27 November 2021 – 5 February 2022
Galeria Kogan Amaro Zurich
Ramistrasse 35- Zurich, Switzerland
Luísa Almeida’s first solo exhibition abroad, Estandarte (Banner), presents a unique set of works created and produced for the show during a residence program at FAMA – Fábrica de Arte Marcos Amaro, in Itu, São Paulo, in 2021. It comprises a series of nine prints on unbleached cotton fabric that stand as banners (known as Estandartes in Brazil) usually displayed in various Brazilian events linked to religious or popular tradition. In order to draw attention to its words and statements, this piece is generally displayed in top spots at processions and gatherings. The different contexts in which they’re featured represent collective interests and public order. The banner both initiates the procession and leads the way for those who participate in it, thus playing different leading roles within the same given context, due to its great importance. And Estandarte is the one who’ll lead the way for Luisa’s incursion into Europe.
She was born in Minas Gerais, a state marked by its religious and cultural rituals that had its heyday during the colonial period, when it held unparalleled natural resources – especially gold, thus attracting many explorers and conquerors in its early days. Its legacy includes some of the main exponents of Brazilian baroque, which are part of its inhabitants’ traditions and imagery. In many ways, Luísa carries the legacy of her hometown in her work: whether in making, executing, constructing it with her own hands and gestures, or through the selection of aesthetic elements she chooses to add to her work. They’re not employed by the artist merely as random ornaments, but as symbols that have been part of the history of Brazilian regionalism for decades.
Estandarte thus transposes authentic visualities to a European background as part of an emerging intercultural dialogue, a process that has begun in the 16th Century. A planned process of artistic and ethnographic documentation started to take place mainly in the 17th Century, with the arrival of artists such as Frans Post (1612-1680) and Albert Eckhout (1610-1665), while the Dutch West India Company occupied part of the Brazilian land area. A series of the artist’s records were made into tapestries by the Gobelins Manufactory. Thus, it was established a circulation of Dutch images from Brazil in Europe, as they were displayed and distributed to royal houses and to the nobility. This representativeness developed into its incorporation to art theory’s conceptual repertoire from the latter half of the 18th Century onwards. Picturesque then established its autonomy as a formal art canon, seen as a type of composition which differed from the classical paradigm of beauty. Initially referring to the ideal construction of nature, the term soon came to name not only a comprehensive array of motifs and practices, but also of ethnicities. Early in the 19th Century, it became a common formula used in publications by artists-travelers. A great example of those is French painter Jean-Baptiste Debret’s (1768-1848) album Viagem pitoresca e histórica do Brasil (Paris, 1834/39), in which the author tried to associate his work to a particular sub-genre of travel literature, incorporating picturesque into his art work as an important practice for apprehending and documenting the reality he’d found.
Early onto this intercultural process there was no actual dialogue, only certain impositions and accounts created with a one-way narrative that had not been built on leveled ground. Europeanism was introduced to the New World as new standards. The image of the new world was constructed and transposed by researchers, scientists, religious leaders and countless travelling artists who captured and reported daily life in Terra Brasilis in their works in both curious and superficial ways. Since then, this legacy has been part of numerous European institutions and museum collections, serving as a starting point for intercultural dialogue.
Estandarte takes place in a new historical moment in Brazil. The country is about to celebrate the bicentennial of its independence while, in the culture realm, the centennial of Semana de Arte Moderna de 22 is coming up. It’s taken a hundred years and a long process of acknowledgement, awareness, assimilation, integration and exploration to get to the essence of Brazilianness. This is the moment to broaden our debate, our understanding and our discernment. The challenge we face is finding answers and visibility to the recurring questions of our times. In this context, as an authentic and emergent representation, Estandarte leads the way for the understanding of socio-cultural issues. Luisa Almeida presents us with empowered female protagonists of Brazilian daily life, willing to defend themselves and their place in society. Through this visibility provided by the artist, we learn to look at The Other. And we should take a long look at it in order to start seeing, reviewing, noticing and caring for their roles in society. They’re not fictional.
Instead, women here depicted have real names and faces. They are part of Luísa’s world and were asked by her to be portrayed in life-size. On the other hand, these women here represented comprise a parallel staged-world, far from reality. They represent someone’s legacy to be honored through its image. The banner keeps this past presence alive. The image is centered within an ornamental margin that frames, treasures and highlights the portrayed person. According to the artist, “Images of flowers and protection symbols reference elements from Brazil’s Northeast aesthetics, an area where printmaking also has deep roots. These ornaments pay a subtle tribute to women who were part of “cangaço”, a controversial historical anti-government movement from the late 19th Century and early 20th Century”. The depicted women are placed against a dark monochrome background, so the black and white nuances are key in the portrayal of their bodies, clothes, ornaments and features. In some of his images, Jean-Baptiste Debret employed a purely ethnographic refinement, particularly in the portrayal of native Brazilian features. Designing his busts, the author scrutinized native Brazilians nuances and main features, elaborating detailed sketches of feather ornaments, body paintings and scars, weapons, necklaces and amulets. Through the pieces displayed in Estandarte, Luísa reveals the role of women in contemporary society and pictures them with traits that are a symbol of their livelihood, instead of emphasizing a supposed female fragility through ornaments and embellishments. That’s why they all pose intentionally carrying a weapon – a gun or a rifle –, albeit not all in firing position. Most guns unpretentiously rest on the person’s body. Luísa believes it’s important to reconstruct the female image, which is often pictured according to certain stereotypes of unapproachability and perfection, while in reality most women are warriors, who struggle to survive and for the survival of those who depend on them. The weapons here displayed do not represent an attack, but a defense!
Technically, the works in this series also follow a certain legacy rooted in Brazilian culture. In fact, Luísa Almeida works exclusively with woodcutting. Having mastered the drawing technique early in her career, she has decided to „deepen“ her strokes and thus started creating her own woodprints, in monumental scale. Innovating in the printing technique was also key to print the monumental scale she had designed. Fabric has replaced the fragile paper as a support. A conventional printer would not be able to transfer the image to the support in a raw and authentic manner. After some experimentation, Luísa began to employ machinery such as steel rollers into her printing practice, which transfer the image onto the fabric. Printing is risky, since the final result can only be seen after the work is done. Imperfections and small stains are embraced in the work as part of the “growing process”. The long fringed finish results in an extended and dynamic composition.
To create Estandarte, Luísa Almeida acts as a performance artist: designing, directing, and executing her production in an unusual experimental way. Real prototypes emerge as the result of a ritual of recognition and subsistence.
Tereza de Arruda
Curator | Berlin, November 2021
About the artist
Luisa Almeida works with large wood printmaking, researching alternative printing techniques. The high contrast in woodprints dialogues with her thematic, for it explores fire guns being held by women and little girls in daily life, investigating the society’s symbolic relations towards this object. Professionally engaged on scenography for opera and theater, Luisa incorporates scenic resources to her artwork, producing xylographic installations using stage elements. Researching alternative printing techniques, she uses vehicles, fork-lifts and steamrollers as part of the creative process. Currently attending Master’s program in Visual Arts, UNESP. Undergraduate in Visual Arts, UNESP (2017).