São Paulo

Hudinilson Jr., Narcisse–Gesto II (Narcissus–Gesture II), 1986, forty photo-copies, each 9 × 12 1⁄4".

Hudinilson Jr., Narcisse–Gesto II (Narcissus–Gesture II), 1986, forty photo-copies, each 9 × 12 1⁄4".

Hudinilson Jr.

The beginnings of Hudinilson Jr.’s solo artistic career in the early 1980s coincided with the final years of the dictatorship in Brazil. His initial forays in the artistic field had begun the previous decade, when he cofounded the 3Nós3 collective with Rafael França and Mario Ramiro. One of the group’s most ironic performances, Ensacamentos (Baggings), 1979, exemplifies these artists’ response to autocratic rule. At night, they roamed around São Paulo and used plastic bags to cover the faces of statues and monuments that invariably represented historical deeds related to military conquests. The attempt to erase an official narrative while simultaneously recording a defiant attitude toward the regime became one of the hallmarks of Hudinilson Jr.’s individual trajectory (he died in 2013).

This extensive and important exhibition at Galeria Jaqueline Martins showcased materials ranging from the artist’s first collaborative endeavors to less well-known aspects of his oeuvre, such as his paintings and his reference notebooks—bound collections that serve as records of experiments and contain clippings of sensual photos of young men such as boxers and actors from television, theater, and film. The show also featured several examples of Hudinilson Jr.’s iconic use of the photocopier. Completely nude, he would lean or lay his entire body on the glass plate, composing forms and textures, dividing himself into pieces, often with his face obliterated. Re-creating the body, he recombined its modules to form sequences with no easily legible order, sometimes recopying the same image over and over until he arrived at an absurd degree of abstraction, so that even the identity of the body as such, let alone any suggestion that it was a “portrait” of the artist, was called into question.

This effacement of identity is inseparable from the difficulty of living as a gay man under the repressive Brazilian state of the time when these works were made. The artist’s self-portrait is never seen in its entirety, nor is it framed. It is fragmented, divided, repeatedly “redone,” and transformed. Homoeroticism was central to 1980s Brazilian art, not only in Hudinilson Jr.’s work but also in that of, for example, Alair Gomes and Ivens Machado, who likewise used the eroticized male body as the pattern for their experiments. These artists played a fundamental role in discussions about the corporeal in a country that longed to breathe democratic air after twenty-one years of dictatorship.

The exhibition also included excerpts from the artist’s personal archives. These are vital to understanding not only his sources but also his way of thinking. Among the clippings was evidence of his love of the 1970s musical group Secos & Molhados, led by Ney Matogrosso. This gender-bending performer played a seminal role in using the mass media to undermine the heteronormative and conservative strictures of Brazilian society. A similar effort could be felt here, even in a work as understated as Narcisse–Gesto II (Narcissus–Gesture II), 1986, a grid of forty xeroxed fragments making up an image of the artist’s hands. But a special detail in the composition is that one of the modules is separate from the rest, adjacent to the corresponding empty space inside the rectangular pictorial field, perhaps conveying a sense of not fitting into Brazil’s conservative society. 

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.