Beatriz Milhazes (b. 1960)
Beatriz Milhazes (b. 1960)

A planta e a flor da banana

Beatriz Milhazes (b. 1960)
A planta e a flor da banana
signed, dated and titled 'B. Milhazes A planta e a flor da banana 1994' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
33 1/3 x 39 ½ in. (84.7 x 100.3 cm.)
Painted in 1994.
Galería Ramis Barquet, Monterrey.
Private collection.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 10 November 2004, lot 492.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Monterrey, Galería Ramis Barquet, Beatriz Milhazes, May 1994.

Lot Essay

We are grateful to Mariana Baldi and the artist’s studio for their assistance cataloguing this work.

Based in Rio de Janeiro, Milhazes belongs to the generation of artists who invested painting with postmodern critique and new relevance in the 1980s, riffing on ‘high’ and ‘low’ with equal aplomb. Acknowledging historical sources in Henri Matisse and Piet Mondrian, her practice engages the material and conceptual complexity of abstraction, plying its Baroque sensibilities and optical pleasures with keen decorative and structural intelligence. Descended from the Brazilian modernists Tarsila do Amaral, Oscar Niemeyer, and Roberto Burle Marx, Milhazes has evolved a hybrid visuality in which pictorial elements gleaned from the vernacular tradition—folk and colonial art and architecture, tropical flora and fauna—infiltrate, and suggestively subvert, geometric forms.

In 1993, as she first began to receive international recognition, Milhazes traveled across the Spanish Americas—to Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico—and encountered the extravagance of Baroque architecture and ornament. “My notebooks from this time are full of Catholic iconography, drawings of details from ecclesiastical architecture as well as women's costumes with a lot of ruffles and roses and lace,” she remembers. “I think that it was at this time that I started to find a way of introducing aspects of real life into my paintings. . . . I realize that, due to a strong connection I had then with Spanish Latin American culture, they are very dramatic. . . . I was always very figurative!” [1]

Milhazes frequently worked with lace and crochet, alluding to Baroque jewelry and brightly colored costumes—no less, to Frida Kahlo’s Tehuana dress—and incorporated rosettes and bouquets, now signature motifs. Her paintings from this period distill these accumulations in their seemingly-aged surfaces, suggestively weathered as if testament to the weight and memory of history. Abraded and antiqued, the cerulean ground of A planta e a flor da banana recalls the faded patina of colonial-era façades from Mexico City to Rio de Janeiro. “I went to the canvas needing strong external elements,” Milhazes recalls, “like the arabesques or the architectural question of the churches.” [2]

Accented in gold leaf, a heavy black arabesque dominates the present image, its rhythmic, interlacing foliage echoed in the tendril-like pattern of a lace doily and the seven blue rosettes set within its embroidered space. Allusively feminine, the curves of the arabesque call to mind the figure of the Brazilian starlet Carmen Miranda in her full skirt and iconic “tutti-frutti” hat, teeming with bananas and strawberries, that she made famous in the Hollywood musical, The Gang’s All Here (1943). Miranda cultivated a campy exoticism and outlandishness later caricatured in the cheeky “Chiquita Banana,” the mascot for United Fruit Company, which she inspired and whose dark underside—Latin America’s “banana republics”—Milhazes here critiques. A planta e a flor da banana evokes its subject in a palimpsest of overlaid pigments and allegorical designs: stylized, indigo waves, clustered red berries, gilded-yellow silhouette, petal-shaped arabesque. Florid and feminine, the image conjoins nature and Baroque artifice, engendering a richly hybrid and world-historical portrait. “I see the Baroque as an exuberant accumulation of small worlds, of happenings,” Milhazes allows, “which create a big fantasy-filled world picture.” [3]

Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

1 Beatriz Milhazes, “Thinking Differently: Beatriz Milhazes in conversation with Jonathan Watkins,” in Beatriz Milhazes: Mares do Sul, exh. cat. (Rio de Janeiro: Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, 2002), 100-104.
2 Milhazes, quoted in Paulo Herkenhoff, Beatriz Milhazes (Rio de Janeiro: Francisco Alves, 2006), 52.
3 Milhazes, “Musical Expression: Arto Lindsay in Conversation with Beatriz Milhazes,” Parkett 85 (2009): 133-34.

More from Latin American Art

View All
View All