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Bela Silva: Caminho Tropical

Apr 29, 2024

Bela Silva presents a vibrant, colourful collection of work inspired by the cultural and natural life of Brazil at the MAC Niteroi, Oscar Niemeyer’s iconic modernist building. The exhibition is on view through May 12.

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Photography by Pat Kilgore

“Caminho Tropical” is a solo exhibition of work by Bela Silva on view at the MAC Niteroi, in the iconic modernist building designed by Oscar Niemeyer. Featuring figurative sculptures, vases, large-scale painted tile installations and drawings, Silva was directly inspired by the lushness of Brazil, its sensory connection to nature, the fruits and flowers, colours and shapes as she created each piece for the show. “I studied archaeology and I often have the same approach when making art. I like to study the history of a place, to learn about its unique story, its landscape, colours, literature and music…,” Silva explains. Influences include writers Clarice Lispector and Carlos Drummond de Andrade, musicians Antonio Carlos Jobim, Chico Buarque, Gal Costa, Caetano Veloso, Rita Lee, Ney Matogrosso, João Gilberto, as a celebration of the Tropicália movement from the 1960s.

She also closely studied the artwork of the Amazon tribes, their use of feathers and body paint, the symbology of their patterns and designs. This can be seen in a work such as, Cachoeira, 2024, a vase that has a distinctive repeating arrow and feather pattern, or in Uirapuru, 2024 a glossy glazed colourful bird sculpture, in which layers of markings and textures gives the feel of a furry coat of feathers. Silva notes, “The reason I like [working on] a big vase is because it is a very simple shape – you can work on the surface and paint it in very different ways. Then, I start looking at different shapes and motifs to decorate them. All of the colours [in this exhibition] are tropical and different from past works.” You can feel the influence of the overhanging plants and fruits, the dense nature, the mix of light and dark greens, yellows, browns and whites along with more bright tones, all of which are found throughout the work on view.

The invitation to exhibit in Brazil came from the Mayor of Niteroi, Axel Grael, and the director of the MAC, Victor De Wolf, and the exhibition was curated by Gil Pereira, who has worked with Bela Silva over the past two-decades. Pereira writes: “The use of clay, for various purposes, is connected to human evolution, and can be found in every civilisation throughout history. It is a very authentic, psychical and almost alchemical process; the control of material by one’s talent, two hands and centuries old knowledge, research and practice. Bela Silva’s work is about this transformation of basic, raw material into multi-layered pieces that have great personality, character and which hold significant presence in space.”

The title of the exhibition, “Caminho Tropical”, translates loosely as ‘Tropical Path’, which in many ways can also connect to landscape designer, Roberto Burle-Marx, whose work greatly influenced Silva, including a visit to his atelier while visiting Brazil. The visual patterning and movement, the rhythm of his work, can also be seen in Silva’s large-scale tile paintings, such as with Jardim na Sala, 2024, in which abundant foliage, flowers and birds are scattered across the grid of the white tile background. Pereira writes about the title, “Caminho, meaning way or path, also resonates with the Caminho Niemeyer, a complex of cultural facilities designed by Oscar Niemeyer, in Niterói, that stretches for 11 kilometres along the city’s waterfront, and it is a reference to this first exhibition of Bela in Brazil and her introduction to the Brazilian public.”

Silva likes to work on a large-scale, and this exhibition is no exception. Expansive wall tiles measuring over 4 metres wide, large vases and animal sculptures 1-metre tall or more. Silva tells a story about being a young artist in New York and going to visit Louise Bourgeois, who used to hold Sunday gatherings at her studio. “Dimension is important in your work,” Bourgeois told Silva, who realised the importance of working big to create her desired impact. This is true for her staccato-like gouache on paper works that measure 110 centimetres tall. Colours seem to vibrate across the paper, forming just barely recognizable shapes and forms as well as depth and perspective of the landscape. The energy in these works is palpable, her expression a celebration of life.

Caminho Tropical is on view at the MAC Niteroi through May 12, 2024.

@mac.niteroi

www.belasilva.com

@belasilva

@spazionobilegallery

Bela Silva, Installation view, "Caminho Tropical", MAC Niteroi, Brazil, 2024. Photo Pat Kilgore, courtesy of Atelier Bela Silva
Bela Silva, Uirapuru, 2024, "Caminho Tropical", MAC Niteroi, Brazil. Photo Pat Kilgore, courtesy of Atelier Bela Silva
Bela Silva, Installation view, "Caminho Tropical", MAC Niteroi, Brazil, 2024. Photo Pat Kilgore, courtesy of Atelier Bela Silva
Bela Silva, Installation view, "Caminho Tropical", MAC Niteroi, Brazil, 2024. Photo Pat Kilgore, courtesy of Atelier Bela Silva
Bela Silva, Installation view, "Caminho Tropical", MAC Niteroi, Brazil, 2024. Photo Pat Kilgore, courtesy of Atelier Bela Silva
Bela Silva, Jardim Na Sala, 2024, "Caminho Tropical", MAC Niteroi, Brazil. Photo Pat Kilgore, courtesy of Atelier Bela Silva
Bela Silva, Installation view, "Caminho Tropical", MAC Niteroi, Brazil, 2024. Photo Pat Kilgore, courtesy of Atelier Bela Silva
Bela Silva, Cachoeira, 2024, "Caminho Tropical", MAC Niteroi, Brazil. Photo Pat Kilgore, courtesy of Atelier Bela Silva
Bela Silva, Installation view, "Caminho Tropical", MAC Niteroi, Brazil, 2024. Photo Pat Kilgore, courtesy of Atelier Bela Silva
Bela Silva, Tapioca, 2024, Installation of "Caminho Tropical", MAC Niteroi, Brazil, 2024. Photo Pat Kilgore, courtesy of Atelier Bela Silva
Bela Silva, Installation view, "Caminho Tropical", MAC Niteroi, Brazil, 2024.Photo Pat Kilgore, courtesy of Atelier Bela Silva
Bela Silva, Installation view, "Caminho Tropical", MAC Niteroi, Brazil, 2024.Photo Pat Kilgore, courtesy of Atelier Bela Silva
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