Work by João Câmara present at the exhibition. Photo: Disclosure.

Although it does not include the most recent years, the show João Câmara – trajectory and work of a Brazilian artist – on view until January 20 at the Afro Brasil Museum – brings the opportunity for a new generation of people from São Paulo to get in touch with the production of the Pernambuco painter João Câmara, with works from the 1970s to the early 2000s.

In addition to introducing the artist to a younger audience (his last major exhibition in São Paulo took place in 2004, at the Pinacoteca), the exhibition – curated by Emanuel Araújo – makes his figurative work emerge in São Paulo at a time when strong winds are blowing. contrary to the notion that the “true” contemporary Brazilian art must necessarily be non-figurative and heir to the formal and/or behavioral values ​​supposedly (and only) originating from the constructive aspects.

Today, despite the resistance of these currents, more and more young artists re-propose a type of figurative production in which the various contradictions of Brazilian society are described with an accentuated political bias and, to a large extent, only literal.

For many, the binomial “art and politics” must be manifested through videos, performances, but above all paintings, in which the denunciation of the country’s ills tends to transform their productions into pamphlets, explicit libels against the barbarism that plagues us, leaving in the background any poetic dimension. I believe that many of them feel great comfort producing works of this type. The youthful spirit that rocks them seems to make them satisfied with the pure and simple denunciation, with the marking of a territory in which politics almost always overlaps with art.

Will they all be safe from this placement? Hard to say. However, some collectors seem to love what these guys and gals produce. And, despite the crisis that befalls the art market, these continue to produce and those to buy. (It remains to be seen until when).

It is in this different context, of a more favorable reception of this “new figuration” that, little by little, expands through the local art market, that a reassessment of João Câmara's work may be of interest. The purpose of these paragraphs, of course, is not to exhaust the issue, but only to raise a few points for discussion.


There were few moments when figurative art [1] and politically committed had some more relevant space in the history of art in Brazil, at least during the last century. Portinari, between the 1930s and 1950s, post-war printmaking clubs and a few other artists were duly placed in the background, especially after the advent and rapid strengthening of non-figurative aspects among us. From the 1960s onwards, despite the rapid apogee (and immediate crisis) of the “new figuration”, figurative art in the country and, within it, that of a political bias, gave way to constructive and informal aspects and, soon after , for those of a conceptual/behavioral nature.

Of course, figurative artists remained, but few remained with any visibility in the mainstream of contemporary Brazilian art (even those that emerged with the “return to painting” in the 1980s). Those who remained acted or were perceived more as artists belonging to certain regions of Brazil, only occasionally getting a less prejudiced reception. As examples, Antonio Henrique Amaral, from São Paulo, Humberto Espínola, from Mato Grosso do Sul and João Câmara himself, from Pernambuco could be cited.

Work by João Câmara present at the exhibition. Photo: Disclosure.

Why this phenomenon? Before looking for the reasons in the production of these artists, it may be more productive, at first, to examine the environment formed with what was enthroned as “the” contemporary Brazilian art – which would take the conversation back to the 1950s, to the São Paulo biennials. Paulo and to the artists that emerged in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in the context of constructive aspects.

Concretism, neo-concretism and the São Paulo branch after concretism, the popcreto [2], and, concomitantly, the developments of neoconcretism, meant, in fact, a great rupture with the modernist art of the first half of the last century, placing some of the artists linked to these strands within the scope of the “great” international post-war art – a construction produced, as is well known, by members of the hegemonic art circuit, whose capital became New York.

Having artists of this caliber among us seems to have meant, for many sectors of criticism in Southeast Brazil, also projecting a unique image of Brazilian art and culture: at the same time that we could mirror our artists in what supposedly was best produced in terms of art in the hegemonic centers, the art performed here, on the other hand, could be taken from what was then hastily understood as “Latin American art”: a figurative, “magical-realist”, folkloric and/or political production (except for if, of course, the Argentine and Venezuelan constructions and forgetting, deliberately or not, the conceptual aspects of the continent).

The emergence of the aforementioned strands, with such expressive artists, therefore raised the possibility of thinking about an “international Brazilian art” that, at the same time that it aligned itself with the most cutting-edge international art (moving away from the “Latin -American”) sought to impose itself on all other possibilities of art production in the country. It should not be forgotten that these strands, although arising in São Paulo and Rio, were formed not only by artists from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, but by other artists from different Brazilian states – which reiterated the “national” character of the enterprise, in contrast to any recognition of regional aspects of the art produced in the country (an issue still present, as will be seen, in the artistic debate of the period).

However, this aversion that was then constituted against any regionalist figurative production or that recalled the “magical realism” of the continent, had a shock even in the 1960s. To be more exact, in 1967, when João Câmara won the Grand Prix of that year's edition of the Salão de Brasília, displacing none other than Hélio Oiticica, one of the greatest Brazilian artists.

About the clash between those jurors who defended Oiticica and the others who fought and managed to get Câmara to win him, the critic and president of the jury of that Salon, Mário Pedrosa, said:

The jury of the IV Salão de Arte Moderna do Distrito Federal, when deliberating on the granting of the regulatory Grand Prix, came across some names of artists who immediately imposed themselves on their judgment. On the one hand, Hélio Oiticica; on the other hand, the group of painters from Pernambuco (…) Hélio Oiticica, an artist from Rio de Janeiro with deep urban roots, represents the avant-garde, in his original inventions and more uninhibited experimental openings, and is also considered, today, one of the pioneers of the world of environmental art and sensory. The jury couldn't help but consider his name for the Grand Prix. In front of him, the pictorial representation of Pernambuco brings a new note to the Salon: Câmara, contributing to Brazilian painting with an element that was lacking: the descriptive vigor of social protest (…). The jury decided to award the Prize to the Chamber for the violence and aggressiveness of its pictorial message, in itself of authentic plasticity.[3]

It is interesting to notice that, faced with the need to face the convulsive political situation in Brazil in that year of 1967, as seen above, the jury of the Salão do Distrito Federal was led to choose, in the first place, between an individual – “Hélio Oiticica, carioca artist with deep urban roots” – and the supposedly regional painting then practiced in the state of Pernambuco. And, within it, by the “descriptive vigor of social protest” contained in Câmara’s production, allied – as Mário Pedrosa makes clear – to the violent and aggressive character of the artist’s painting, a painting whose message, in itself, had “authentic plasticity".

