Detail of the installation Revoada, by Antonio Obá, 2023

Listening to Antonio Obá, in a long, paused, reflective conversation, talking about his childhood, the construction of his career, his meetings brings, firstly, a lot of calm and, in the end, the certainty of how much his memories are directly reflected in his work .

Em flock, the exhibition opened in June this year, at the recently opened Pinacoteca Contemporânea, in São Paulo, Antonio Obá developed a work in dialogue with the building and the history of the new museum, which was a teaching institution built in the 1950s and attributed to Ramos de Azevedo, engineer and architect responsible for the projects, among others, of the Municipal Theater and the Pinacoteca do Estado itself.

In the installation, hands suspended, molded with silicone onto the bodies of children and young people who attended the workshops at Ocupação 9 de Julho at the MSTC and at the Pinacoteca Contemporânea atelier, between March and April 2023, and then forged in white plaster, evoke, according to him, “hands free in flight; hands – the very ideal of sustenance and freedom present in the craft to which they dedicate themselves. Hands previously chained, today almost without weight or regret, but aware of all the traumas, like an ex-voto. [1]

It is no coincidence that Obá transcends painting, sculpture and installations in images of suspended bodies or children, which are sometimes ghostly. He remembers that at the age of 8, he came across a hall of ex-votos in the historic church of Trindade, inaugurated in 1912, as the first Sanctuary of the Divine Eternal Father, popularly called the Old Sanctuary or Igreja Matriz, in Goiás. A scenario that he remembers photographically and that brought him an enormous sensation of abyss, in which he was “stopped, suspended”, between “fascinated and seduced by a mystery”.

wade in the water
Wade in the water (after Adriana Varejão), 2019

The same impression, he commented later, he had again almost 20 years later when he was faced with works by the English artist Francis Bacon, one of his references in painting and whose power and visuality captured him, as if he were facing a “hole”. , something that was missing and fascinated him too.

the educator

Obá was born in 1983, in Ceilândia, in the Federal District, where he still lives and works today. He has always drawn and painted, but grew up as an educator.

He worked as a teacher at Centro Educacional 15 in Ceilândia, taught about art and creative processes, as a high school teacher, at the Center for the Development of Creative Potential (CRIAR), for children and adults in Taguatinga, a satellite city of Brasília. He was always interested in the place that art and communication occupy as motivators of autonomy, curiosity and knowledge. As a place of learning disruption. For him, the field of visual arts “goes through the contribution to human socio-educational development”.

One of the characteristics of the beginning of his career is that he was very far from the traditional art circuit, even during the period in which he participated in a collective at the Renato Russo Cultural Center, in 2013, in Brasília.

A defining moment in his career was when he decided to suspend his enrollment in the faculty of advertising and chose to study visual arts at UNB. At the same time, he attended the Centro Cultural Elefante, an artist house created in 2013 by the São Paulo manager Flavia Gimenes and the Rio de Janeiro plastic artist Matias Mesquita who, newly arrived in Brasília, built a drawing experimentation space in the North Wing of the federal capital. , sculpture, engraving and modelling. That's when he started to have contact with the production of national and international artists. He traveled to Inhotim, got to know the work of Adriana Varejão, who served as an inspiration for his work Wade in the water (After Adriana Varejão), of 2019.

Oba's research

Some signifiers permeate Obá's work: children, suspension, ambiguity. Their children have marked, almost adult faces. “They appear as agents of time who seem to have their own conscience, but without any innocence. They are children who know, children who remember”, say Yuri Quevedo and Ana Maria Maia, in the text specially written for the exhibition catalog flock.

For Obá, “they are like ibejis”, referring to the symbolic figures of Yoruba culture that, in general, within the cultural contexts of the African continent, call Ibeji a child-orixá that names two twin infantile entities. Because they are twins, they are associated with a principle of human duality: luck and bad luck. Because they are children, they are connected to everything that begins and sprouts: the source of a river, the birth of human beings, the germination of plants, etc. They have a lightness that allows them to float. “But they have to be careful because, otherwise, they can disrupt the work. […] They are the child inside us”, says Obá.

His works bring stories of segregation of the black race, episodes of injustice committed at different times, in different places in the world, against black men or women. In The Bathers No. 3 – Peep, 2020, whose detail illustrates our cover, Obá refers to a story that took place in 1964, in an establishment still reserved for whites at the time, in Saint Augustine, Florida (USA).

On that occasion, at the Motor Lodge hotel, anti-segregation leader Martin Luther King Jr. he would have tried to have lunch and was stopped. Upon insisting, he was arrested. Days later, a group of protesters plunged into the pool in protest, and the hotel manager even poured a gallon of muriatic acid into the water. In the work, children swim calmly, but on the lookout, next to a crocodile that alludes to the time when enslaved children were used as bait.

In the trilogy Strange Fruit (strange fruit), Obá evokes the homonymous song by Billie Holiday and the poet Abel Meeropol, who wrote about the lynching of two black men in 1930 in the US state of Indiana. The horror of the case was portrayed by photographer Lawrence Beitler: the bodies, hanging from trees, were watched by the white crowd.

The idea of ​​suspended bodies is always present, even in the children painted on white linen. In Chandelier – Suspended Children, they are also elevated, as sanctified. 

The public's recognition

“I grew up watching my two parents working and creating affective relationships, that was formative […] It was always important to produce with my time at my whim […], without prey, […] but I spent ten years without taking vacations”, he says, about the pressure that surrounds an artist, when he becomes more recognized and asked for commitments linked to individual exhibitions and group shows.

For Obá, work and meetings are fundamental during his career. One of them was with Flavia Gimenez, at Elephant, and another, in 2015, with Renato Silva, from the Mendes Wood DM gallery, where he held his first exhibition in 2016, Antonio Oba. Since then, he has held several exhibitions with the gallery, including inner skin (Mendes Wood DM, New York, USA, 2018) and Other Trades (Mendes Wood DM, Brussels, Belgium, 2021).

Antonio Obá participated in several national and international collectives, with emphasis on the 36th Panorama of Brazilian Art, MAM, São Paulo, Brazil (2018), the Black Encyclopedia, Pinacoteca, São Paulo (2021), Tuymans/Cahn/Oba (Bourse de Commerce (2021/2022) and the 12th Liverpool Biennale, England, UK (2023), among others.

His works are present in several important collections, such as the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo, the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro, the Museum of Art of Rio, the Pinacoteca of the State of São Paulo, the Pinault Collection, the Pérez Art Museum Miami and Jumex Museo, Mexico, to name just a few.

He is currently preparing a next exhibition, to be opened at the end of 2023 at the gallery's São Paulo headquarters. Since 2016, it has gained wide institutional, national and international recognition. At the end of the conversation, another certainty: that Ibeji, in Obá, has been emerging in a crescendo, in the ambiguity of lightness and forcefulness, attentive and strong, as is necessary. ✱


[1] Text by Antonio Obá, present in the exhibition catalog flock

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