Leading Brazilian artist Adriana Varejao's first solo U.S. museum exhibition opens
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Leading Brazilian artist Adriana Varejao's first solo U.S. museum exhibition opens
Polvo Portraits I (China Series), 2014. Oil on canvas. Two canvases, each 20 1/2 inches (diameter). Five canvases, each 20 1/2 x 18 inches. Private collection, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

BOSTON, MASS.- This November, the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston opened the first solo U.S. museum exhibition of Adriana Varejão, one of the leading voices in contemporary Brazilian art. Covering the period from 1993 to 2014, the exhibition examines Varejão’s response to the history of colonization and construction of race in Brazil, a topic culturally resonant for all the Americas. Varejão devours the rich and diverse culture of post-colonial, multicultural Brazil, churning it together with a strong art-historical sensibility to create work that is provocative, perceptive, and disarmingly visceral. On view from Nov. 19, 2014 through April 5, 2015 Adriana Varejão features 23 works, including sculpture, photography, painting, drawing and installation and a piece that is being shown publicly for the first time. The exhibition is organized by Anna Stothart, ICA assistant curator.

In works such as the sculptural painting Votive Offering and Skins (Ex-votos e peles), (1993) and her recent painting series Polvo (2014), Varejão investigates the history of racial identity and classification—fraught topics in highly diverse Brazil, where a 1976 government census asking respondents to describe their own skin color elicited 136 distinct answers. Polvo was inspired by 17th- and 18th-century Spanish casta paintings which sought to document the country’s range of ethnic backgrounds. Varejão selected 33 of the most poetic answers, such as Sapecada (flirting with freckles), Café com Leite (coffee with milk) and Queimada de Sol (sun-kissed), and had them made into a line of flesh tone oil paints that will also appear as a sculptural element in the exhibition. Varejão then used the shades in series of self-portraits and color wheels in order to explore the complexities of skin color and mixed-race identity. Other works such as such as Folds 2 (2003) and Carpet-Style Tilework in Live Flesh (Azulejaria "de Tapete" em Carne Viva) (1999) are even more provocative, depicting sculptural human organs, tendons and flesh made of painted polyurethane exploding from within the aesthetic beauty of Portuguese tile. These works function as metaphors for the brutality and fragmentation of identity inherent in the process of colonization. Prevalent throughout the exhibition is Varejão’s interpretation of the concept of cultural cannibalism, or anthropophagy. The theme dates back to the 1920s, when Brazilian modernist Oswald De Andrade appropriated the term to create the “Anthropophagist Manifesto.” This declaration urged artists and intellectuals to “cannibalize” the symbolic and cultural contribution of its colonizers, absorbing and transforming it to create a new Brazilian culture for the 20th century.

Varejão lives and works in Rio de Janiero. An artist of international renown, Varejão’s work is held in a number of important museum collections including The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; The Tate Modern, London and the Hara Museum, Tokyo. A pavilion featuring her work is on permanent display at the Centro de Arteânea, Inhotim, Brazil. Varejão is also the recipient of various prestigious awards including the Prêmio Mario Pedrosa, Brazilian Association of Art Critics, (2013); Grande Prêmio da Crítica, Visual Arts, Association of Art Critics from São Paulo, 2013; Exhibition Award, Histories at the margins, MAM SP, Order of Cultural Merit from the Cultural Ministry of Brazil, 2012; Medal of Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, French Government, 2008.

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