Black Silence [Silêncio Negro]
“Intuiting my path between the popular and the erudite, the source and the refinement, and after having made some compositions, I came to see in the symbolic instruments a type of ‘speech’, a Brazilian visual poetics capable of configuring and adequately synthesizing the entire core of my interest as an artist.”
The words of master Rubem Valentim (1922-1991) echo in the trajectory of Luiz Martins. For his second solo exhibition at the gallery, the artist presents a series of works in which he focuses on a topic dear to his research: his origins and the construction of his language. Self-taught, he was born in the small town of Machacalis, in the interior of Minas Gerais, in a family of Afro-Brazilian descent, on one hand, and belonging to the indigenous tribe of the Maxakali, on the other. The cave paintings from that region have populated his imagination since his first contact with art, an ancestral aesthetic that acts as a structural element in his production.
His personal story follows that of so many Brazilians: at the age of 17, he moves to São Paulo, where he will experience the hard life of the periphery, the mishaps and the countless mechanisms of exclusion of marginalized populations, this place of darkness and oblivion in which so many accesses are denied. The marks of this trajectory appear in the silence of Luiz Martins’ forms: symbolic substitutions of a persistent process of silencing, rescuing a story that is still so present in everyday situations.
His work, which is graphic rather than geometric, presents these forms sometimes hovering over writing, expression of culture in its various canons: dictionary sheets, bibles or tabloids, representatives of the dominant discourse of white Europeans, words that so many times have been transformed into instruments of literal and symbolic violence. The materials, textures, “skins” and beings that inhabit the artist’s universe carry this symbolism.
In a period when important institutions around the globe promote exhibitions in order to repair the historical exclusion of minorities from the art circuit, we can situate his work based on the discussion presented in the exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” – which passed through the Tate Modern, in London, and the Brooklyn Museum, in New York. In the show, the place of political art is questioned only as figurative art, pointing out the place of abstraction as of equal importance in this debate – and it is on this place of speech that the present exhibition by Luiz Martins is dedicated.
In his most recent series, by superimposing his forms on old drawings by Debret and Rugendas, which categorized and attributed characteristics and functions to different races, the artist makes reference to persistent processes in the structuring of society, as well as a subtle critique of a market that to this day rewards and highlights political and cultural stereotypes. Above all, it is the place of the body and the ancestry of this body – which in this case no figuration could represent as a whole – that interests Luiz Martins, a striking expression of his complex and fascinating life story.