Curated by Luciara Ribeiro, the São Paulo exhibition illustrates how Sidney Amaral manipulated the figurative dimensions of history, amplifying its fictional stories and emphasizing the agency and resistance of its objects, as well as offering an important reflection on the latent paradoxes of Brazilian society.
Exhibition view, Sidney Amaral - A Mirror on History. Photo: Sérgio Guerini
Sidney Amaral was extraordinarily insightful in his critical manipulation of archives of Brazilian history and art history. A true scholar, Amaral skillfully referenced images and themes of the Western art canon, and the conflicts and contradictions of contemporary Brazilian society, particularly those experienced by the Black community. An example of this is Natureza Morta (Still Life) one of the works featured in the exhibition titled Sidney Amaral: A Mirror on History, curated by Luciara Ribeiro at the Almeida & Dale Gallery in São Paulo. Amaral violates the authority and supposed transparency of historical archives and, in the manner of African American writer, Saidiya Hartman(1), manipulates the figurative dimensions of history, amplifying its fictional stories and emphasizing the agency and resistance of its objects. This delicate handling of materiality and images, as the title of his retrospective solo exhibition makes clear, offers an important reflection of the latent paradoxes of Brazilian society.
Sidney Amaral, Still life, fabric and zipper, 180 x 264 cm. Photo: Sérgio Guerini
Curator Luciara Ribeiro, well-versed in art history archival research, has made sensitive and in-depth use of Sidney Amaral’s personal archives, offering exhibition visitors the opportunity to peruse these records and make use of them in order to make sense(s) of the artist’s vast production. Records of his processes and detailed studies for his works play an important role in the exhibition, leaving no doubt that Sidney’s excellence was not the product of genius—this myth of Western art history—or the naive use of techniques and references, as many institutions traditionally like to describe the work of Black artists, but the rigor and competence of an artist who dedicated his life to research and material and methodological experimentation.
Study for “Allegory for Abolition” c. 2014, watercolor and graphite on paper, 52 x 67.5 cm. Photo: Sérgio Guerini
Curator Luciara Ribeiro, well-versed in art history archival research, has made sensitive and in-depth use of Sidney Amaral’s personal archives.
Just as Sidney’s self-portraits push the boundaries of autobiography to reflect the collective dimension of history, photographs of the artist’s private life, watercolor portraits of family members, and the constant allusion in his work to domestic environments and elements, explore the subtlety of everyday life and his family genealogy, but also extrapolate them to echo memories, yearnings, and collective destinies. So, much like when abolitionist, women’s rights activist and former slave Sojourner Truth(2) posed for a portrait in 1863 with a small photograph of her grandson, James Caldwell (born free), in her lap, the image of Sidney’s daughter Lisieux Amaral, in his work, evokes a desire and hope for freedom that goes beyond the individual.
Following the example of Sidney Amaral’s work, the exhibition’s curatorship also echoes multiple voices in celebrating and broadening his legacy. Six artists—Almeida da Silva, George Tales, Marlon Amaro, Mayara Veloso, M0xc4 and Rafaela Kennedy—were commissioned by the Almeida & Dale Gallery and the HOA platform to create works for the exhibition that echo (and extrapolate) Amaral’s work in its material, political, and historical dimensions, asserting the place of Sidney Amaral who, having departed this world so young, has become infinite in the form of artist-ancestor. Luciara Ribeiro, who is not only a curator but an educator, gives Amaral’s career in education deserved prominence through video testimonies from his students that were produced for the exhibition, as well as through a program of public events, which featured a roundtable discussion on Amaral’s legacy as a “teacher-artist”(3).
The commissioned pieces, critical texts in the catalogue, video testimonies, and playlists made by Amaral’s family, friends, and students, not only reaffirm the multitude that reflects and is reflected in Amaral’s work, but also create an important historical archive for future critical developments of Amaral’s work, which offers such a powerful lens on the violence and melancholy of Brazil’s past and current political context. Sidney Amaral, who understood and denounced the tricks and traps of racism in institutions and art archives, and who included in his work the combination of hope and contradiction inherent in the task of all Black artists, in the greatness of their legacy and the absence of Brazilian historical tradition, echoes and remains.
Sidney Amaral: A Mirror on History was on display at Almeida & Dale Art Gallery, in São Paulo, from July 30 to September 24, 2022.
Maysa Martins is an art historian and educator. She holds a Master’s in Art History from UNIFESP, is a PhD student in Art History at the University of Texas at Austin, and is a member of the Center for Latin American Visual Studies (CLAVIS). Maysa is dedicated to researching Afro-Indian arts in Brazil and Latin America and works that challenge the limits of aesthetics and the historiography of Western art.
1. Saidiya Hartman, Venus in Two Acts, Small Axe Journal, 2008.
2. Sojourner Truth seated with photograph of her grandson,
James Caldwell of Co. H, 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, on her lap. Unknown authorship. Link: https://www.loc.gov/resource/ppmsca.52069/
3. Researcher Janaina Machado and educator Renato Lopes participated in the roundtable discussion, Places of a “teacher–artist”, chaired by the exhibition’s curator, Luciara Ribeiro. The public program of events for the exhibition also presented a round table discussion titled “Who will speak for us?” Sidney Amaral, his own spokesperson, with journalist Nabor Jr. and professor and curator Ale Salles.