Engraved into the Body
Curated by Keyna Eleison and Victor Gorgulho
Some images set fires. Such is the case with the archival photographs of the Teatro Experimental do Negro (Black Experimental Theater) (TEN), who were active from 1944-1961 in Rio de Janeiro. Not real fires, of course, but legacies, bodies ablaze in performance. The radical joy and experimentation of TEN is palpable—Afro-Brazilian artists, staging canonical Western plays, literacy classes, community gatherings, and beauty pageants in an environment of systemic anti-Blackness. To assert the presence of Black bodies in public space, then, as now, is a radical thing.
The first version of this show premiered under the same name at Carpintaria, Fortes D'Aloia & Gabriel's venue in Rio de Janeiro in 2020. The archive serves as the kindling for this intergenerational group show of contemporary Brazilian artists. Many of the artists, including Herbert de Paz and Paulo Nazareth, made works specifically for this New York iteration “Engraved into the Body” at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery.
Two paintings by the founder of TEN, Abdias Nascimiento (a venerated Afro-Brazilian scholar, artist, and activist) map the body into colorful, Modernist-looking squiggles and shapes. Nearby, Ayrson Heraclito’s photograph from his 2015 series History of the Future depicts a body submerged in pink water—supposedly an experiment in hydromancy, a way of telling the future using water.
In the smaller gallery, bodies are further evaporated, flayed, and isolated: Marimba (2021) Márcia Falcão’s large visceral painting depicts a female figure tied to a pole, upside down, with pieces of her flayed flesh buzzing around her. Rodrigo Cass’ video Narciso No Mijo (2006), installed on the ground, depicts the artist evaporating their reflection in a pool of urine with an iron. Together these two works communicate a conflicted sense of owning a body—specifically the Black body—in precarity and celebration. They mirror the words on Agrippina R. Manhattan’s LED artwork Sem titulo (provisorio) (2021) that greets viewers at the start of the exhibition: “Before we fall we will become the sun.” —Simon Wu
Herbert De Paz, Alegoria das Américas (da serie Iconografia das Sombras), 2021. Collage on aluminium, 67 x 36 1/4 inches. Courtesy the artist, Fortes D'Aloia & Gabriel Galeria, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles.