Sidney Amaral, Incômodo, 2014. Work from the collection of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo. PHOTO: Isabella Matheus

Died in mid-2017, at the age of 44, the artist Sidney Amaral has an exhibition at Galeria Pilar until October 27. On October 6th, MASP will hold a lecture on the artist with Claudinei Roberto da Silva, entitled Insurgency, urgency and affirmation in the work of Sidney Amaral.

Read an article by Tadeu Chiarelli about the artist's legacy below.


*By Tadeu Chiarelli

The art produced in Brazil during the 1768th century is full of images in which the black man is represented only as a work force, subjected and humiliated in his condition of enslavement (the works of Debret (1848-1802), Rugendas (1858-XNUMX) ) and others are there to endorse this statement). There were very few portraits of black men captured as individuals stripped of this humble condition. Just as rare, blacks posed as mythological or literary characters.

In the first case, the work of the painter José Correia de Lima (1814-1857), author of Portrait of the Intrepid Sailor Simão, coal miner of the Pernambuco steamer[2], 1853. This portrait honors the sailor who would have saved several people from a shipwreck off the Brazilian coast. This portrait has its importance in the field of the history of art and culture of the country because it is one of the few to represent a black person outside the stereotypes of the enslaved, captured in a pose and with an expression that individualizes him.

The official founding myth of the Brazilian nation during the second empire – understood as the utopian union of the Indian and the white, without the presence of the black – was transferred to literature by José de Alencar, a novelist active in the second half of the XNUMXth century in Rio de Janeiro. January. The main heroes of his most important novel, The Guarani, were Peri and Ceci; the first, an indigenous person who abandons his roots to embrace those Portuguese, with the intention of marrying Ceci, the second character, the daughter of a white conqueror. Cecy and Pery, nd, by Horacio Pinto da Hora (1853-1890)[3] is the first painting produced in Brazil in which a conscious inversion of this myth of origin is perceived: if Ceci is represented as a young white woman, Peri appears in the work as a man with black features, thus shuffling the myth constructed by the intellectuals of the Empire.

From the 1903th century onwards, the figure of the black man gradually ceased to be presented only in humiliating situations, as enslaved, gaining strong protagonism, especially in the work of Candido Portinari (1963-XNUMX).

The first known self-portraits of black artists appear at the beginning of the 1882th century with the paintings of the brothers Arthur (1922-1879) and João Timotheo da Costa (1932-1908), from XNUMX[4]. During the following years, the Costa brothers produced more self-portraits, as well as other black artists also dedicated themselves to this genre of painting.

In these works, it is remarkable how the aforementioned artists reinforce two needs of an identity character: on the one hand, they emphasize their relationship with the chosen profession: they are artists, they are painters, and certain attributes – the palette, the brush, the beret – seem not to want to leave any doubts. regarding professional affiliation. On the other hand, at the same time that they invest in the representation of their images as a specific profession, they do not fail to reinforce the subjectivity of each one of them, through the emphasis on expression, especially the look.

Between the type and the individual, these self-portraits seem to seek the insertion of these professionals in the Brazilian social framework, no longer as work instruments, but as full and integrated human beings. However, it must be said that none of these artists perceive the production of self-portraits as a constant, being, as in most cases, occasional works that do not constitute a corpus that supports a longer appreciation of them.

Different is the case of Sidney Amaral (1973-2017), whose self-portraits form a significant (although not the only) part of his work, which, still under construction, was brutally abbreviated by a deadly disease.

In addition to the aesthetic and artistic interest that these self-portraits by Amaral present (and which will be discussed here), they, as far as is known, form the single most encouraging set of self-portraits produced by a black artist to date, in Brazil.

Sidney Amaral, 'Gargalheira or who will speak for us?', 2014

In principle, this peculiarity holds a special interest because Amaral, who died at the age of 44, was part of a special group of the Brazilian population: precisely the one that suffers the most from violence in the country: black and poor men.[5]. Through the analysis of his production, it will be possible not only to better understand his contribution to Brazilian contemporary art, but also to reflect on the situation of the Brazilian black population and on how it explores its own subjectivity within that society, little used to this segment. of the population.

For those who are moderately committed to reflecting on Brazilian art in the second half of the last century, uncomfortable[6] has some familiarity with a series of allegories of Brazil produced in the 1970s by the artist Glauco Rodrigues (1929-2004).

Common to the works of the two artists are the majority of figures of a naturalistic nature hovering over a white background (or black, as in the case of some of Amaral’s works), produced from the appropriation of images of photographic origin or the history of the country’s art. and that emphasize the centrality of the composition, reinforcing the critical dimension of his allegories. In Sidney Amaral's polyptych, although this centrality also exists, the most effective strategy for understanding it - as the scholar Claudinei Roberto da Silva has well suggested[7] – is to develop a reading from left to right. Along this path, we observe extensive quotations from drawings and watercolors by European traveling artists from the XNUMXth century (such as Debret and Rugendas) that show black people in a situation of vulnerability. However, the humiliation of the enslaved and chained black man (on the extreme left of the scene) is somehow mitigated by the scene in which other black men, even enslaved, seem to have an argument with white men.

