São Paulo

Paulo Nazareth, CA – for BLACK, 2014, plastic and wooden combs, 14 1/8 × 37 3/4 × 1 1/2".

Paulo Nazareth, CA – for BLACK, 2014, plastic and wooden combs, 14 1/8 × 37 3/4 × 1 1/2".

Paulo Nazareth

Mendes Wood DM | R. Marco Aurélio, 311, Vila Romana

Paulo Nazareth, CA – for BLACK, 2014, plastic and wooden combs, 14 1/8 × 37 3/4 × 1 1/2".

Upon entering the gallery’s warehouse space during the opening of this exhibition, the visitor was greeted by the sound of an unusual chant and the smell of home-cooked food. The aroma was of traditional Brazilian fare offered visitors in a family-style banquet setting. The sound came from a video installation shot entirely in the dark, making it a work to hear rather than see: Aprender a rezar Guarani e Kaiowá para o mundo nao acabar (Learn to Pray Guarani and Kaiowá So the World Doesn’t End), 2013. The work documents the ceremony in which the artist, a Brazilian from Minas Gerais, of mixed indigenous, African, and European descent, was accepted into the Guarani-Kaiowá tribe of Mato Grosso do Sul. (Similar chants could also be heard in a sound work presented on headphones, Chanson de Voudou [Voodoo Song], 2013, also recorded with a group of Guarani.) In the language of the tribe, the title of the exhibition, “Che Cherera,” means “my name is”—and in a sense, it serves as an open calling card. It recalls the word xará, which in current Brazilian usage designates a namesake or someone with whom we identify in a close, family-like way.

Yet as it turned out, the most profound problem facing viewers was precisely the difficulty or even impossibility of providing a categorical answer to the question of identity. The artist’s work process took the form of an actual journey, as he roamed, gathered, and accumulated objects: combs, bars of soap, sugar packets, pumpkins, sheaves of corn, images (fourteen videos and thirty-seven black-and-white photographs), residue, trash—all small and unpretentious mementos of his passage through and across various countries, streets, rivers, dusty roads, seas, entrances to expensive hotels, and rooms in cheap hotels. Since 2012, Nazareth has designated many of his works “Cadernos de Africa” (Africa Notebooks), characterizing them as repositories, of a kind, of his memories of his travels in Brazil, Latin America, and Africa.

CA – Mama Africa, 2014, for instance, is a yellow sack illustrated with the profile of a black woman’s face, which reads AFRICAN MAMMY LONG GRAIN RICE PRODUCT OF THAILAND. The sack is merchandise from Olam Mozambique in partnership with Vodacom, which offers a complimentary souvenir to its buyers. Two candlestick holders depicting black servants (criados) are configured over a cardboard wrapping of a nightstand, or criado mudo (silent servant), as it is still called today the name a former designation for a submissive slave; this assemblage is CA – criado mudo, 2013. A set of figures of Brazilian soccer teams are organized according to gradation of skin color (CA - Figurinha repetida, 2014), while a montage of posters juxtaposes the smiles of musicians and singers, Mozambican political candidates, and ads for Kenyan hair products (CA – Samba, 2013–14); such references offer us opportunities to confront our own prejudices and stereotypes.

Another video, L’arbre d’oublier (Tree of Forgetfulness), 2013, shows the artist walking away from a tree in a spiraling path; it evokes the colonial practice of forcing slaves to circle a tree as a means of forgetting their place of origin. For Nazareth, identity is not a question with a definitive answer but rather a process of investigation, a succession of journeys that merge with the very trajectory of a life. A visitor to this exhibition, thinking about the path of his or her own life, might discover that what we feel most deeply may not be convictions systematized into ideologies but sounds, aromas, fleeting images, small objects, or highly powerful but not fully comprehensible sensations. These sometimes constitute the most genuine patrimony of our heritage and our hopes.

Alexandre Melo

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.