São Paulo

Emanuel Nassar

Emanuel Nassar grew up in Belém, capital of the state of Pará in the north of Brazil, part of the Amazon region, and he continues to live there as well as in São Paulo. Celebrated as one of the major figures in contemporary Brazilian art, Nassar consistently demonstrates in his work a tension between his place in the panorama of international art and his relationship to the land of his birth, for it is from the day-to-day of local life that he draws elements that comprise the raw materials of his works.

Nassar is inspired by the small city of Icoaraci, near Belém, including its markets of fish and fruit, but especially by the urban landscapes of the periphery. Here, shining under neon lights constructed of exposed electric cords, sockets, and twisted wire, bars are housed in sheds of painted sheet metal, on which names and advertisements are painted and repainted, layer upon layer, like a palimpsest. The paintings exhibited on the second floor of the Galeria Millan were made in much the same manner: powerful tones—yellows, oranges, blues, greens, reds—of synthetic enamel painted on sheet metal, inscriptions atop inscriptions, almost erased.

Nassar studied engineering and architecture and lived in São Paulo, but he eventually decided to return to his hometown of Belém and work there as an artist, dealing primarily with the elements of local popular culture. One of the major concepts used by Nassar in his work is that of the poetry of gambiarra. This approach to precariousness includes solving construction problems and repairing things using twisted wire, gluing pieces that remain visible, and mending and patching broken items so as to display their cuts, holes, and patches. The enormous installation that occupies the ground floor of the gallery is a direct reference to gambiarra. Its title, Instabile (Unstable), 2008, is also an homage to the American sculptor Alexander Calder, who classified his works as mobiles or stabiles. Instabile could be called a gigantic mobile, alluding to the precariousness and instability of life in northern Brazil.

For Instabile, the lower gallery space was painted black, and a black carpet lay on the floor. In the room stood a large apparatus with two long rods painted red and blue strung from wires, nails, ropes, and exposed pulleys. Serving as a weight to precariously balance the two rods was a transparent plastic bag filled with earth. At one end of the two long rods, near the entrance, was a metal letter E, for Emanuel, at eye level and visible to all, like a hook at the end of a fishing pole. At the other end, the line was buried below the level of the gallery floor. Inside a hole dug into the surface, the letter N, for Nassar, could be imagined hanging from a thread, since the artist often uses his initials as a motif in his work. Thus, the autobiographical reference of the work becomes clear: The E of Emanuel, the artist, is free to move about and roam the world, while the N, for his family name, is buried in histories, places, and deep memories. Instabile integrates sculptural structure based on Calder, constructive precariousness, and personal references. It is a monumental and synthetic work that represents Nassar’s quest to unite two very different worlds.

Katia Canton

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.