Curatorial Work in Art Shows

Curator of two solo exhibitions from artist Dulphe Pinheiro-Machado at the SPRING/BREAK Art Show in New York City. The first one, presented in 2020, was named "On the Issues of Democracy and Bananas". Dulphe Pinheiro-Machado’s work comes as a response to the rise of ultra-right wing movements in the world and mainly in Brazil. This is an exhibition that colorfully exploits the contradictions of a system that is failing us all. Full curatorial text below.

The second one, in 2022, was called “Instances of an Existential Crisis and Three Birds”. It constitutes a body of work tha represents the internalization into our existences of everything that happened to the world in the last few years. The work grasps the zeitgeist of the moment. suggesting an original and unexpected expression of a Neo-Renaissance centered on the understanding of ou emotional realm. Full curatorial text below.

On the Issues of Democracy and Bananas

The polarization of politics in the Americas and Europe, the immigration crisis, the global warming crisis, the signs of economic recession all over the world have made people feel that mankind is at a tipping point. As a response to that artists have engaged in narratives that underline the problems brought about by social inequality, the colonial past of the Americas and the aggravation of all problems derived from the capitalist system. Artists are becoming increasingly engaged into politics. And within those who chose history and politics, there seems to be a resurgence of expressionist works.  

Pinheiro-Machado’s work fits in this category bringing a few twists and novelties. He belongs to a new wave of expressionist artists that work in response to the socio-political context in which they live.

Pinheiro-Machado’s work covers 3 very important prerequisites: historical relevance, novelty in the subject matter and aesthetical relevance. His drawings are historically relevant because they discuss the consequences of the colonial past to current politics in the Americas. He was very influenced by Fernand Braudel, the renowned French Historian, and the idea of long duration History, where things that happened in the far past are still important to politics, social behavior and economics of our days.

His drawings are inspired by the way children approach their drawings when they come into cognition. He uses repetition and emotions as tools. He encountered an emotional narrative that is built with recurrent images and objects that activate memories immersed in the history of his home country, Brazil. The images are distortions of reality, what he apprehends as an emotional world, but also very accurate in socio-political terms in relation to our current moment in History. I believe he brings in fresh air to a polarized political discussion.

He uses simple elements like fruits and animals to build a vocabulary of states of mind. He captures reality with an emotional perspective, when what one perceives is distorted by one’s feelings. To him, color has more meaning as a symbol than as a correct representation of reality. His drawings show the strangeness that the eye of a child projects onto the world, the way they investigate and find amazement in simple objects, a sort of naiveté, but carry the critical eye of an adult that knows how to work with History.

Among the works he intends to show at Spring Break, I can underline the significance of “pangaré”, a mixed race horse and “vira-lata“ (mutt), the mixed race dog that until today come up in conversations between Brazilians every time they intend to illustrate the lack of pedigree in the Nation as an argument to explain the lack of success in any endeavors that Brazil might be undertaking at the moment. Racism is deeply instilled in the imaginary of the Brazilian. Pinheiro-Machado’s work is heavily charged with irony. For instance, the General holding a giant banana and almost falling from the back of the “pangaré“, an oil pastel drawing made on a collage of pages from Calvin’s Commentaries, bringing the idea of Reform as something already outdated in the Brazilian context. Both “Madona das Bananas”, in which a woman holds a deformed baby, and “Thinker“, where we can see a man with bananas on his face, stand for a beat down people that emulates color and energy like nothing else, one of the greatest contradictions of the Brazilian society. Color is the counterpoint to poverty, exploitation, racism and all maladies of our days. To mention Jorge Luis Borges, “the metaphysicians of Tlön don’t search for the truth, nor even verisimilitude: they search for a sense of awe.“ Similarly, Pinheiro-Machado searches for awe, but in the sense of the amazement that a child sees something for the first time.

Instances of an Existential Crisis and Three Birds

“Instances of an Existential Crisis and Three Birds” constitutes a body of work that represents the internalization into our existences of everything that happened to the world in the last few years. More than two years of a lingering pandemic, its economic, social, political and psychological consequences have already caused changes in the way we live and think. More than never we are faced with an existential crisis asking ourselves who we are and what we want for our future. It’s a matter of survival of the species, but also a matter of trying to live a better life with what we have already accomplished.

In “Instances of an Existential Crisis and Three Birds”, Dulphe Pinheiro-Machado constructs a world of melancholy, existential angst and colorful hope. The human body, its anthropomorphisms and metaphors are the object that translates the developments of everyday life into a psychological instance.  Pinheiro-Machado develops a narrative focused on a willingness to understand mortality and the fact that we won’t be here forever.

In “The Existential Crisis of Banana-meat Man” Pinheiro-Machado shows a skinless figure wearing bananas for hair and holding a skull in an obvious reference to Hamlet’s monologue “Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer/The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/ Or to take arms against a sea of troubles”. This piece establishes the narrative thread with all the other works that will be shown in this project. The skinless figure relates to a moment of fragility and doubt that we all know well. The strong colors are a reference to Pinheiro-Machado’s Brazilian cultural background. A question arises: is an immigrant “dethroned” of their roots and relegated to a naked, skinless, stereotype in their new home? Melancholy is a clear sentiment in the eyes of this figure, a subject that is also addressed in “Melancholy for the homeland”. Here, a figure similar to the Banana-meat man, this time hairless and skinless, lays upon the soil of their homeland, in a gesture that resembles an embrace of the earth, while the yellow and red background convey the idea of a sunset or a land on fire – a recurrent problem in forests in Brazil and all over the world. The body of this figure is, again, a central point in this image, absorbing emotions but also emanating strength and tenderness. We have the same feeling in “Portrait”, where a figure with empty eyes looks at the world in a peaceful and resilient way that emanates hope and power.

In “A Work Horse Dies Working,”, the human figure is replaced by a dead horse. Again, a skinless and colorful figure stands for the idea of the immigrant labor force working until the end of their existence.

The work of Pinheiro-Machado does not yield to any normative form, instead, it reveals to us an ontological dimension in which humanity and art contain the paradoxes of existence: our monstrosity is as vast and present as are our merits.

The paper and thread sculptures are to be displayed hanged by nylon threads inside stretcher bars. In “Labor I” and “Head” we see absurdly monstrous images that reveal conflicting characters of the human being, multifaceted behavior and the marvelous gift of creating life. In “Labor II”, we can see a monstrous individual, headless, skinless, weirdly formed, giving birth to something that might be different or carry hope. That same individual takes a more human shape in “dancer”, where a body in transformation sets itself in a dance movement.

In “shadow of a shadow”, a human profile painted as a block of solid color, projects a shadow on to a space of color without depth, right next to a still life on a table with clear references to Cézanne, Morandi and Matisse. Somehow the hard exercise of looking at one's own self brings about a series of consequences that project positivity onto the world materialized as color.  

“Three Birds” is the only piece that is not made against a black background. It is a paper and thread sculpture whose surface is drawn with oil pastel, like the other two sculptures. Floating in the middle of a stretcher bar, the object emanates the mesmerizing quality of confounding the viewer according to different points of view. Once more, the multifaceted feature of the object reminds us of the abundance of life that surrounds us, and how we are intrinsically part of it.