In the central part of the polyptych, there is a sort of apotheosis of the artist's discourse, in which black men and women seem to salute the Afro-Brazilian culture, of which they are heirs and protagonists. In the last panel, a woman caressing her pregnant belly, in turn, seems to put the belief in the total redemption of the black population of Brazil into the future.

An interesting fact is that, if the work is analyzed taking this linearity into account, we will notice that the artist seems to have been inspired, in a very synthetic way – as, incidentally, allegories are used to – in the linearity sought by the plots of the samba schools: in the “front commission” of the work (first panel), enslaved blacks present the “annoying” theme of slavery, through problematic interaction with white men; in the sequence, the apotheosis also uncomfortable: the great icons of black identity in Brazil and various representations of black women understood as the mainstay of this society; in the last panel, the foreseen future for pregnant women and children.

But it is precisely in the central panel of uncomfortable which appears, perhaps, the figure of greatest interest for this study. I am referring to the figure of the little girl who, in the center of the composition, wears a pair of sneakers.

As Claudinei da Silva observed:

A fruitful moment in this painting is also the portrait of the child (the artist's daughter) represented at the center of the multiple. Shirtless, she takes in the act of putting on her sneakers and seems oblivious to everything that surrounds her, her everyday gesture is quite significant, her feet are no longer bare, she no longer corresponds to the classic and recurrent image of the black man enslaved with feet. barefoot and eroded by rough labor[8].


The daughter as the father's double. Here is the most interesting part of the work. Amaral, instead of portraying himself in the center of the composition, chooses to portray Lisieux, his daughter, developing an action that, for us, means the conquest of citizenship possible for the black strata of the Brazilian population. On the other hand, the fact that the artist chooses to be replaced by the image of his daughter brings up the perception that the artist accepts to be placed in becoming through the representation of Lisieux's body - which is no small thing, taking into account taking into account the society in which the work was created: the Brazilian, patriarchal and misogynist, in which the black woman has always been seen as an object of man's pleasure, whether he is white or black.

Sidney Amaral, 'Black mother (Iansã's fury)'. Work exhibited at the exhibition Histórias Afro-Atlânticas, at Instituto Tomie Ohtake.

Within this perspective of replacing the figure of the artist by another that manages to reinforce effective actions within the composition, I would point out the painting Black mother (Iansã's fury), 2014. Based on a scene from the film by Dominican Republic director Leticia Tonos Paniagua, Sidney transforms the black woman who defends the soldier's son into Iansã – goddess of unbridled passions in Umbanda and Candomblé. Once again, the figure of the black woman is worked as a symbol of affirmative action that seeks to relocate black Brazilian communities on another level.[9]. This work, in turn, establishes an intriguing during with another by the artist, this one from 2017, Intolerance – the syllables that form the word “intolerance” engraved on five stones used to attack in street conflicts. if in black mother, the main figure of the composition is seen about to complete an attack against oppression, in the second, the potential violence contained therein is noted, as a response to the repression of protest demonstrations. In my opinion, both summarize the artist's concerns about the tension experienced by the various segments of the Brazilian black population, as well as attest to the freedom with which Sidney Amaral used both traditional means (such as painting) and others, of a more experimental nature. , to carry out your concerns - the stones that form Intolerance are presented as attack weapons that can be used at any time.


As mentioned above, the collection of works by Amaral, now belonging to the Pinacoteca de São Paulo, is completed with five more works, all self-portraits: Immolation e Studies for Immolation I, II, III e IV, produced between 2009 and 2014. The four Studies for Immolation, were made in watercolor, graphite and ink on paper. As in black mother, the background of the watercolors is black, and the figure of the artist – with the exception of Study for Immolation II, in which Amaral represents himself arming the revolver – she is represented with the weapon on her head, about to immolate herself. For the final result – the work Immolation, produced in acrylic paint on a canvas much larger than the papers he used for his Studies – it represents itself in full body, having as parameter the Study III, modifying only the mouth which, if it appears closed in the preparatory watercolor, in the final work is represented in a grimace of barely contained despair.

If in the other works commented here, we can see an artist undertaking the formulation of works in which he proposes a position of affirmation of the Brazilian black in the face of history and the reality of oppression in which they live, in these self-portraits all the social violence in Brazil seems to come back to life. against himself and his people, the act of immolation being the only way out in protest against this tyrannical situation of centuries.

