Eleven photographs, taken from the artist’s own family albums, printed on a smaller scale and multiplied onto patuás (small artifacts used as protection amulets in religions of African origin), greet visitors at the first of three exhibition rooms occupied by Rosana Paulino: The Sewing of Memory at the Pinacoteca of São Paulo. As visitors approach Parede da Memória (Wall of Memory, 1994-2015), starting point for both the exhibition and Paulino’s career, the sense of rectangular symmetry in its 19 rows and 78 columns of soft cushions, arranged side by side with small gaps in between, gradually gives way to a richness of detail and the perception of a slight asymmetry in their order. Up close, delicate stitching in blue and yellow catches the eye; the poignant retouching of the little girl’s dress in pink watercolors; the wispy mustache of the father figure posing beside the girl with a bow in her curly hair. The faces of the people pictured start to become more visible, casting hundreds of gazes upon the viewer, now making it impossible to look away. These gazes do not cry out to be seen or demand space, but rather they assert themselves, taking the lead.
In the Afro-religious use of the patuá, the most important component is its contents, what is carried inside. In Wall of Memory, Paulino flips this notion and uses the outer surface, the reverse of the amulet’s inside, as a medium for her family portraits. Reproducing the images onto pieces of fabric, repeating them and shuffling them as interchangeable icons, gives the entire piece a powerful mnemonic effect. Tampering with the gears of time, Paulino halts the gradual dimming which would eventually fade the figures of her family, both on paper and from memory. The artist also puts a stop to the crumbling of social memory, inserting her family members in an act of ancestralization and visibility. As someone ensuring that those people will not fall into the pit of anonymity that was (and still is) destined for many of Brazil’s population who wear the color of the earth on their skin.