Djanira: Chronicler of Rites, painter of customs

Museu Nacional de Belas Artes

Djanira: Chronicler of Rites, painter of customs
"I'm naive, but my painting is not," says Djanira in the 1970s when some critics called it primitive. Djanira dreamed of being a painter and not even the vagaries of life could prevent her from doing so. In the "Djanira: Chronicler of Rites, Painter of Customs" exhibition, two essential points about the artist stand out: Djanira the simple woman, yet modern painter, and Djanira the chronicler, itinerant painter, and anthropologist, who portrayed the daily life of her country with immense poetic lyricism. A modern painter, "she does not improvise, she does not allow herself to be pulled away," as Mario Pedrosa said, and despite the spontaneity portrayed in her paintings, her naiveté is in her way of seeing, of experiencing life, of attempting to give substance to dreams through the tracing of lines, the marking of colors and the aesthetics of two dimensional space. The narrative of the exhibition was determined by the artist's themes as a chronicler of customs: leisure, work, landscape, and devotion. These themes that have been present throughout her career and extensively explored the artist.

The mythology that surrounds the emergence of Djanira as a painter is embodied in the work "Dressmaker" (1951).

Owner of a boarding house in the Santa Teresa neighborhood, she hosted artists such as Emeric Macier, who taught her the art of "a cozinha da pintura” (the paint kitchen), where artists created their own materials, and she did small jobs as a seamstress to improve her financial position. Perhaps it was one of her customers who, having come across a dressmaking workshop with drawings and sketches affixed to the walls, would have drawn Djanira's attention to her artistic talent.

Leisure was a source of work for some and entertainment for others, as seen in the Studies for Opera of Beijing, and the painting "The Circus" (1944),

constructed in a strong and lively spiral, with a childish and dream-like quality, testifying to the influence of artists like Pieter Bruguel. It was in the 1940s that, at the invitation of the artist Milton Dacosta, Djanira moved to New York. Even though she was alone and unable to speak English, the artist did not lose heart. She contacted the director of the New School who, enchanted by her works, introduced her to the New York art scene where she met artists such as Segall and Chagall.

Back in Brazil, Djanira wanders the country in search of things to turn into art. As an anthropologist and visual chronicler, she would go on location to faithfully capture Brazil and her people. The workers appear silent, in works like "Lime Workers" and "Coal Miners."

Focused on their work, faceless, shapeless,

humanized only by their eyes and without anything to indicate their gender, the individual portrayed represents the collective.

While the secular world appears more impoverished, saints appear in rich detail, especially in their clothing, referring back to the details of the "Dressmaker." The project, developed by artist Oratorio Djanira, is composed of 10 engravings, inspired by the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages and accompanied by the poems of Odylio Costa Filho. They were handcrafted and completed with the left hand, since her right had undergone two surgical operations and needed to be rested.

This beautiful set of engravings, representing patron saints and devotional images, is steeped in baroque detail and complex patterns of motifs such as native and calico designs. From the religious to the syncretic—the Studies for Oratorio Djanira were flanked by two other saints in the exhibition. On one side, Saint Sebastian, and the other Saints Cosmas and Damian, both also worshiped in African religions.

Studies of both orixás (African gods representing nature's forces) and tiles contribute to debunking the image of Djanira as a naive artist. The rigor and attention to composition and proportion demonstrate that the artist had already evolved far beyond such a definition.

The union between daily life and religious and mythical experience, and the synergy between artistic and poetic work have made Djanira much more than a naive and/or primitive artist, but a storyteller who presents the image of Brazil and its nationality without being boastfully nationalist. Her "snapshots" synthesize the stylistic preoccupation of Brazilian modern art through the purism of the use of color and the stripping back of forms. Man, as a fundamental image for the composition of her works, balancing between faith and work, and troubles and repose, is transformed into a hero. A man coming out of his own earth. For the art critic Mario Pedrosa, Djanira "was the earth itself." And this earth, as the mother earth, is the one that gives and takes life, but above all, it is the earth that brings men to dreams and acts of heroism.

Credits: Story

Djanira: Cronista de ritos, pintora de costumes

Centro Cultural dos Correios - Niterói/RJ
17 de novembro de 2014 a 21 de março de 2015

Museu dos Correios – Brasília/DF
21 de julho a 18 setembro de 2016

Centro Cultural dos Correios- São Paulo/SP
De 13 de dezembro de 2016 a 05 de fevereiro de 2017

Daniela Matera

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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