Anna Bella Geiger, Typus Terra Incógnita, 2022, mixed media, acrylic on canvas. From the series “Macio” (Soft), 1980–.

Anna Bella Geiger, Typus Terra Incógnita, 2022, mixed media, acrylic on canvas. From the series “Macio” (Soft), 1980–.

Anna Bella Geiger

Cartography as both a visual language and a concept fraught with ideology has been central to Anna Bella Geiger’s art since the 1970s. This enduring consideration of maps as forms and symbols constitute the unifying thread in this exhibition, “And I think to myself what a Wonderful World,” which brings together works from 1975 through the present. The pieces are made in a range of media, including drawing, painting, sculpture, collage, and video. A pioneer of Conceptual art and video art in Brazil, Geiger has been widely lauded throughout her seven-decade career, while her influence on subsequent generations of Brazilian artists as a professor at Rio de Janeiro’s historic Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage has also been significant. At eighty-nine years of age, she continues her production with vigor and brilliance, as evidenced by a number of works from 2022 in the show.

Three new pieces in her ongoing series “Gavetas” (Filing Drawers), 1994–, are particularly striking: Melding painting and sculpture, she fills drawers from old filing cabinets with diverse objects and maplike encaustic paintings. The type of container and the wax medium have remained constant since she began this series, while in these recent works the motifs imprinted range from Art Nouveau patterns to lion paws. In Typus Terra Incógnita, 2022, and EW18 Quase Catástrofe (EW18 Near Catastrophe), 2022, both recent iterations in another ongoing series, “Macio” (Soft), 1980–, Geiger paints, embroiders, and drives nails on padded surfaces to demarcate different versions of historical world maps that show, for instance, Africa, colored in black, or South America, laden with stitches as if over a barely closed wound. Tracing and working over these images of the continents in various materials, the artist underscores on the one hand their status as coveted prey of the centuries-old cartographic-colonial enterprise of exploitation, while also gesturing toward the possibility of healing these scarred territories. As such, the poetic subtlety of Geiger’s work does not mitigate its political implications, which amount to a scathing denunciation of colonial language and ideology.

This critique is apparent in A linha de Tordesilhas lunar (The Lunar Tordesillas Line), 2022, for instance, in which the artist refers to the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas signed by Spain and Portugal. The two kingdoms divided the “known” world into two zones of colonizing influence and laid the foundations for the invasion and conquest of the Americas, including the Portuguese penetration of the territory of present-day Brazil. Here, the map of South America is displayed horizontally and looks as if it is painfully pierced by a spear-like rigid copper wire, an emblem of that artificial (and violent) cartographical division. The problematic relationship between Brazil, the rest of Latin America (the so-called peripheries) and European and English-speaking centers of power continues to captivate the artist’s attention and discourse after decades of work. By questioning, rewriting, blurring, and redrawing her maps, Geiger proposes a decolonialized perspective on our mental representation of the world.

Translated from Spanish by Michele Faguet.