According to the artist's statement about the work, given to the critic Nabor Jr., in 2015:

When you see a man in the middle of the screen with a gun pointed at his head, the first thing you think is that the person represented in the painting wants to kill himself. But it's not true. Precisely for this reason I put the name of Immolation. Immolation it is what is done for a greater thing. You are not killing yourself by being depressed. You are killing yourself because you don't want to be a slave, you don't want to lose your identity, your freedom.”[10]

Deepening the analysis of these and other self-portraits left by the artist becomes an objective when one realizes how, through them, it is possible to approach certain and complex contradictions of Brazilian society, marked by the institution of slavery that, abolished in 1888, still marks the daily life of exclusion of a large part of the country's black population. Sidney Amaral's self-portraits, at the same time that they can be seen as documents/monuments of this situation, should also be investigated as clues for the continuity of efforts to reverse this situation. status-quo.

It is in this sense that the fact that these works belong to the public collection of the Pinacoteca de São Paulo becomes fundamental, an institution that – by the way – only welcomed in its collection a work by a black artist in 1956.[11], and the institution was founded in 1905. With open access to all interested parties and open to the inclusion of other contemporary black Brazilian artists in its collection, the Pinacoteca provides the necessary support to initiatives to change paradigms in the field of museological institutions Brazilians.


Bibliographic references:

– CHIARELLI, Thaddeus. “About the exhibition Territories: Afro-descendant artists in the Pinacoteca collection”. In CHIARELLI, Tadeu (org.). Territories: Afro-descendant artists in the Pinacoteca collection🇧🇷 São Paulo: Pinacoteca de São Paulo, 2016.

– CHIARELLI, Thaddeus. “Walking around São Paulo makes São Paulo also walk in us” In CHIARELLI, Tadeu (cur.). Metropolis: São Paulo experience🇧🇷 São Paulo: Pinacoteca de São Paulo, 2017.

– NABOR JR. “My past (does not) condemn me: memory, race and identity in Sidney Amaral’s paintings”. in The Menelik Second Act. São Paulo: year 5, ed. 017, Oct/Dec., 2015. Pages 16/21.

– SILVA, Claudinei Roberto. “The Seduction of Discomfort”. In SILVA, Claudinei Roberto da (cur.). The banzo, love and home cooking. São Paulo: MINC/Funarte ; AfroBrasil Ipsis Museum, 2015, p. 9 et seq. Exhibition catalogue.

[1] – This text served as the basis for the communication given during the Meeting “La creación artistic de hoy, patromonio de mañana: Museu y Archivo, Memoria e Identidade”Proyecto de Investigación Interuniversitario Unión Iberoamericana De Universidades (UIU), held in February 2018 in Barcelona. In Spanish, the title of the text was: SIDNEY AMARAL, UN ARTISTA AFROBRASILEÑO: ENTRE LA AFIRMACIÓN Y LA INMOLACIÓN.

[2] – The work is in the National Museum of Fine Arts, Rio de Janeiro, RJ.

[3] – The work is in the Historical Museum of Sergipe, SE.

[4] – Arthur Timotheo da Costa's self-portrait belongs to the Pinacoteca de São Paulo; João Timotheo da Costa's self-portrait belongs to the National Museum of Fine Arts, Rio de Janeiro, RJ.

[5] – According to the Atlas of Violence 2017, published by the Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA) and the Brazilian Forum for Public Security, on July 5, 2017, “young, black men with low education are the main victims of violent death. in the country. The black population corresponds to the majority (78,9%) of the 10% of individuals most likely to be victims of homicide”. #Letter. Real-time ideas. Wednesday, 4.

[6] - uncomfortable it was the first of a series of works by the artist acquired for the collection of the Pinacoteca do Estado. The paintings by Sidney Amaral discussed here are part of that institution's collection.

[7] – “The seduction of discomfort”. Claudinei Roberto da Silva. In SILVA, Claudinei Roberto da (cur.). The banzo, love and home cooking. São Paulo: MINC/Funarte ; AfroBrasil Ipsis Museum, 2015, p. 9 et seq. Exhibition catalogue.

[8] – SILVA, Claudinei Roberto da. Op.cit. page 21.

[9] – I draw attention to the following detail: in order to bring the scene to the reality of São Paulo – the city where he lived –, Sidney Amaral changes the identification lapel of the soldier's uniform sleeve. Instead of the Dominican emblem, on the screen the soldier wears identification from the Military Police of São Paulo.

[10] – Testimony of Sidney Amaral granted to Nabor Jr. Published in “My past (doesn’t) condemn me: memory, race and identity in Sidney Amaral’s painting”. in The Menelik Second Act. Sao Paulo. São Paulo: year 5 ed.017, Oct/Dec.2015, page 19.

[11] – The first work by a black artist to be included in the Museum’s collection was the mentionnado self-portrait, by Arthur Timótheo da Costa, from 1906.

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