press release

10.03.2018 - 03.06.2018

In the year dedicated to Afro ‑Atlantic histories at MASP — stories of inflow and backflow between Africa and the Americas across the Atlantic—the exhibition of Maria Auxiliadora ( 1935 –19 74 ) assumes a certain urgency. The delicate, precise and harrowing painting of the artist portrays her daily life and culture, spanning several African‑Brazilian themes: capoeira, samba, umbanda, candomblé, the orixás. Auxiliadora also represents the day ‑to ‑day lives of her relatives and friends in the suburbs of São Paulo, especially in Brasilândia and Casa Verde. Here, we are reminded of the feminist argument of the 1960 s, by Carol Hanisch: “the personal is political.” In the context of a history of art and a culture of museum collections dominated by European, white and elite representations and tastes, Auxiliadora’s work takes on a meaning of resistance.

Of humble origins, a descendent of slaves, Auxiliadora invents a new way of painting, far from academic and modernist precepts. Her singular technique became her signature: using a blend of oil paint, plastic adhesive and strands of her own hair, she constructed reliefs on the canvas. Her career was far from the canonized figures of art history: she sold her work at outdoor markets at Praça da República, in the center of São Paulo, and Embu das Artes, a city near the capital, places for meetings and exchange between those who can’t find space or opportunities at museums and in galleries on the commercial art circuit.

The paintings in the exhibition are organized into seven nuclei, centered on the artist’s major themes. The nucleus Candomblé, umbanda and orixás is central to her work, if we keep in mind that in Brazil a fundamental part of black resistance is structured through religious worship of African origin. In Popular manifestations, we see processions and festas juninas, capoeira, the bumba meu boi festivities, carnaval street parades, samba, corner bars, gafieira balls. In Self ‑portraits, Auxiliadora places herself in the role of artist in the practice of her craft, but also as bride or sick woman (she died young of cancer, at age 39 ). Couples, one of her main obsessions, is centered on courtship and conquest, reflecting her romantic perspective. Rural features images of life and work in the country. Urban features scenes in funfairs, square, bar, cinema and school. In the nucleus Interiors, the day‑to ‑day is registered and celebrated in situations characterized by affection and intimacy, especially in the meetings between women.

After a long period of obscurity (Auxiliadora’s last big solo exhibition was held at MASP in 19 81 ), this exhibit has the aim of renewing interest in this essential Brazilian artist, beyond the prejudiced, paternalistic and reductive categories of “naive art” or “primitive art.” Her work proposes an answer to a crucial question for any museum that wants to effectively dialogue and be relevant to the context in which it is inserted: in what way can art represent other cultures that are not part of the dominant classes. Maria Auxiliadora thus offers us a life (and art) for our time— at MASP , in São Paulo, in Brazil and in the world.

CURATORSHIP Adriano Pedrosa, artistic director; Fernando Oliva, curator, MASP