Anita Malfati
Anita Malfatti, "A Boba", 1916).


Anita Malfatti became known from a canvas painted in 1916 and exhibited in Paris, called the silly. Anita was born in 1889, the year of the proclamation of the Republic, just one year after the law that freed slaves in Brazil. She died in 1964, just two years before I myself was born. This fact should surprise us more. Only one existence separates this one who speaks to you of a time of slavery. Anita painted women using expressionist deformation and the perspective decomposition practiced by Cubism. That is, when women begin to produce their own semblances in this specific language of the visual arts, they do so according to an aesthetic conscience dealing with the theme of the loss of the thing. Of course, this is a common problem for the avant-gardes of the 1920s, that is, the thing can only be recovered if we admit strategies for the negativization of the Real. If romantic realism and also certain impressionism intended to apprehend the relationship between representation and the thing, the 1920s discovered that the real is apprehended through the negative, through the resumption of lost experience, through the return of presence from absence. A look emerges that captures the events in series and is distributed among strategies of denial, repetition and deformation.

But to lose oneself as a thing is to leave slavery. It is to emancipate oneself as a position of looking and a place of speech. The feminine face that Anita builds will have this fundamental trait that there is a missing part. That is, in addition to reconciling a deforming aesthetic form with a social contradiction represented by the freedom that lies ahead, even if it does not come true, there is one more detail that gives this woman's specifically unique tone: the characteristic concealment of her left arm.

It is known that Anita was very ashamed of a small defect in her right hand. A defect that would have contributed to her reclusive character and perhaps prevented her from declaring herself to her unlikely love, Mário de Andrade.

Semblance is one of the operators of sexuation. The countenance unifies and composes a variety of features, in different language systems, forming a unity. Sexuation is semblance because it requires a performative act by which each one assumes, a semblance. In the same sense that speech is the assumption of a language by the speaker. To assume a face is not to identify with essential traits of what it is to be a woman or what it is to be a man, but to build a unity between the stories. In this case, the history of oppression and aesthetic deformation finds its unity in the subtraction of an element. A missing element in almost all of his canvases: the left hand.

How is it possible for an accident of this type to create a sense of punitive suffering for someone? It seems acceptable to us for someone to be ashamed of the dysfunctional characteristics of their body. But how the part for the whole became, in this case, a kind of feminine metonymy. I argue that this captures something that goes beyond the singular case, containing within itself the historical disposition of Brazilian femininity in the 1930s: the suffering with the shame of one's own body.

The metaphorical aspect of this countenance can be found in Tarsila do Amaral. In his self-portrait we also find this small gesture by which the right hand covers the left. The silly hand this time is absent in another way. It is not about deformation or perspective disembedding, but a true absence. An absence that goes unnoticed because the red dress envelops her. Wrapped and protected by a kind of armor, the canvas was composed shortly after the artist’s first exhibition in Paris, at the Percier Gallery, in 1926.

While Anita's works involve metonymic and descriptive titles, such as the sillyThe Russian Studentou The green haired woman, Tarsila's portraits evoke metaphorical nominations, such as those that could be created for her self-portrait in a red dress: The Lighthouse WomanThe iron Lady. It is also through exaggeration that the parts of the body will take over the face of a woman in abapuru, our founding Anthropophagus, who we will not forget to remember, was Tarsila's birthday present for her husband Oswald de Andrade. In it we see immense hands and feet. In it, the mouth, an anthropophagic organ par excellence, is absent. We also see a strange structure that could be a nose, or a breast, perhaps a dislocated or bent arm, on which the melancholic man rests his face.

What we have, in both cases, Anita and Tarsila, is a kind of incompleteness of the representation of the self, of a small flaw in the countenance, referring to the interference of this function that Lacan called object a: the subtracted hands, the stain or stain that it indetermines the closure of form, illusion or deception in the composition of the unity of the body. This contrasts sharply with the way in which Mário de Andrade's face is presented, painted in all its solidity and completeness, both by one and the other.


A similar situation, but of a different nature, will be found in the comparative analysis of two neoconcretist ladies of the 1960s. Regina's portrait, from 1949, we see a young Lygia Clark who seems to have been trained in the experience of modernist asexuality. The sadness of the look, the abstinence of the hands, the infantile model.

