The artist from Rio, Mulambö, likes to work with materials, objects and images that are thought of as “ordinary,” but which carry an enormous historical and subjective burden. What truly brings him joy is when his art goes back to school and reaches children and the youth: “That’s what really makes the work come alive.”
Mulambö, Power. Photo: João da Motta.
Mulambö, The difficulties of keeping the feet on the ground. Slipper and wire, 2019. Photo: João da Motta.
Mulambö, Mouth Nose. Photo: Photo: João da Motta.
João da Motta was born in 1995 in Saquarema, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, and turned to art at a young age, initially fascinated by comics, cartoons and digital illustration. Using the artistic name Mulambö, he continues with a work that started to be shown in 2019, which is enchanting for its simplicity and originality. Mulambö aims, as he himself likes to say, “to valorize the symbols of suburban existence in Rio de Janeiro.” Using paintings as well as objects and choosing the internet as a platform for his work, the artist declares: “I make art to affirm that there is no museum in the world like our grandmother’s house.”
C&AL: Tell us a little about yourself: Where are you from and what is your background as an artist?
Mulambö: My name is João, and I grew up as Mulambö in Praia da Vila, Saquarema, in the Lakes Region of Rio de Janeiro. Before being an artist, I am a grandson, a son, a brother, a godfather, a Flamengo fan and a member of the Acadêmicos do Sossego Samba School. And that is exactly why I ended up being an artist as well, without meaning to. My background comes from various fronts: from comic books to some courses I had the opportunity to take, like the grant I received from Galpão Bela Maré, but I would say that my actual school was Carnaval. Not necessarily the samba schools, but the idea of carnivalization as a whole and how that influences how we tell stories.
C&AL: Why Mulambö?
M: When I was little, I was always out in the street playing ball and always very dirty. So, my mom always used to say I was all “mulambo.” When I started the work that I am doing now, my idea was to be dirty with paint just like when I used to play in the street.
C&AL: How do concerns about ancestry and social oppression appear in your work?
M: Ancestry appears by necessity and social oppression as its sequel.
C&AL: How important is the use of, let’s say “scraps” as an element of your art?
M: “Scraps” emerge in my work as the only possibility I had in the beginning of my trajectory, because I didn’t have money to buy materials, canvases, paints and all that. So, I started picking up pieces of wood and cardboard off the street and using paints from building materials I had at home. Over time, my work developed, and those elements became a choice: working with materials, objects, symbols, signs and images that are thought of as more ordinary, but which carry an enormous historical and subjective burden. For example, painting a broom without hiding the fact that it’s a broom. And not only visually, but in its functionality as well. It’s an attempt to use things that are around us to talk about people.
C&AL: What do you mean by: “there is no museum in the world like our grandmother’s house”?
M: To think a little personally, about our history, our family, our place, and to use that as a point as departure. To think about “our grandmother’s house” as a place of learning and memory, but also of safety and the future. A place where time is mixed and makes us look and walk forward and backward.
Mulambö, Small Father - Spine. Photo: João da Motta.
To think a little personally, about our history, our family, our place, and to use that as a point as departure.
C&AL: Tell us a little about how you have shown your work.
M: My first individual exhibition was Tudo nosso (All Ours) at the Rio Art Museum (MAR) in 2019, which happened thanks to the invitation from the curator Marcelo Campos. That exhibition changed my life. After that, still in 2019, there were two more exhibitions: Reservado para pixador Amador (Reserved for Amateur Graffiti Artist), At the UFF Art Center in Niterói, and Prato de pedreiro (The Mason’s Plate), at the Municipal Art Center Hélio Oiticica in Rio de Janeiro. All very close together. Except the one at MAR, they were completely independent, and I did the curating. I learned a lot from that process and running around. I am very grateful to my girlfriend, Ana Bia Silva, who is also an artist, for helping ma so much during that time.
To share a little of the story behind those exhibitions that changed my life, I made a book, which can be downloaded for free on my website, where I try to show as much as possible the process of all those shows. After that, I made Traçantes (Tracers), at SESC Santana in São Paulo, Mulambö todo de ouro (Mulambö All in Gold), at the Portas Vilaseca Gallery, in Rio de Janeiro, and Out of many, muchos más (Out of Many, Many More) at the Das Schaufenster Gallery, in Seattle, in the USA – all curated by me, with the exception of the one in the United States, which was co-curated by Ana Parisi.
Mulambö, The Mason’s plate. Photo: João da Motta.
Holding exhibitions is what gives me the most pleasure, because my process of developing an exhibition is like creating a show, thinking about the plot, segments and narrative through the works. This year, if all goes well, I will open an exhibition at the Pretos Novos Institute, in Rio de Janeiro, where I will try to explore various languages and formats from the idea of the Ourubu (golden vulture), a symbol very much present in my work. I’m very excited, because that project allows me to return to a space that receives many students. I’m very happy when my work goes back to school, to kids, because that’s what really makes the work come alive.
Fábia Prates is a journalist whose work has appeared in major Brazilian media outlets. She currently writes on topics related to culture, behavior and corporate communication.
Translation from Portuguese by Sara Hanaburgh