For anyone who might have assumed that self-taught sculptor, engraver and painter, Rubem Valentim (1922-1991), was an unknown artist, a quick Internet search for his name reveals just how much the visual reality he created is alive and well. He is mentioned on sites promising “rare” works, on art gallery pages, in re-interpretations of his works by elementary school art classes, in versions of his works made with needle and cloth, in sculptures or reliefs with Elmer’s glue and glitter on arts and crafts sites, in exhibition reports, quotes in texts, as well as innumerable references to his biography both in Brazil and abroad.
His name and work appeared in the ENEM, Brazil’s national secondary education exam, in 2017, which, in light of the discussion on Brazilian cultural diversity, raised an issue linking the image of Emblema 78 (in which you can see the double-bladed axe of Xango, the Yoruba orisha of fire) to National Modernism.
“Truly Brazilian” Art
According to critic Mario Pedrosa (1900-1981), Rubem Valentim is “anthropophagic”, a cultural cannibal, since he was able to combine an Afro-Amerindian-Brazilian aesthetic repertoire with European methods. This new arrangement is what allowed him to defend his “truly Brazilian” art form by advocating for the value of poetics structured on these cross-references. 27 years after his death, the artist’s vast body of work has made his name even more of a requirement for those who want to understand the ramifications of the meeting of Afro-Brazilian cultural traditions and the geometric abstract constructivist thinking that has spread across Brazil since the 1950s.