Tarsila do Amaral was not in São Paulo when Modern Art Week took place there in February 1922; she was, rather, in Paris, studying art at the traditional Académie Julian and in Émile Renard’s studio. When she returned to Brazil in mid-1922, she met some of the artists and intellectuals who had participated in the event, and her perception of art changed dramatically. When she returned to Paris a few months later, she pursued new and less traditional teachers. Indeed, Fernand Léger was the one who most influenced her production, especially works like her Pau-brasil paintings from 1924 to 1927. In them, do Amaral examines the visual representation of Brazilian identity, using bright and contrasting colors to construct landscapes out of a series of planes. But it was in 1928, when she painted "Abaporu", that that commitment to the depiction of the specifically Brazilian took centerstage.
"Abaporu"—a word in the Tupí-Guaraní language that means “man who eats man”— uses the colors of the Brazilian flag to rep- resent an inward-looking humanoid creature with giant feet next to a cactus and a sun, which can also be read as the cactus’s flower or fruit. Though Tarsila affirmed that the origin of this fantastic being lies in the stories she would hear as a child in a rural estate, the influence of avant-garde artists—among them Aragon, Arp, Artaud, Brancusi, Breton, Cendrars, Rousseau—is patent. Oswald de Andrade, the artist’s husband, drew inspiration from the powerful synthetic image when he wrote the "Manifesto antropófago", an essential document of Brazilian modernism that proposes a critical metabolization of the European cultural tradition to create uniquely Brazilian art. De Andrade’s manifesto claims that Brazilian identity resides in the matriarchy of Pindorama (“earth good for planting”) and in the practices and customs of the Indigenous peoples that lived in what is today Brazil before the Portuguese arrived. The colonizers, with their rationalist patriarchy, eradicated crucial aspects of tribal culture such as life in community and deep ties to nature. "Abaporu" revalorizes the nature-being of that immemorial land irreparably corrupted by “civilizing” logic. She is a supremely mythical creature native to a primitive and magical Brazil.


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