In Pedrosa's text, therefore, the individual (Oiticica) is opposed to a collectivity (Pernambucan painting); the Southeast (“Hélio Oiticica, a carioca artist”) to the Northeast (Pernambucan painting), experimentalism (Hélio Oiticica) and tradition (Pernambucan painting). Faced with the dilemma, the tradition of Northeastern, “regionalist” painting wins against the experimentalism of the Carioca artist, with “deep urban roots” – a struggle that would one day deserve to be further explored.

Without discussing whether, despite the situation in the country, the jury should still award Oiticica the Grand Prix of the Salon, I believe that the important thing here is to point out how Pedrosa, in his justification for granting the prize to the Chamber, underlines a fact that will characterize the artist’s entire production: the fact that both the social protest and the violence and aggressiveness perceived in his paintings are imbued with an “unequivocal plasticity”, that is, something that could be translated as an internal logic that removes from his production any vestige of superficiality, of a mere illustration of an extra-frame theme. The reality or the fact that is taken from the real to be transported to the painting, ends up being submitted to an intrinsic pictorial order, created by the artist, which makes it absolutely necessary to be realized as a painting.


If the constructive and informal aspects passed by the poetics constituted by João Câmara (and by several other artists that appeared throughout the country), this does not mean, obviously, that he remained isolated, without allowing himself to be impregnated by other parameters and procedures. of XNUMXth century art. What seems to have happened with the artist's poetics is that it was constituted from internal dialogues between influxes coming from certain procedures and strategies linked to the strands that emerged from Surrealism, issues somehow present also in the visual culture of Pernambuco and Northeast, notably the popular prints.

Mythical, hieratic images, always cut and “glued” on a plane tending towards monochrome, for example, are common procedures, both in one and the other of the artist's matrices. The use of truncated human forms, the appropriation of ready-made images and their juxtaposition with no apparent connections equally populate the popular imagination of the Northeast and of many international surrealists – procedures that João Câmara uses to produce his enigmatic allegories of the Brazilian scene.

This artist's ability to make use of a series of strategies, from the most diverse origins, to confer organic density between form and content (let's say so), is where what Pedrosa called the "authentic plasticity" of Câmara's painting seems to reside. .

In the artist's exhibition at the Afro Brasil Museum, the visitor will come across numerous works in which these procedures are tested and developed to create imagery enigmas, even when, apparently, they suggest explicit references to specific historical moments.

In it there is a work in particular that can be considered an important key to a broader understanding of Câmara's poetics. Its about another trophy, a lithograph/collage produced in the 1980s in which the artist makes explicit an experimental dimension in his work that ends up being largely eclipsed (by a less attentive look, of course) when transplanted into paintings. I am referring to the game between drawing – an abstraction – and the collage of a real fabric, two universes (representation and reality) that are arbitrarily juxtaposed and that in painting will gain a false and insidious naturalness.

And it is precisely in this false naturalism, in this false fidelity to reality that the interest of João Câmara's work resides. It is precisely in this place that the artist escapes the sin of being a “writer who paints”. As Pedrosa mentioned in 1967, the virulence and aggressiveness of Câmara's production is centered on the plasticity of his work, on his ability to translate into the universe of painting, on his ability to subjugate to the universe of painting, the reality that bothers him and the motivates to paint. It is not necessary to like the engravings and paintings by Câmara, it is only necessary to observe them in the singularity they claim for themselves.


This is why a visit to the artist's exhibition at the Museu Afro Brasil becomes important for young artists (but not just them), for those who believe that politicized art should be more political than art. Does John's work continue to bother many? Of course I do. It seems that for some, a production that insists on painting and, on top of that, on a painting with political and existential “themes” – in the XNUMXst century! – should be banned from the universe of “great” contemporary Brazilian art. Read mistake. Whether we like it or not, this type of painting seems to come back with force, and with the rancor of those who have been repressed for decades. It is in this sense that Câmara's work can serve as a strong antidote to the deceptions of repression, as it shows that art is not just what you see, it is a little more.

[1] – I am aware that there are huge differences between the various types of “figurative art” in the history of Brazilian art, as well as, of course, in the international production of the XNUMXth and XNUMXst centuries. However, for this conversation, I only focus on the fact that they all operate from recognizable signs. This is the characteristic that unites them, at least here in this text. The issues that irremediably separate them could perhaps be dealt with in another article.

[2] – Although thought by Augusto de Campos to refer to the production of Waldemar Cordeiro in the early 1960s, I tend to include in popcreto not only Cordeiro, but also Nelson Leirner, Maurício Nogueira Lima and others. But this is a subject for another conversation.

[3] – “The strangeness of João Câmara”, Tadeu Chiarelli, in CÂMARA FILHO, João. João Câmara, Trilogy. São Paulo: Takano Editora, 2003 v. 1. Page XIV. apud: LOPES, Almerinda da Silva. João câmara. São Paulo: Edusp, 1995, p. 36.

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