The woman who led Brazil’s modern art movement

Portrait of Tarsila do Amaral in profile, mid 1920s.
Photo: Pedro Correa do Lago Collection; Sao Paulo

In her home country of Brazil, Tarsila do Amaral is affectionately referred to as Tarsila, the woman who led her country’s modernist art movement in the 1920s. Across South America, it is not uncommon to find a of his major works printed on a pair of flip-flops or on a phone case; in Argentina, his most famous painting, Abaporuis as important for Brazil as the Mona Lisa is for France.

This week, Luis Pérez-Oramas, the former curator of Latin American art at MoMA, and Stephanie D’Alessandro, the curator of modern art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art introduce America to an important piece of art. history of modern art with a new exhibition dedicated solely to the work of Tarsila. The exhibition “Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil” focuses on three of Tarsila’s major works: A Negra, Anthropophagy, and Abaporu.

Abaporu is frequently cited as having inspired the artistic movement known as the Anthropophagic Movement (from “anthropophagous”, meaning “feeding on human flesh”). As noted in the Cannibal Manifesto, written by Tarsila’s husband, Oswald de Andrade, he argued for “cultural cannibalism”, a style of modern art that symbolically “consumed” and transformed the cultural norms of European art. to create a new style that was distinctly Brazilian. . Tarsila’s work was characterized by landscapes and creatures painted in bright colors once considered tasteless by many in the art world. His paintings from this period were exhibited in his first solo exhibition in Brazil in 1929.

It was not until the 1960s, when the Brazilian Tropicália movement, combining the avant-garde with the popular, flourished in theatre, music and film, that Brazilian culture fully embraced and realized the ‘cannibalism.

Alongside his paintings, more than 100 drawings, sketchbooks and photographs tell the story of Tarsila’s life in Brazil. Many subjects in her paintings are character interpretations of the stories her nannies told her as a child, while others depict the nature scenes that surrounded her in São Paulo and then Rio de Janeiro.

“His work represents a moment in Brazilian history and culture that people are very proud of,” D’Alessandro told The Cut. “[What] kept us from being aware of this story, and how many other stories have we also missed? »

“Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil” is on view at MoMA until June 3, 2018.

Christopher S. Washington