São Paulo

Efrain Almeida

Galeria Camargo Vilaça

The installation of new works (all 2000) by the young Brazilian artist Efrain Almeida, mounted in the gallery mezzanine, played on the symmetry between works shown on two facing walls. From each of these sprang two wooden hummingbirds captured as if in full flight, their wings spread. From their feet hung long strings of red beads that fell to the floor and stretched out to the center of the gallery. These small ligaments, uniting each pair of birds, traced red outlines on the gallery floor: two drawings that nearly touched, as if describing the shadows of a flight in which the birds, affixed to the wall, could not take part. These designs transformed each set of birds into a true pair: side by side, joined by a skein of blood. The simple design delineated on the floor managed to mobilize the entire space of the gallery by involving the spectator and guiding both his eye and his steps.

Three more sculptures filled out the exhibition, presented on the walls between the two pairs of birds. All of them were hand-carved from cedar. Two are small human figures whose bodies are intertwined with tree trunks. In one, the trunk continues, like a drawing or tattoo, on the figure’s back. In the other, an oval-shaped branch in the form of a crown of thorns joins two heads. The figures’ faces, as in other works by Almeida, can be viewed as self-portraits. The direct tie to nature, implicit in the material selected and the manner of working it,culminates in this representation of the physical merging of human body and tree, of flesh and wood. But these tree men also evoke Catholic religious symbology: the wood of the Cross, the trunk on which St. Sebastian was martyred, the marks of wounds—a universe of religious images that may also be sexually charged. Even here, though, what emerged was not any specific sign of sexuality but rather the suggestion of a physical sensuality in which the pure vibration of feeling ruled.

In Almeida’s work one can clearly see the influence of popular crafts characteristic of his region of origin, the backlands of the northern Brazilian state of Ceará, and of his particular family background (his father was a carpenter). The artisanal quality of the work imparts to it an exceptional material and textural sensitivity that renders these sculptures simultaneously simple and sophisticated, powerful and vulnerable. In them we find not only the echo of artisanal toys but also of popular religious statuary—extremely rich in Brazil—and especially of ex-votos. But Almeida transcends what could have been a mere adaptation of local references and traditions, successfully imbuing his work with an intensely personal sense of drama and energy. The result is a synthesis of the erudite and the popular that ultimately succeeds in affirming itself as contemporary art. Almeida operates through suggestion and insinuation, evoking feelings—love, pleasure, suffering, pain, communion with nature, the fear of death—but never burdening them with commentary.

Alexandre Melo

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford Landers.