São Paulo

Iole de Freitas

Gabinete de Arte Raquel Arnaud

In the early ’60s the work of Iole de Freitas, who was then living in Milan, consisted of a series of photographic images, installations, and experimental films that critiqued the way the female body, and by extension the notion of femininity itself, has been traditionally conceived by dominant representational systems. Fragmented images of the artist’s own body, mirrors—both mimetic props of the image itself and powerful instruments of aggression—and knives populate de Freitas’ early work. For de Freitas, the representation of the female form, always incomplete, was intimately associated with aggression.

Upon her return to Brazil in the ’70s, de Freitas’ work changed radically, at least in appearance, when she began working within the language of contemporary Brazilian sculpture. Using media often considered “traditional,” she still projects a critical power with a mise-en-scène of the female body that foregrounds the contradictions of hegemonic culture.

That subversive potential of de Freitas’ feminist strategy is also visible in her more recent work: a series of three sculptures structured around a critical dialogue with architecture entitled Teto do Chão (The floor’s ceiling, 1994). The title of the work is already in itself an operation of inversion, a strategic movement that implies a shift in hierarchical relations. In this work, de Freitas makes use of industrial iron filters supported by copper bars, all balanced by strategically arranged slate. At first glance the work seems to evoke the toils of weaving or plaiting, activities traditionally associated with women, though the sharp-edged materials belie such a reading. Upon considered reflection, the apparent lightness of the work suddenly becomes threatening, harmony turns into disorder, and balance becomes a system of tension. The pieces themselves oscillate between being sculptures and site-specific installations just as they oscillate between a meticulous informality and forms that are stretched to their very limit. And it is precisely in Freitas’ creation of a sense of instability and impermanence—a simultaneously disturbing and pleasant experience that prevents the identification of gender/genre-specific qualities or attributes—that the critical potential of the work lies.

Carlos Basualdo

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent T. Martin.