PARDO É PAPEL
Individual de Maxwell Alexandre
Museu de Arte do Rio
Curadoria: Marcelo Campos
Produção Cultural: Instituto Inclusartiz
Período: 26 de novembro de 2019 até 24 de março de 2020
Pardo é Papel, a solo exhibition by Maxwell Alexandre, is received by the Rio Art Museum and the Odeon Institute as a reaffirmation of the vocation that MAR has embraced in its six years of existence. Facing the mirror, recognizing oneself, listening, affirming what matters and moving forward. These are tasks for a museum that dialogues with a city and its neighborhood. What heritage do we want to strengthen? Strengthening, as Joice Berth explains to us, is one of the terms chosen by theorists to broaden the sense of the much touted notion of empowerment 1 . To empower is to give back to oneself and to the community, to return the tasks of rebuilding part of a society that has been subordinated, relegated to the margins, oppressed, enslaved. Therefore, our job is to instrumentalize emancipation, which Maxwell’s production seeks to do, to affirm the aesthetic and political powers of everyday gestures that can vibrate together with the Rio Museum of Art, and never be co-opted. We must vibrate together, we stress. The encounter between Maxwell Alexandre and MAR negotiates certain terms of this attempt at consonance of a museum aimed at a broad public that has as its pillars the the exchange with the city and the dialogue between art and culture. Maxwell Alexandre, a young carioca painter who lives in Rocinha, elaborates a reflection on a color, a fact that is more than recurrent in the history of art, which sees in form and color, elements of its own language. However, here, the color brown is re-signified by the artist, taking us in other directions. By producing self-portraits on brown paper, MW, acronym used by the artist, becomes aware that he is also facing a political act: painting black bodies on the paper whose type, “brown”, also carries a racialized badge. By doing so, stigmas are assumed and reversed. The color of black skin, mixed with the color of the paper, returns as a condition of resistance, as a reaction: “brown is paper” (not people). Thus, art and culture, form and subjectivity, are all brought together, in response to concepts and prejudices. Black people and portrait art are an important chapter in the history of representation and ethnic representativeness in Brazilian culture. The 19th century was a time when the idea of the portrait was reconfigured, stimulated by the invention of cameras and the representation of non-Europeans. Brazil sponsored missions and naturalist expeditions to record both the particularities of tropical nature and people and subjects living in cities and forests, collecting these records. Fetishizations of all kinds were produced on postcards and boards that ran throughout the world. The city of Rio de Janeiro, in particular, appeared in prints by Jean-Baptiste Debret and Johann Moritz Rugendas, which contributed to a historicity concerning life in the metropolis, and, on the other hand, stigmatized the anonymity of the bodies, serving the court much more than those portrayed 2 . The result of these undertakings was to mark, stigmatize and allegorize physical traits, phenotypes that broadened their penetration in the invention of a national imaginary, in the search for a fictitious Brazilianness that reaches, in painting, the Negra (Black Woman) by Tarsila do Amaral. This ends up placing the indigenous and afro descendant populations very far from the portrait and closer to the stigmata of an allegory. What was configured was the creation of an idea of race, of a fable, as in the terms of Roberto DaMatta 3 , in which whites, blacks and indigenous people would live in a supposed racial democracy, marking Brazil with an expanded tropical palette. However, this is all a fallacy, the laws against the oppression of black and indigenous populations remain outdated or null. The peripheries remain the site of the largest contingent of Afro-descendants. With this, the junction between ethnicity and class forges one of the strongest intersectional bases for oppression, as it is not enough to mark the peripheralization of voices by a single factor since everything is aggravated by the sum of intersectional oppressions in the axes of class, ethnicity, gender, housing, among others. In Brazilian painting, however, in this same twentieth century, other voices made themselves heard through a difficult amplification process – Heitor dos Prazeres, Maria Auxiliadora, Djanira. Like Maxwell Alexandre, in their time, these artists claimed the propriety of their standpoint as they painted what they lived and lived what they painted. Along these lines, when we look at paintings like Meus manos, minhas minas, meus irmãos, minhas irmãs e meus cães (My homies, my homegirls, my brothers, my sisters, my dogs) from the series Pardo é Papel, 2018, we revisit scenes like those of the Morro da Providência, a favela in Rio de Janeiro where Heitor dos Prazeres comes from. We also see the black population in their work and party clothes, in urban daily life or in gatherings in terreiros, the sacred space of black Brazilian religions such as Umbanda and Candomblé, and sambas, typical black Brazilian music, inspired by the quilombos, sites where enslaved black people used to run to when they managed to escape for freedom. If we digress, we may also think of Maxwell’s Rocinha as the painter Palmer Hayden’s Harlem, contemporary to Heitor dos Prazeres, in which the Afro-descendant population of North American society got bogged down in daily struggle and fun, wearing hats, gloves, cars, working, raising children, going to church. In Maxwell Alexandre’s work, we see a difference, an obvious component of his time: his scenes are marked by a culture of spectacle that displays images as if destined for a video clip. There are a lot of cinematographic traits in the epic construction of MW paintings: foreground and background, resounding gestures, close-ups, poses, vogues. We perceive scenes like those in the films by Beatriz Nascimento, Spike Lee, Zózimo Bubul, in which black icons empowered by jewels and ornaments that often function as an anagram, bearing the initials of a name, open the doors of luxury cars. In another sense, the plethora of scenes denaturalizes the place; we are facing not a landscape, but cut-outs, all put together: record covers, works of art, fires in museums. There is no “coetaneity”, thinking in terms of how Johannes Fabian 4 puts it, that is, the summary of the other’s culture does not coincide with the life lived. We are, in MW painting, on the contrary, inside out, in a simultaneous present, vibrating each fact in different places, which corroborates the critical commentary that composes his art. We need only put the scenes together and supply the plot, unraveling other narratives, in order to see the trite mix with the media, instagramming ordinary life, doing what digital media does, today,with society.
