São Paulo

Paulo Nazareth, Ovo de Colombo—Guacira (Columbus Egg—Guacira), 2020, resin, various objects, 15 × 9 1⁄2 × 9 1⁄2". From the series “Produtos de genocidio” (Products of Genocide), 2010–.

Paulo Nazareth, Ovo de Colombo—Guacira (Columbus Egg—Guacira), 2020, resin, various objects, 15 × 9 1⁄2 × 9 1⁄2". From the series “Produtos de genocidio” (Products of Genocide), 2010–.

Paulo Nazareth

Vuadora” (Flying Kick) offered a panoramic perspective on Paulo Nazareth’s multifaceted oeuvre, with some 250 works, including photographs, installations, objects, notes, writings, and paintings, made over the past thirty-five years. The artist’s birth name is Paulo Sérgio da Silva, but the name by which the art world knows him––Paulo Nazareth—is an artwork in itself. By taking his maternal grandmother’s name, he acknowledges ancestral struggles as integral to his own identity. His grandmother was committed to a mental institution in the mid-1940s, shortly after his mother was born. A descendant of the indigenous Krenak people on his mother’s side, the artist traces his father’s roots to Africa and Italy. “To be Nazareth,” he has said, “is to be my work.”

Nazareth developed many of the works on view following pilgrimages across the North and South American and African continents that facilitated his questioning of the ways in which identity and culture (both material and immaterial) are formed. He often organizes his investigation of the topic via dichotomies such as fragment versus whole, linear versus circular, or presence versus absence. Take, for instance, the pair of Havaianas sandals hung on a wall, part of the “Products of Genocide” series, 2010–. The artist often wears these flip-flops, including in the travels that led to the “News from the Americas” series, 2011–12. Visible in many of the photographs, the footwear become a symbol of the routes he has traveled, as well as of the cultures he has impacted and assimilated. The importance of walking in Nazareth’s practice is also evident in four performances documented in the video installation L’arbre d’oublier (The Tree of Oblivion), 2012–13, in which the artist walks backward in circles around trees in Belo Horizonte, Brazil; Maputo, Mozambique; and Ouidah, Benin. By reversing the direction of his stride, he participates in a symbolic practice of acknowledging and repairing the trauma endured by enslaved Africans forced—as the artist tells it––to walk around baobab trees until they forgot where they came from.

As one meandered through the Oscar Niemeyer–designed building’s sinuous exhibition halls, it became evident that cocurators Fernanda Brenner and Diane Lima’s attempt to display a diversified cross-section of a vast, singular, and nonprescriptive body of work also underscored Nazareth’s process-based practice as one that cannot be easily categorized and contained. In a group of monochrome drawings of machines invented to perform elusive tasks—for instance, A maqina de aprender a ser a si mesmo (Machine to Learn How to Be Oneself), 2019—Nazareth’s ironic tone pointed to his understanding of art and identity (and, in his case, the inextricable relationship between the two) as something that cannot be mechanized into frameworks. The artworks on display exemplified a myriad of systems, matrices, conventions, narratives, and idioms in order to position meaning and selfhood as constructs that can be recontextualized to reveal cultural contradictions and paradoxes. Egg of Columbus, a group of sculptures that is part of the ongoing “Produtos de genocidio” (Products of Genocide) series, 2010–, looks at words, symbols, and images that reference indigenous and Afro-diasporic cultures, as well as colonialism, and that have been appropriated by corporations in names for commodities. A package of manioc flour branded Tipity (named for a traditional gadget used to squeeze and dry manioc roots) and a bottled beer called Império (Empire), among others, were variously held inside egg-shaped resin sculptures set on wooden plinths. This show was indeed a flying kick, an energetic thrust into the space that revealed remnants left behind by Nazareth’s unconstrained, critically creative driving force, one that has already moved elsewhere before we’ve quite grasped it.