rosana paulino
Rosana Paulino, detail from Parede da Memória, 1995-2015. Photo: Isabella Matheus / Courtesy of the Artist and Mendes Wood Dm

Carnival has been in Rosana Paulino's imagination, 55, since her childhood. Behind her grandmother's house, in São Paulo, there was a prop factory and, as a teenager, she attended samba schools in the company of an aunt and her sisters. In the 1980s, one of these presentations marked the future artist quite a bit: the last parade of a Mocidade Alegre triad, on Afro culture, was dedicated to black artists and revered names like Heitor dos Prazeres.

“For the first time I saw the figure of the black person portrayed in a dignified way within History. And I realized that black art existed because, until then, in my childhood universe, there was only what came from Europe, or someone like Portinari, in Brazil. In general, I only knew the so-called geniuses of painting”, he recalls. “So, it was a very important aesthetic and political experience, for the construction of my identity.”

In April of this year, Rosana returned to the carnival universe, this time as one of the 30 black personalities honored by Beija-Flor de Nilópolis. At the Rio de Janeiro Sambadrome, she represented the visual arts, under the theme To blacken the thought is to hear the voice of the Beija-Flor, in a tribute that also included Conceição Evaristo and Abdias Birth, between others. The costumes of Ala das Baianas – which, according to her, are “the soul of a school, its foundation” – had patuás, inspired by her work. “When I saw the sketch of the fantasy, I cried, I got emotional, I lost my speech”, she says.

The show was one of the defining moments of his career in 2022, a particularly busy year from a professional point of view. On the verge of completing 30 years of artistic career, Rosana was also invited to participate in the 59th Venice Biennale, where until November it exhibits 25 works, from three series: Jatobás, lady of plants e Weavers. The works are based on an investigation by the artist, an attentive reader of the works of Swiss psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung, about female archetypes.

“Within traditional psychology, there's a flood of Heras, Venus, Athena, etc., who don't talk to black women here. When I look at my profile, for example, within this psychology based on European mythology, I don't fit in at all. I am the daughter of Ogun and Iansã”, she says. “The construction of the female psyche does not contemplate black women, like me. Not even a black, African goddess appears. It is as if the woman of African origin had no psyche, no individuality. It's cruel and absurd. It seems that we do not even have the right to subjectivity.”

His creations presented in Venice try to refound or even suggest new myths, based on new archetypes. The series lady of plants, she says, refers to women aged between 30 and 50 years, while women Jatobás they are the great trees, the women in their maturity. “They refer to the great mothers of saints, who managed to keep the black community together throughout history, they are the holders and maintainers of knowledge, they are our grandmothers, in fact”, she says.

Ancestry, as can be seen, is intrinsically linked to Rosana Paulino's production. Born in São Paulo, she was born and raised in Freguesia do Ó, where she moved ten years ago to Pirituba, a neighboring neighborhood. It was at her family home, in Freguesia, that she learned to sew from her mother, a skill she took to her craft, something seen in her emblematic works, such as memory wall (1994), which she considers the inaugural work of her career. There, photographs of the artist's family members appear, printed in patuás, amulets of African-based religions.

In 1997, sewing came back in Stretched (1997), in which he portrayed women on fabrics, stretched over the wooden structure that gives the series its name and is used to weave embroidery. In these works, the female figures appeared with risks, scribbles, sutures that represent their silencing in society.

Still in the family environment, Rosana and her sisters were also encouraged by their mother to create their own toys with clay, to design characters, resources that also remained in the performance as an artist that the future had in store for her.

“From a very early age, this thing of craftsmanship, and even the aesthetic sense, were being developed on a daily basis. However, I have always had a fascination with biology, especially for living in a house on the outskirts, with a large front yard and another large yard at the back. There were wild animals, toads, frogs, bees, etc.”, he recalls.
At first, however, Rosana felt, she points out, torn between biology and the visual arts. Already at university, she did not think about being an artist. “I joined because I really like museums and research. I had a scientific bent,” says Rosana, who was a restoration and conservation assistant at the MAC USP, in the early 1990s. “This inclination continues to this day, so much so that I consider myself a very technical artist, who researches areas that were not present in the construction of visuality, black representation and Brazilian production. I then started to walk a different path, thinking about the question of blackness.”

Educator, PhD in Visual Arts from the School of Communications and Arts of the University of São Paulo (ECA-USP), Rosana is a specialist in engraving from the London Print Studio, in London and holds a bachelor's degree in engraving, also from ECA-USP. She was also a scholarship recipient of the Ford Foundation Scholarship Program, from 2006 to 2008, and CAPES, from 2008 to 2011. In 2014, she received a scholarship to reside at the Bellagio Center, of the Rockefeller Foundation, in Bellagio, Italy. Currently, in addition to participating in Venice, she is present in exhibitions in Austin and Chicago, USA, and in Wolfsburg, Germany.

¿Natural History?, by Rosana Paulino
Rosana Paulino, work in the series “¿História Natural?”, 2016. Photo: Isabella Matheus / Courtesy of the artist and Mendes Wood DM

His interest in biology – through books on “the forms of cognition, how thinking is elaborated, this area linked to thinking and the brain” – not only continued over the years, but also informs his artistic production. It is not for nothing, says Rosana, that she researches and develops in her work the issue of pseudoscience and scientific racism.

“I naturally became interested in the idea of ​​visuality and black visibility, of representation, especially photography. This is where the documentation of traveling artists also comes in, for example. my series Natural history?, for example, the name says it all. Nothing less natural than the classification of the other, of beings, of fauna and flora. We have to look at this construction that was made and that is still used to justify a false inferiority of the black population. And we have no way of thinking about the country without taking this into account, sweeping it under the rug.”

There is also an element of the History of Art in Brazil that makes her uncomfortable: the idea of ​​a vocation for geometry, which she considers imposed on the country by an international environment, without taking into account the continental dimensions we have, with so many variants.

“I have nothing to do with it,” complains Rosana, author of a series ironically called Brazilian-style geometry. “This so-called geometric vocation is something limited to a very small group of artists, mostly from Rio and São Paulo. And black Brazilian artists are starting to review this, challenging, questioning this conception of the country's art history,” he says.

Another element dear to Rosana Paulino's production is territoriality. She considers, for example, that practically no other black artist has influenced her career, not only because of the lack of circulation of knowledge about them. “I knew something about reuben valentine, Emmanuel Araújo, but from an early age I knew that I couldn't follow these trails because I wasn't from Bahia”, he ponders.

The artist says she “changes a lot with her environment.” When she was at university, for example, the questions that interested her were what it meant to be a woman, black, on the outskirts of a city like São Paulo, listening to Racionais MC's.

“So my exchanges are much more related to observing this environment than looking at other artists. Right away I saw that that was not my universe. I remember that once I even tried to make a drawing related to orixás, but it was absolutely terrifying. I was not raised within this world. And so I started looking for my way.”

Faced with the growing reactionary wave of the extreme right, in Brazil and around the world, which attacks blacks and indigenous peoples, among other minority groups, Rosana believes that resistance from artists, in particular, is still very early on. She points out that the visual arts, in a country like Brazil, are still a very restricted niche. But the internet has been of great value.

“There are many channels that are expanding the issue of visuality, the claims of black people. What I get from students and professors is impressive. And it's a growing trend. People want to see themselves represented, as constituents of history, they want to know who came before them. The reactionary wave is to be expected, especially here, where the repression is brutal. But this production of black artists that rescues ancestry is extremely healthy”, he concludes.

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