Maxwell Alexandre dedicates himself to thinking about the portrait. There, we see well-known characters, Elza Soares, Marielle Franco, Nina Simone, Bispo do Rosário, Dalton Paula, Antonio Obá, Beyoncé, Jay Z, Lyz Parayzo. Characters who write the history of empowerment in various ways. The relations configured by MW in the scenes of the paintings thicken, precisely, in the interplay between media recognition, scenes common to TV, Youtube, memes, Facebook and Instagram, and other scenes, depicting the daily life of Rocinha, the practices of subversion of capitalist values and the excess of signs of money, which we recognize as ostentation. Let’s remember that capitalism configures a place for surplus, profit. However, in a cooler, disinterested, blasé layer, these marks of excess walk in soft discretion as the prerogative of invented elegance, indifference, nonchalance. In Maxwell Alexandre’s paintings, excess, luxury, partying are all about an underscored burden of display, everything is under the spotlight or sunlight, from limousines to makeshift rooftops, known by Brazilian as “slabs”. Maxwell Alexandre thinks global art. Descoloração global (Global discoloration, literally) is the artist’s proposed action done in MAR’s pilotis which has captured lots of likes and shares on Instagram. This also contributes to the intensification of empowerment, not only in the representations present in the artist’s paintings, but also in the use of the art system, in the paths traced by digital media, treated as guerrilla tactics. It shows, then, the courage to displace a daily practice, present for some decades on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro and reappropriated by the favelas: that of discoloring body hair. A tone of colorism that obviously has its mark in biological impossibility, but works as a mechanism of criticism, return of otherness and ethnicity, and location of prejudice so that one can reverse it, flout it, criticize it and enjoy the same benefits – who says you can’t be blond? In another way, it criticizes the Carioca culture, the “gem”, a term destined to those who would, in fact, belong to the city, such as the beach, surf, matrices of the mentioned nonchalance, of a certain indifference that privileges the “natural”, the biological, which has always been produced, invented, discolored, though. Why bring forward Marilyn Monroe’s and the girl from Ipanema’s blondeness, forgetting that of Beyoncé? Why so many white icons? In another way, one notices the fluidity of the gender, there has not been a binary division for hair dyeing for a long time. The color, last surface, effect of the skin, melanin dyeing, in no way justifies the judgment. We are late in proclaiming the freedom of color; if brown is paper, black and white are colors of equality, never of differentiation. That needs to be shouted; in the terms used by MW, éramos as cinzas e agora somos o fogo (we were the ashes and now we are the fire), we are going through the fires of racism, the dismantling of culture and museums. We want fire! Much fire in our lives, not for destruction, but for the reprocessing of forms of affection, of places, of what Agamben named “with-division”, because to divide only generates social inequality; the great exercise is to divide together, “to share” 5 .On the other hand, as MW warns, Não foi pedindo licença que chegamos até aqui (It was not by asking for permission that we got this far), which gives name to a painting in whose foreground there is an image that refers to the Last Supper, with the central figure wearing a school uniform. However, all the apostles are wearing djellaba, clothing used in North Africa and the Middle East, without gender division. In the upper left corner of the painting, the phrase Um mundo à sua medida! (A world that measures up to you!), the great uthopia of democracy and humanism. What will this measure be? The Vitruvian man was white and wanted to keep himself as the standard. A world to his measure is, first of all, emptiness, a space to accommodate differences. The central scene, as in a Renaissance painting, shows a black Madonna with the naked, black boy. All around, the violence, the cannibalism, the war, the banquets, ferocious African hyenas in chains, like those recorded in photographs made by Pieter Hugo in Nigeria. However, a narrative connects everything, the dispute between the color pink and the color brown, together with the brown paper that sustains, on the surface, all the paints and stories; two capitalist products that play with childhood desire are the most constant presences in the exhibition: Danone (a yoghurt brand) and Toddynho (a chocolate milk brand). The child who desires and sees, around them, the impossibility, and the youngster who, even if in desire, is not pleased to reproduce what is laid down for them, conjugates, perhaps, the two greatest verbs of Pardo é Papel: to desire and to contest. By bringing Pardo é Papel&’s itinerancy, a museum like MAR ratifies the ways, sensations and places with which we are interested in dialoguing: the school, the recreation, the museum, the makeshift rooftop, the family room, the street, the church. All this is presented in the artist&’s paintings. The museum, then, is rethought as a sign of distinction, and inclusion becomes a goal in it. Historically a place of ostentation of goods, the museum that interests us must continue to reverse peripheralization, transforming it into self-esteem. And, above all, it must accept the plethora of colors already more than experienced by the city that rethinks itself every day, in the fight, in the sky-blue of school uniforms and patterns of the pools where we amuse ourselves on Sundays.
To think museum. To think city.
Chief Curator of MAR
1 BERTH, Joice. O que é empoderamento? São Paulo: Letramento, 2018, p. 16.