Adriana Varejão (Brazilian b. 1964)
Adriana Varejão (Brazilian b. 1964)

Paisagem canibal

Adriana Varejão (Brazilian b. 1964)
Paisagem canibal
signed, dated and titled 'AVAREJAO, PAISAGEM CANIBAL 2003' (on the reverse)
oil and polyurethane on wood
67 x 86 5/8 x 8¼ in. (170 x 220 x 21 cm.)
Executed in 2003.
Galeria Fortes Vilaça, São Paulo.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
R. Olivares, ed., et al., 100 Artists Latinoamericanos/Latin American Artists, Madrid, Exit Publications, 2007, p. 424 (illustrated in color).
I. Diegues, ed., et al., Adriana Varejão entre carnes e mares, Rio de Janeiro, Cobogó, 2009, p. 255 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

Adriana Varejão is most well-known for her images of Spanish-style ceramic tiles that open unexpectedly into bloody images of body parts or innards. Blunt visual metaphors, these works explore the pain of a colonial history that continues to be repeated in new ways in the present. In her work Paisagem canibal, the artist layers images of the rich, dense landscape of a black and white jungle with a sudden, colorful close-up that is surrounded by a layer of bright red pigment. Reminiscent of blood, this thick circle of color encloses an intense, lush view of the same jungle landscape, but this time magnified in full color instead of black and white. At the center of this highlighted area are two other forms in this same blood red. One is an oval shape, perhaps a reference to a gunshot wound, the other is a long, slender, jagged crevice. Together, the two shapes underscore the physical wounding of a landscape and the literal and metaphorical wounding of a people.

The significance of this work lies in its title. While it alludes to sixteenth century fears of Brazilian cannibalism, it is also linked to the early twentieth century Brazilian modernist movement. Cannibalism was used as a metaphorical idea to foster the growth and development of Brazilian modernism. Artists like Mario de Andrade and Tarsila do Amaral encouraged artists of their generation to "cannibalize" European forms and restate them, reconsider them, and twist them into new forms that would represent a Brazilian modernity that was liberated from the constraints of European modernism. This idea of cannibalizing culture is relevant to Varejão's work, which uses landscape, architecture, and the body as material evidence.

Another significant element of this work is the shape of the canvas. The most favored form of the Baroque period, the oval's rounded, elongated line was elegant and challenging and often became a preferred shape for architects as well as painters. By placing her image in an oval frame, Varejão connects her painting and its subject matter to this legacy of the Baroque period in the Americas. Bound by this fanciful shape, her imagery reflects a period that was characterized by splendor and poverty, abundance and lack, value and expendability.

Similar contradictions underscore the uncomfortable relationship between the feared cannibalism of some indigenous Brazilian tribes described by seventeenth century explorers and the celebration of the Eucharist. This relationship has been directly addressed in some of Varejão's earlier works (1) in which body parts and other organic forms are outlined in red as though marked for consumption. In Paisagem canibal, it is the jungle landscape that is slated for consumption. This landscape plays a significant role in a text that addresses both colonialism and cannibalism. Describing the early stages of colonial presence, Joseph Conrad wrote:
It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind-as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much...(2)

Rocío Aranda-Alvarado, Associate Curator, Special Projects, El Museo del Barrio.

1) J. Edens, Creating, Consuming, and Spitting Out: Images of the Cannibal, Amherst, Hampshire College, May 2010, p. 4.
2) J. Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Amazon, Plain Label Books, p. 13-14

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