and a whole country – impossible not to mention the political messages on some of the clothes, with photographs of Lula and Dilma, whose weight is even stronger and special after the presidential re-election of the Workers’ Party in Brazil, which is mostly due to the votes of the Northeast, where Jonathas de Andrade was born and lives.

O marinheiro bonito /

The Northeast and its symbols are a kind of showcase for a certain political-literary forged Brazilianness since the 1920s. But, as with Gilberto Freyre [2], the question of a North-eastern identity comes to the fore again in 2023. It is no coincidence that the birthplace of Rio de Janeiro’s institutional carnival invites figures such as Lampião [3] and Mestre Vitalino [4] to the city centre in February of this year. In the Sapucaí parades, four samba schools chose the Brazilian region as their leitmotif. Given the most recent electoral scenario – which has once again shown the ideological and social differences between the north and south of the country – it is urgent to overcome racist, prejudiced, and separatist hostilities to reclaim the reins of North-eastern narratives.

And Jonathas de Andrade does it with a deep attention and a keen and generous insight into that and those around him, more or less displayed to the general view. Continuing the path to the second room, we find a set of men’s pants, a hanging photo album and a film which, in dialogue, warn us again of the creative possibility of creating new – or old – traditions and cosmovisions.

The first piece – produced especially for the homonymous exhibition – is an example of the artist’s archival strategy. There are 68 undergarments, vacuum-packed, making up a kind of sculptural portrait of the partners with whom de Andrade has had relationships throughout his life. In the contrast between the brands and messages engraved on the underwear – «radical», «xtreme», «sports», «Mercedes» – and the latent vulnerability, questions about the artificiality of virility and fragility arise. What other slogans could these men wear, in their entire and erotic personal complexity?

The question lies in the faces of Cartazes para o Museu do Homem do Nordeste (2013), captured in the unique and extraordinary expression of a being that refuses its conceptualisation and thematisation as a model of an overwhelming and violently impersonal totality. In individual ambiguity, resisting any ethnographic effort, he exudes the body’s endless desire, visible in the gaze that stares at the camera and reacts to the photographer’s proposal. I am reminded of Deleuze’s maxim: «There is only desire and the social, and nothing else» [5].

Sereia do mar levou /

«The social», explained by Jonathas de Andrade, is not only the relationship between men, between men and women, between humans. In the North-eastern historical experience – or is it also a memory in the entrails of Brazil and Latin America? -, sea, sand, horse, fish, ox, sun, rain are also agents with which intimacy is cultivated. Works such as O Levante (2013-2014), Maré (2014) and O Peixe (2016) put back on the surface, in a fertile, real, and fictionalised terrain, the poetics of living and dying in harmony.

Utopia with fantasy, concreteness and nostalgia, the dance between male body, animal body and liquid body is fraught with beauty and violence – and pleasure. The agonizing fish on stage try to give their last breath. And, at the mouth of the São Francisco River, they give up their own lives in the muscle-bound, tender, golden arms of the evildoers. With an immense aesthetic force, making the spectator shed tears, smile or feel disgust, the film is between the beautiful and the frightening. Like Dorival Caymmi’s sea, author of the timeless verses that pace these humble paragraphs, there is something in Jonathas de Andrade’s work that sets the fate of an entire community: his community, seductive and untameable.

É doce morrer.

olho-faísca, by Jonathas de Andrade, is on view at MAAT – Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (Central) until April 30, 2023.




[1] Wilson, Ara. (2012). “Intimacy: A Useful Category of Transnational Analysis” in The global and the intimate: feminism in our time. New York: Columbia University Press, p. 46.

[2] Gilberto Freyre (Recife, 1900) is considered one of the most important sociologists of the 20th century. Author of several canonical works on the history and formation of Brazil, such as Livro do Nordeste (1925), O manifesto regionalista (1926), Casa-grande & Senzala (1933), Sobrados e Mucambos (1936) and Nordeste (1937), he was a great narrator, researcher, and advocate of an Iberian, Catholic, “mestizo” Brazil. Although his thought contributed above all to the legitimisation and acceptance of Brazilian multiculturalism, Freyre was also criticised for having embedded the erroneous idea of a «racial democracy» in the country – a view that, by romanticising the violence suffered by the black and enslaved population in the colonial whitening effort, cripples anti-racist practice yesterday and today.

[3] Virgulino Ferreira da Silva, better known as Lampião, was the most famous kingpin of the cangaço, a bandit phenomenon disseminated throughout the region from the 19th century onwards, against the dictatorship of the colonels and the social inequality in the inland Northeast.

[4] Popular ceramist, craftsman, and musician, one of the most renowned names in Brazilian art history.

[5] Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix. (1972/1983). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, p. 29

Laila Algaves Nuñez (Rio de Janeiro, 1997) is an independent researcher, writer and project manager in cultural communication, particularly interested in the future studies developed in philosophy and the arts, as well as in trans-feminist contributions to imagination and social and ecological thought. With a BA in Social Communication with a major in Cinema (PUC-Rio) and a MA in Aesthetics and Artistic Studies (NOVA FCSH), she collaborates professionally with various national and international initiatives and institutions, such as BoCA - Biennial of Contemporary Arts, Futurama - Cultural and Artistic Ecosystem of Baixo Alentejo and Terra Batida / Rita Natálio.

Signup for our newsletter!

I accept the Privacy Policy

Subscribe Umbigo

4 issues > €34

(free shipping to Portugal)