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Illusion & spectacle: the video art of Theo Eshetu

London-born Ethiopian artist Theo Eshetu was showing recently at Tiwani Contemporary, his first solo exhibition in the UK. Working exclusively in video art, Eshetu combines the formal components of film with anthropological ideas, as a way of examining the notion of culture itself. He draws on his joint European and African upbringing in his work, combining themes and symbols from his dual inheritance. Eshetu lived in Ethiopia until the age of five.

Eshetu’s acclaimed 2014 work Anima Mundi, an immersive multimedia and video installation, is included in the show. Situated within a mirror box, a flickering globe of moving images “alludes both to the multiplicity of ways to perceive the world and the capacity of video to create illusions,” according the show’s curators. The viewer also becomes part of the installaton as their own image is reflected ad infinitum. The artist may have wanted to represent the idea of life as a spectacle, or could be alluding to the proliferation of images in contemporary life.

Works from The Mirror Ball Constellation (2013) are also featured in the exhibition. Eshetu created the work by placing a disco ball in the Polynesian Boat room at the Ethnological Museum in Berlin. The disco ball reflects photographs showing traditional masks and globes, but the images are partially covered with tiny pieces of mirror. The work could be seen as a comment on the preoccupation with performance and spectacle in the modern world. Eshetu currently lives and works in Berlin.

Photo: Theo Eshetu, The Mirror Ball Constellation (No.1). 2013-2015. 120 x 100cm. Photo courtesy of Tiwani Contemporary.

Image game: Adriana Varejão’s challenging work

In a new series of paintings created for Dallas Contemporary, Brazilian artist Adriana Varejão (b. 1964) explores themes of colonialism and cultural identity. The artist has used her own image as a starting point, then changed her appearance through adding facial markings and altering the tone of her face. In this way, she manipulates her ethnic background and the manner in which her image is interpreted.

Varejão’s rigorous practice is informed by cultural and historical research. For each series of work, she investigates fields such as art history, anthropology, colonial trade, demography, and racial identity. In her early work, she made graphic depictions highlighting what she perceived to be historical inaccuracies and hierarchies of power during Brazil’s colonial period. She would often allude to the subjugation of native people by Portuguese conquistadors and the evangelisation by Catholic missionaries.

Varejão lives and works in Rio de Janeiro. In 2013, she won the Mario Pedrosa Award from the Brazilian Association of Art Critics, which recognizes the Brazilian contemporary artist who most contributed to national culture the previous year. He work has been displayed in museums worldwide.

Adriana Varejão: Kindred Spirits is on until December 20th 2015 at Dallas Contemporary.

Photo: Adriana Varejão. Kindred Spirits. Oil on canvas, 2015. Installation view at Dallas Contemporary, 2015. Photography: Kevin Todora. Courtesy of Dallas Contemporary.


Alternative reality: Sara Ramo’s blurred boundaries

Spanish artist Sara Ramo (b.1975) recently presented new works, including videos, photographs and sculptures – at Galeria Fortes Vilaça in Sao Paolo. The works in Os Ajudantes (The Helpers) blur the boundaries between reality and fiction. In one video, twelve masked creatures wander through a dark landscape, playing musical instruments. Under the flickering light of bonfires, their appearance comes and goes, lending the video a mysterious atmosphere. Bereft of any narrative, we are left pondering the reality of these odd creatures, which at times appear familiar and at other times, completely foreign.

In the series Matriz e a Perversão da Forma (Matrix and the Perversion of Form), the artist presents sculptures made of dental stone. Each piece is a mixture of the real – its material is something we recognize – but the shape is unfamiliar. As in the video, we are confronted with fragments of a whole, which has a distancing effect on the viewer.

Sara Ramo was born in 1975 in Madrid, Spain, and currently lives and works between the city of her birth and Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Her work figures in various important collections, including those of MAM in Rio de Janeiro, Instituto Cultural Itaú in São Paulo, and Fundacione Casa di Risparmio di Modena in Italy).

Photo credits: Sara Ramo. Matrizea Perversãoda Forma (Casca Laranja), 2015. Dental stone and pigment. 3 pieces: 73x 50x 75cm/ 27x 76x 63/ 72x 64x 44cm. Photo: Eduardo Ortega. Courtesy Galeria Fortes Vilaça.

Art from elsewhere: issue 4 of The Kurios out now

Issue Four of The Kurios is out now. Here’s a selection of highlights from the latest edition:

Australian printmaker Jessie Traill was as adventurous in her travels as in her art – but her genious is barely known outside of her country.

Chilean photographer Leonora Vicuña’s lyrical images capture nightlife in her native Santiago as well as in Paris and Barcelona.

Tarsila do Amaral revolutionised Brazilian art in the early 20th Century, forging a path for generations of Latin American artists to ‘go native.’

