Adriana Varejão's Paisagem Chinesa (Esprito Santo) presents us with what initially appears to be a traditional Chinese landscape painting, made up of calligraphic red stamps, earthy tones and a variety of delicately rendered trees, all on an apparently aging and cracked surface. However, the Christian imagery of the dove and cross in the centre of the image, protruding and much lighter in colour, forms a juxtaposition of symbols. The marriage of Eastern Chinese with Western Baroque imagery references the process of cultural exchange resulting from colonisation. Varejão explores this interaction in her work by invoking the beauty and grandeur of Baroque, often considered the first 'global' style because of its presence in the Americas, Africa and Asia alike during the time of European colonial expansion.
Be it in Goa, China or Varejão's native Brazil, Contemporary Baroque style has been melded with local artistic vernaculars and altered with cultural traditions. Varejão explores this infusion in a brilliantly inventive way in Paisagem Chinesa (Esprito Santo), depicting the moment when native Chinese culture has interpreted and transformed the Baroque, creating a recast and secularised form of Christian imagery. This melding of cultures is symbolised in the cracking of the plaster surface, visualizing the riffs and tears in the cultural melting pot that make up modern-day Brazil that form lasting scars on contemporary society. As Varejão herself affirmed, 'modernity in Brazil is based on this notion of anthropophagy, on the capacity to incorporate foreign ideas and transform them into your own. This notion is linked to the very essence of the anthropophagic rite, to its symbolic aspect, to the idea of absorbing the other' (translated in Adriana Varejão, exh. cat., Paris, Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, 2005, p. 95).
Paisagem Chinesa (Esprito Santo) is typical of Varejão's oeuvre in that it reveals her exploration into the lasting effects of colonialism and the way in which cultures combine to create hybrid societies. This is further heightened by the paintings apparently cracked surface that resembles a Chinese Song Dynasty vase. Varejão has masterfully created this richly textural surface, going to great lengths to give the painting an almost sculptural appearance that points towards the iconic fleshy, wounded works that later come to dominate her output. Her painterly technique raises questions about the medium in much the same way as the Christian and Chinese symbols blur the meaning of the work, conforming to Varejão's aim to create a narrative 'characterised by discontinuity. It's an interweaving of histories. Histories of bodies, of architecture, of Brazil, of tattoos, of ceramics, of old Portuguese azulejos or ordinary modern tiles, of maps, books, painting...' (A. Varejão quoted in Adriana Varejão, exh. cat., Paris, Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, 2005, p. 81). Paisagem Chinesa (Esprito Santo) embodies Varejão's investigation into the interweaving of these histories onto contemporary Brazilian society.