In Língua com Padráo Sinuoso (Tongue with Winding Pattern), Adriana Varejão confronts the viewer with raw flesh ripped from the life-sized body of her three dimensional painting. By peeling back the smooth tile surface of skin, Varejão exposes the many literal and metaphorical layers of her work. With her shocking visual imagery, she takes on challenging subjects ranging from the tumultuous history of her native Brazil to representations of the body to theoretical issues surrounding art production and presentation.
Throughout her career, Varejão has addressed these complex themes through startling contrasts, such as civility versus barbarity illustrated in her juxtaposition of elegant tiles with bulging entrails. Her hyper-real constructions of lacerated flesh began on a small scale first as oozing scars on maps and figurative paintings. Staining the surfaces of her already disturbing images, they served as bloody reminders of the atrocities of colonialism. With her Tongues series, however, Varejão transformed these open wounds into the subject of her work. Bursting through the picture plane, her gigantic tongues captured the attention of the art world and catapulted Varejão onto an international stage. Since developing this series in the mid-1990s, Varejão's work has been shown at major museums, galleries and biennials throughout the United States, Latin America and Europe.
In Língua com Padrão Sinuoso, Varejo's tongue extends from an intricately painted wall of ceramic tiles that simulate azulejos. Developed in Portugal and introduced in Brazil in the seventeenth century, azulejos adorn churches, civic buildings and residences throughout both countries today. While this beautiful tile work enriches Brazil's built environment, there is a dark history that lurks beneath its polished veneer. Varejão brings this buried past to the surface, making the viewer brutally aware of its presence. Breaking through the attractive façades, Varejão's tongues tell of colonialism's aggression, destruction and carnage.
With these images, Varejão also refers to Brazil's distinct art historical tradition. As tongues, the series suggests the concept of antropofagia, often cited as the defining characteristic of the Brazilian arts. First articulated by the poet Oswald de Andrade in his manifesto of 1928, antropofagia, or cultural cannibalism, advocates for the devouring, digesting and transformation of all external influences with the objective of creating a distinctly Brazilian body of work. Within this framework, Varejão's tongues become not the embodiment of a tragic past but rather a regenerative reinterpretation of it.
Unfurling into the space of the viewer, her tongues also blur the boundary between painting and sculpture. Additionally, this tactile chaos of entrails ruptures the rigid modernist grid inscribed on the wall of azulejos. By engaging in these formal plays, Varejão adds to the complexity of her images. Both cerebral and visceral, Varejão's work may attract or repel but it always intrigues.