Visual Arts Center hosts new exhibition of contemporary Brazilian art, co-curated by Art History Assistant Professor Adele Nelson and VAC Director MacKenzie Stevens
by Alicia Dietrich
This fall, Art History Assistant Professor Adele Nelson and Visual Arts Center Director MacKenzie Stevens are co-organizing one of the Visual Art Center’s most ambitious exhibitions to date. Social Fabric: Art and Activism in Contemporary Brazil, which runs Sept. 23 through March 10, features more than 65 works by 10 artists who reflect upon history and political activism in Brazil.
Spanning a wide range of media, including installation, painting, performance, photography, sculpture and video, Social Fabric fills five galleries within the Visual Arts Center (VAC) and features several new commissions. Artists include Denilson Baniwa, Guerreiro do Divino Amor, Jaime Lauriano, Maré de Matos, Aline Motta, Lais Myrrha, Antonio Obá, Rosana Paulino, Sallisa Rosa and the VAC’s fall 2022 artist-in-residence, Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro.
“In the exhibition, we consider how artists today in Brazil negotiate the relationship between art and politics and contribute to local and global conversations about democracy and racial justice,” Nelson said. “Brazilian art occupies a paradoxical position in the international art world. Brazilian artists are quite visible — their work is collected in premier art museums — but overtly political Brazilian art is less visible in the United States. The majority of the artists in the VAC show are Afro-descendent and Indigenous, and many have not shown in the U.S. The show also includes loans from major Brazilian museums not previously displayed in this country. The cross section of artists range from midcareer artists to very young artists. We wanted to hone in on some artists who haven’t yet had the visibility that we think they should have.”
As Nelson and Stevens began planning the exhibition, they were able to capitalize upon UT’s interdisciplinary strengths around Brazilian Studies, including the Brazil Center, the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) and the Center for Latin American Visual Studies (CLAVIS). In February 2020, LLILAS, CLAVIS and the VAC invited Rosana Paulino — an eminent artist who was the first Black female artist to receive a retrospective at the Pinacoteca, the fine arts museum in São Paulo, and is currently featured at the Venice Biennale — to visit UT for an artist talk and keynote presentation.
Nelson integrated the content of the exhibition into her graduate seminars during the past several semesters as the curators and students researched and mapped out the exhibition. The seminars worked through the pedagogy, concepts and ethics of how to present recent events and longstanding histories in Brazil to audiences in the United States. The research from these seminars culminates in a large-scale sociogram, or graphic diagram of historical connections, in the final gallery of the exhibition.
“I’ve learned a lot from the seminar students,” Nelson said. “I think involvement in the planning of Social Fabric has allowed them to think about their scholarly production in sharper ways — who is the audience I’m writing or curating for? What am I assuming they know? And what are the ethics of the assumptions I’m making about what they know?”
Nelson and Stevens have been working with faculty members across campus, and more than 20 classes will integrate the exhibition into their curricula this year. The VAC will also offer public programming before the exhibition travels to the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo in 2023.
“We hope audiences will be excited about the innovation, beauty and radicality of the art that they see,” Nelson said. “Visitors will have a chance to learn about how artists blur the line between art and activism — practices vital to Brazil and far beyond — and how healing and justice may be possible through committed efforts, especially in the Black, Indigenous and LGBTQIA+ communities to which many of the artists belong.”
Click on thumbnails below to view additional images from the Social Fabric exhibition.
Lead support provided by The Diane & Bruce Halle Foundation, Shannon and Mark Hart, The Jedel Family Foundation and Judy and Charles Tate.
Additional support provided by the Center for Latin American Visual Studies (CLAVIS), Deborah Dupré and Richard Rothberg, the Irvin-Loughlin Family Fund and the VAC Circle.