Overlock | Carlos Mélo

Overlock | Carlos Mélo
Rafael Kamada


Carlos Mélo presents his series of textile sculptures: “Overlock”

Brazilian artist employs recycled fabric from his homeland’s industry in artworks created along with local craftswomen.

Visual artist Carlos Mélo presents “Overlock”, a series of artworks created during the new coronavirus pandemic in which he reflects upon the cultural and environmental impact caused by the textile industry in Pernambuco’s Agreste, in Brazil, as of the consolidation of an Apparel Manufacture Hub, responsible for radically changing the economic dynamics of this place of agrarian and livestock farming tradition. Fabric, the main feedstock in the local production chain, was appropriated by Mélo as an element of contemporary art, making it into textile and performative sculptures which dialogue with the artist’s journey, whose sculptures, performances and experimentations with materials are creative trademarks.

Born in Riacho das Almas, in the State of Pernambuco, where he lives and works, Carlos Mélo imbues these pieces with the themes that surround him, highlighting his interest in building bridges between art and the community. The title of the series: “Overlock” is pretty common there: it names the industrial machine that simultaneously does the sewing and the seaming. The pieces have been displayed at Vila Vitorino, in the countryside.

“The pieces are self-contained, but they also create an installation. The concept behind the online exhibition is to install the sculptures within the landscape, broadening the relational field between art and site, nature and technology, in addition to establishing the artist as a cultural agent, able to create not only artworks, but also meaning”, says Carlos Mélo. The work has been selected by Lei Aldir Blanc, from Edital de Criação, Fruição e Difusão da Secretaria de Cultura do Estado de Pernambuco (Secult-PE) e Fundação de Cultura de Pernambuco (Fundarpe).

The fabric employed in “Overlock” is a kind of “sturdy jeans” manufactured by Daterra Project (@daterraproject), who does sustainable work at Vila Vitorino repurposing the jeans selvages that would be discarded by the fashion industry, making for a brand-new fabric. Then, along with Avoante Ateliê (@avoanteateliedearte), Carlos Mélo added embroideries, spikes and other elements, transforming the fabric, like the fashion industry does for every season.

Displayed on iron structures mounted on trees or on the floor, the pieces of fabric comprise sculptures that are up to 5’11” tall and, due to the jeans’ grammage, weigh 66 pounds. Their presence within an emptied agrarian set may evoke the lack of public policies for agriculture as a driving force for the labor transition: from the fields to the home manufacturers.

Combining art, fashion and marketing, the sculptures also update the centennial imagery created about the region where the work has been developed. Through “Overlock”, Carlos Mélo point towards an area in Brazil where industry and technology can produce artifacts; which, in this case, are relocated to contemporary art.

A research that has begun in 2020, Overlock is the creation of a series of artworks on issues related to the cultural and environmental impact resulting from the textile industrialization process that took place in Pernambuco’s Agreste. The project stems from the work of a group of craftswomen who live and work at Vila do Vitorino, a rural area in the city of Riacho das Almas known by the craftwork made of natural fibers of the currently sparse undergrowth in the area. Inspired by the craftwork generally employed on the vines to create utilities and furniture, these craftswomen have applied their technique and knowledge to the fabric scraps collected from garment manufacturers that have settled there for the past few decades. The scraps, which would originally be unsustainably discarded, are weaved and transformed into a kind of “sturdy jeans”. New raw-material is thus created with the scraps and, in this project, it’s relocated to contemporary art, comprising textile and performative sculptures.


This fabric created by the craftswomen is then installed onto iron structures, comprising sculptures that are up to 5’11” tall and weigh 66 pounds. The pointy stands are mounted on a wall or on the floor. The mantle-converted fabric used in performances is displayed on a pedestal to which it’s tied with a latex rubber tube


The pieces are self-contained, but they also comprise an installational set. The concept behind the online exhibition is to install the sculptures within the landscape, broadening the relational field between art and site, nature and technology, in addition to establishing the artist as a cultural agent able to create not only artworks, but also meaning.


Throughout the past few years, I’ve been working with communities of craftspeople and quilombolas*, and I have recently started a partnership with technology hubs, aiming to blur the lines between Contemporary Art and Tradition. An example of that was Bienal do Barro, conceptualized by me to discuss art and the community as new fields of insertion and belonging, reflecting upon the decentralization of the art scene for both education and production, from the centers to the countryside. And also devising to establish a dialogue between contemporary art and new sustainable production techniques for the arts and crafts in Brazil.

consider that the arrival of the jeans industry to the state of Pernambuco’s countryside and its consolidation as its main economic activity reveals the lack of public policies for agriculture. The main impact of the transition of the work and income sector has been the exodus of the countryside worker to the city, where they set up sewing shops in their own house garages, outsourced by the factories.

the factory production process generates waste resulting from fabric cutting – especially selvages, the discarded edges that are repurposed by the craftswomen into a new fabric, a sturdy jean.

under my guidance, embroideries, beads, sequins, self-adhesive metallic bands and spikes were applied on the recycled fabric. They hark back to maracatu mantles, and African and Asian ceremonials, and also to the fashion industry customization of each season’s designs, creating new symbolic fields.

combining art, fashion and marketing, the sculptures aim to discuss the centennial imagery around a caricatural Northeast, fetishized by “Regionalism branding”, extracting from tradition elements that indicate a paradigm shift in an area of Brazil where industry and technology can produce artifacts; in this case, they’re relocated to contemporary art while preserving cultural references, thus updating new perception devices for craftsmanship no longer held between the creative economy and the neoliberal flattening.

“…the invention of the Northeast, the emergence of a territorial angle, of a both imaginary and real place in Brazil’s map with which, no matter how, we are all profoundly acquainted, but which we could never imagine having such recent existence. Also, talking about the Northeast is to inventory the many stereotypes and myths that have emerged along with the mapped area itself, comprised of some states and cities. And it’s bringing to bear the whole range of negative and positive socially acknowledged and established images which have created the very concept of Northeast.”

Durval Muniz de Albuquerque

*A Invenção do Nordeste e Outras Artes


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