Let's see the contrast of this with Lygia Pape de stabbed tongue (1968). We are no longer in the production of a female face with its trace of negativity, but in the metaphor of the impossibility of saying. Here again we have the combination of a social contradiction, represented by the censorship practiced by the civil-military dictatorship and an aesthetic form, this time without any deformation, although photographic. Aesthetic form is produced by the metaphorical ambiguity of language as part of the body and language as a means of speech. Stab is the signifier that interferes. But we don't see the knife or the dagger, only the blood that flows. We arrived a second after the act. But we notice the scene in which she shows us her tongue. Metaphor over metaphor, because now it is a gesture of derision and repudiation, which we see in children, and which survives in the message of the language that does not bend. What we have here is a functioning that is part of sexuation, not as a semblance, but as a fantasy. In the fantasy series, the essential is given by the setting. This moment that defines the assembly of a set of perspectives, to which our gaze is invited to enter. we stay like this
conjecturing about what would have happened before or what will happen after.

We rediscover the theme of the negativization of a part of the body in Lygia Clark with Abyss Mask with Eye Patch (1968). Here are the eyes that are blindfolded, preventing us from seeing. But it is also the mouth and, therefore, the tongue that is directed towards a tube towards the abyss. The reticulated tube is transparent so we can see the lipstick well outlined under the lips. The masquerade is a psychoanalytic concept brought by Joan Riviére and developed by Lacan as a female sexuation strategy. It is not that behind the mask there is the essence of female sexuality, but that historically it appropriates the mask to say that femininity is just a set of masks, like an infinite onion where its inner center communicates with the outside.

Another structure built around the cover-up is Divider, from 1968, where Lygia Clark places a giant sheet on which people can cover their bodies and leave their heads out. Let us remember that the sheet is the garment preferred by ghosts. It performs the function of a veil, essential to the work of fantasy. But which division? Between visible head and hidden body? Between the fantasy hypothesis of several heads with the same body? Bodiless heads? As asexual ghosts or in the place of the absence of the body shown incitement to a body to be constructed by our fantasy? Fantasy is the divider of the subject, the strategy by which he apprehends himself as an object for the other or how he divides himself as a subject in his own desire. It is also the inductor of the symptom: gagged word, metaphor of desire, censorship of jouissance.

Two contemporary women of Simone de Bouvoir who think about art with the body, but also with the use of the body that seems to be concerned with the stability of its representative images. The counterface of this we find in Wanda Pimentel. In it there is another constructive record for the same dislocated feet and hands. The same whole-body subtraction asexual strategy. They are always cuts, angles, perspectives that produce this effect in the fantasy, the missing part of which we ourselves have to complete with our own fantasy.

At the crossroads between the formalist tradition and the pop tradition, we have this common point of approaching the real of sexuation through its production as a hypothesis of fantasy, conjecture or parody, as Judith Butler would say. As if we were here dealing with a critique of sexuality as a display of semblances. Let us remember John Berger's simple observation [1] that the canvas is, above all, a vault where the bourgeois practices his art of taking possession and accumulating lost experience.

Lígia Clark, with her shift from art to psychoanalysis and the correlated practice of inventing experiences, as well as Lygia Pape with her approach to the graphic art and design of the well-known Piraquê cookies, added to the feminine, as a problematic of the semblance of the self, the subjectivation of fantasy as a task.

Again, what we have here is less than the exposition of a raw sexuality in its demand for full exercise and happening and more the thematization of an asexuality, that is, of how we fail to say sexuality, both because the object hinders the countenance and because it introduces the fantasy of asexuality. The two aesthetic forms that were together in the 1920s now appear separate. On the one hand, perspective tries to get out of the two-dimensional space of the canvas (with its triptychs and its giant Moebius surfaces). On the other hand, the deformation seems to become aware of the systems of concealment: the mask, the dress, the wrapping.

If the semblance makes a genus, the fantasy makes a species. So there is always a mismatch between our collective experience of the genre and our uniqueness of fantasy. In this case, this can be shown by the opposition between the social contradiction, in a moment of silencing the word, and especially the redoubling of the silencing of women and the aesthetic form that reverses this process by placing it in a specific language of this woman.