South Africa-born Oliver Kruger documents Johannesburg’s youth culture in his striking series of photographs Golden Youth.

The Kurios pays a rare visit to the former home and studio of Argentine expressionist painter Raquel Forner, in the bohemian heart of Buenos Aires.

The Kurios is available to read on iPhone, iPad and online. Subscribe here or search for The Kurios App in the iTunes store.


Documenting youth: Oliver Kruger’s striking photographs

In the striking series of photographs Golden Youth, South Africa-born Oliver Kruger documents Johannesburg’s youth culture. After visiting a street festival with a friend, the artist decided to set up a studio on the sidelines of the event and take portraits of people attending the festival. The result is a series of sensitive yet psychologically probing portraits of his sitters.

On the surface, flamboyant dress gives us a very real sense of the sartorial preoccupations of Johannesburg’s youth culture. But these are not photos from fashion pages, as these intimate shots prize out an intimacy from their sitters, however tough they appear. Kruger was born in Stellenbosch in 1977 and now lives and works in Cape Town.

Oliver Kruger was profiled in the November/December issue of The Kurios.

Photo: From the Golden Youth series, courtesy of Oliver Kruger.

Candid tales

The Black Book of Arabia is a collection of candid tales about women’s lives across the Middle East, written by artist and entrepreneur Sheikha Hend Al Qassemi. These fantastical tales – of women falling in love, preparing to marry, going to university – are less conventional than they seem at first. They are filled with twists and surprises—and a whole gamut of characters from sultans to paupers to sorcerers.

In one story, a princess is betrayed by a friend who literally tries to steal her wedding; in another, a jealous wife lures her husband into falling in love with another woman. These are universal tales that read simply, without literary pretension, as though the stories are being passed down to us by word-of-mouth. Their simplicity however reveals some emotional truths about the meandering paths we take through life.

The Black Book of Arabia is published by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (2015).


Revolutionary in Rio

A young girl’s long hair is blown by the wind, while she stares ahead at a small collection of trees. Three heads – human or animal we are not sure — protrude from wellington boots on the pavement. It is hard to describe what it happening in the paintings of Tarsila do Amaral (1886-1973), even though the colours and the shapes are vivid.

Upon first glance, some of these works can resemble France’s Henri Rousseau, the self-taught artist who captured now-famous jungle scenes. In others, she is more like the Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte. But in all her work, she is overwhelmingly Brazilian – with her bold use of colour and indigenous subject matter. Her legacy can be seen in the vivid work of contemporary Brazilian painters like Beatriz Milhazes.

Indeed, Tarsila (as she is known in Brazil) has been described as the Brazilian painter who best achieved a nationalistic modern style in her country. She is also credited with having revolutionised Brazilian art. The much-loved artist is one of a number of female Brazilian artists recently examined in an exhibition at the Museu do Arte do Rio, Tarsila and Modern Women in Rio.

Tarsila began to study painting in 1916. She spent a considerable amount of time in Paris, at that time a mecca for anybody with artistic ambitions. At first, she took classes with the conservative French artist Emile Renard. Later she studied with less traditional French painters, including Fernand Leger. It was not until 1922 that Tarsila began to show an interest in Modernism.

However Tarsila’s time in Paris did not totally convert her to French art. In fact, quite the reverse appeared to happen – though introduced to new concepts of Modernism, the artist began to hanker for a more purely ‘Brazilian’ style of art. She wrote to her family in 1923:

“I feel myself ever more Brazilian. I want to be the painter of my country. How grateful I am for having spent all my childhood on the farm. The memories of these times have become precious for me. I want, in art, to be the little country girl from Sao Bernardo, playing with straw dolls, like in the last picture I am working on…Don’t think that this tendency is viewed negatively here. On the contrary. What they want is that each one brings the contribution of his own country. This explains the success of the Russian ballet, Japanese graphics and black music. Paris has had enough of Parisian art.”(1)

 In the same year Tarsila returned to Brazil and began to make trips to parts of the country that would inspire her art. She visited the historic towns of Minas Gerias, which are inland of Rio. These colonial-style towns, which date back to the 18th Century Gold Rush, are loved for their Baroque-style churches, cobblestone streets and ornate mansions. Tarsila wrote: “I found in Minas the colours I had adored as a child. I was later taught that they are ugly and unsophisticated.” Her experiences of popular culture in Brazil led to a new style of painting: she started to express herself through a mixture of naïve art and Cubism. She had picked up the latter from her French mentor, Leger.

Please continue reading this article in the November/December 2015 issue of The Kurios.

(1) Quoted from Latin American Art of the 20th Century, Edward Lucie-Smith (Thames and Hudson, 1993), p.42.

Photo: Tarsila. Source: O Estado de São Paulo – Seção de Periódicos da Biblioteca Máriode A ndrade (Wikimedia Commons).