Carmézia Emiliano: The Tree of Life


Mar. 24, 2024 - Jun. 11, 2023

MASP - AV Paulista, 1578
São Paulo, 01310-200
PHONE 11 3149 5959


The set of 35 works, eight of which were specially developed for the exhibition, brings themes and reflections by the Macuxi indigenous artist on the observation of nature and collective life

MASP — Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand presents, from March 24 through June 11, 2023, the exhibition Carmézia Emiliano: a árvore da vida [Carmézia Emiliano: The Tree of Life], which occupies the gallery on the 1st underground floor of the museum. Curated by Amanda Carneiro, assistant curator at MASP, the exhibition brings together 35 paintings that portray and reflect on landscapes, objects of material culture and the daily life of the community of the Macuxi indigenous artist, located in Maloca do Japó, Normandia, Roraima. The exhibition is sponsored by Lefosse.

Carmézia Emiliano (Maloca do Japó, Normandia, Roraima, 1960) is a self-taught artist of Macuxi origin. In the 1990s, she moved to Boa Vista, when she also started painting, motivated by the impact of her first visit to an art exhibition. There she noticed that humanity and nature, individual and collective, could take on forms in the profusion of mirrored, intricate and interconnected details of the visual arts. At the start of her career, her artistic production found a place in exhibitions considered naïve and/or folk, today, however, her work calls for a revision of this enclosed interpretation and has been included in different contemporary art exhibitions.

The exhibition Carmézia Emiliano: a árvore da vida features 35 paintings on canvas, eight of which were developed specially for the show, divided into seven sections that address themes related to the artist’s subjectivity and life in the community, reflecting Macuxi cultural manifestations, such as the parixara dance, games and play related to festive periods – for example, the cassava harvest – as well as community life, manifested in the paintings that represent dwellings and shared spaces. Also noteworthy are the records of the passing down of knowledge, the support networks among women and the relationship of deep respect and cooperation with nature.

The title of the exhibition refers to a recurring theme in the artist’s work, the myth of Wazaká, the tree of life, which materializes Mount Roraima from its cut trunk. “Revisiting the myth of the tree of life, however, does not mean that the artist elaborates her aesthetic approach as an illustrated dictionary of Macuxi stories and experiences, but rather the relationship of experience with her context, to represent the topics that interest her subjectively, even if related to the community or philosophically referenced,” points out curator Amanda Carneiro.

Many of Emiliano’s works are dedicated to the poetic recording of objects of material culture and the knowledge transmitted by her people across generations; however, her work is not reduced to an anthropological or essentialist understanding, even though, for almost two decades, it was under this interpretation that her work found a place in the art scene. “Qualifying terms, such as primitive and naive or folk art, can be reductive and prejudiced, first because being self-taught does not mean absence of research, it just means that these people did not have access to formal education. Then, because, in general, they are attributed to indigenous, Black or poor artists, and say very little about the works and artists themselves,” analyzes Carneiro. “It is not unimportant to recall that such notions validated perverse hierarchies, influencing atavistic interpretations way too much,” she concludes.

The self-portrait Eu [Me] (2022) by Carmézia Emiliano also shows how little indigenous figures are seen in this genre of painting. Until the 19th century, the genre was often commissioned or encouraged by academia to artists belonging to the official history of art. The indigenous, separated from the State, but in open dispute for respect and recognition of their territories and ways of life, dealt with the fact of seeing themselves represented by others, in images that were sometimes romantic and often contradictory and ambivalent, such as the painting Moema (1866), by Victor Meirelles (1832-1903). By painting her self-portrait, the artist places herself at the center of the painting and her community.

“If it is true that the self-portrait moves on the margins of Western art, today, it is the center of the debate about who exercises the possibility of representing themselves as opposed to being represented by someone else,” says Amanda Carneiro. “Despite the many other enunciative elements of her indigenous belonging in addition to her own image, this is not a record with an anthropological flavor. Therefore, one should not fall back on the belief of self-representation as the only way of apprehension, removing from Emiliano’s self-portrait and from her other works the stimulating possibility of more plural, comparative and complex readings: the painting is the way the artist sees herself and at the same time transmits something that she wants to be seen,” points out the curator.

The exhibition at MASP seeks to broaden the understanding of the contribution of her work to the national art scene, presenting the artist’s most recent works, some of which have never been seen by the public before. MASP has four paintings by Carmézia Emiliano that reflect the relationship that the museum has established with the artist’s production since 2018, when she participated in the seminar Histórias das mulheres, histórias feministas and gave a two-day painting workshop at the museum. Likewise, works by the artist were commissioned for theHistórias da dança cycle, for the Art School project, a partnership between the museum and the research and publication center Afterall, and, later, to Histórias brasileiras.

Carmézia Emiliano: The Tree of Life is part of MASP’s annual programme dedicated to Histórias indígenas. This year the programme also includes exhibitions by MAHKU, Paul Gauguin, Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe, Melissa Cody, in addition to the MASP Landmann lending of pre-Columbian ceramics and metals and the large collective Histórias indígenas. The project is also part of a sequence of exhibitions that MASP has been holding in recent years around self-taught artists who worked outside the traditional contemporary art circuit and academia, such as Agostinho Batista de Freitas (1927-1997), Maria Auxiliadora (1935 -1974), Conceição dos Bugres (1914-1984) and Madalena Santos Reinbolt (1919-1977).

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