Lygia Pape, 'Stabbed Tongue', 1968.


So we come to the third moment of these stories. From the 2000s onwards, many Brazilian artists began to be interested in the line. As if in this minimal difference, and in its repetition, something is written about female jouissance. This is in Mira Schendel's poetic alphabets, in the compositional varieties of Leda Catunda's patchwork, in Teresinha Soares' hyperintense graphics.

For Lacan, female jouissance has an interesting property in its difference from male jouissance insofar as they are formalizable through two distinct types of infinity. When I say formalizables, I mean the possibility that jouissance can be written and in this it has this first characteristic that once it starts, we are always afraid that it will never stop. As they say, if I give him the finger he wants the arm and if I give him the arm he will want to take the legs. The jouissance is a danger because it always wants more, including the oppressive jouissance of the superego. We are here in the anthropophagic register of malaise. One of its most fruitful supports is precisely the metaphor of writing.

This problem of the infinity of jouissance appears vigorously in Anna Maiolino. For her It all starts with the mouth, the mouth that infinitely devours a thread, or else the mouth that infinitely regurgitates a thread in In and Out [two]. Threads that hold the artist's hair, like a tiara, leaving her young and childish. Tiara that unfolds in a second turn, making her a mummy, prisoner of her own thread. Mummy that turns into a knot that imprisons and closes the circuit. Finally, a knot that ends in the symptomatic metaphor of “gift-wrapped”, with a beautiful bow at the end. Descriptive process of how the infinity of a line is transformed into the finitude of a compact unit. A process that allows us to show how we started in the infinite and ambiguous series, went through fantasy and arrived at the semblance. The Present Woman, the Gift-Wrapped Woman… only not, because she is precisely the Absent Woman.

A homologous process appears in Shirley Paes Leme and her works on grooves, sticks, filaments as in Frozen Smoke on Screen 2015, where the texture and series of the letters appears giving materiality to the book, not as an expressive form, but as a string of letters that is arranged as an aesthetic form. If male sexuation can be written as a line of natural numbers, where we can count {1,2,3, …n} the sexuation of female jouissance is a real number line where we cannot count on its formation rules {0, 1}. There is no binary here because the natural line comprises an anomalous element which is zero and the real line comprises unpredictability and absence of closure. With this, both the closure of the semblance and the proportion of the fantasy are subverted by an experience of non-identity, of counter-identity. The discontent of the not-all still appears in Elida Tessler's work, mainly in the process of rewriting objects historically linked to the female experience: clothespins, keys, hand towels, silk socks, magnifying glasses, corks, nail polish. Repeated indefinitely and written down, they lose their support of suffering and symptom, appearing as a name for discontent.


I brought here three chapters of an infinite line. Chapters of a story that subverts its own segments, as it doesn't have to be told like that, in order, or in the manner of a series. So we have other stories of sexuality to tell, because each moment we are in recreates a story
that makes it possible at the same time, bringing us to a universe of truth in a fictional structure, but also to the unthinkable impossible of each moment, which is the impossible moment of the now.

In order to be able to tell new stories, we need to free ourselves from both faces and fantasies, and even from our identities of enjoyment. This would produce non-concentric stories, stories that would not be contemporaneous with themselves, nor anachronistic in relation to the Other. Contingent stories. This is what one might expect from the entrance of infinity as a critical concept for the genre experience and its fantasies. Stories that would not be necessary, nor just possible, because they represent a point of view or perspective, like any other.

Our time of competing narratives, of hastily made stories, of post-truth scraps, needs to take more seriously what offends its unity made up of fixed chapters. It needs to take into account the madness, misery and vulnerability that produce thousands of rejects. The history of sexualities is a tension between aesthetic form and social contradiction. It serves to remind us that using human bodies, treated only as raw material for the spectacle of social cleansing, is not just a hygienist crime and a tolerated segregation, but it invents and reproduces political grammars that will then stick to our eyes, unaccustoming us to the estrangement in the face of suffering.

[1] Berger, J. (1973) Ways of Seeing. Sao Paulo: Rocco (1999).
[2] In-Out (Anthropophagy), 1973/74, duration 8'27''

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