Conceição dos Bugres
In the late 80’s, when I met Paulo Vasconcellos, I also got to know Conceição’s work. He had three totems, one on top of the other, forming a single piece. I had already seen pieces of the artist in exhibition catalogs, but I knew then that she lived in the state of Mato Grosso and that it was very rare to find her sculptures. Over time I understood that the difficulty of seeing her work was due to the fact that she was little known in the South.
Once on a visit to a painter I saw three heads that belonged to this collection. I wanted to buy them on spot but the artist told me they were not for sale. I started to go to the studio always with my eyes on those “bugres”. Patiently and with determination I waited until the day came. Wow! Fabulous! Finally the first few “bugres” came to live with me. Collectors know what I’m talking about. It is that need to possess the coveted work that fills us with joy and pleasure.
I never separated myself from those sculptures. It was rare, but when they did show up in the market I would buy them. I have some at home, all “landmarked” as I always say. They will never leave my house.
Doing a show of Conceição was not an easy task. In fact, I thought it would be impossible to gather a reasonable amount of works necessary to show the universe of this great sculptor. My joy is enormous. She has never had an exhibition in São Paulo!
The invitation to Miguel Chaia to be the curator could not have been happier. Although he had not had familiarity with the work before, he went deep into it. His text becomes fundamental for the understanding and contextualization of Conceição’s sculpture in the world of art.
I hope you enjoy and understand that this is an unprecedented opportunity.
Conceição dos Bugres Curated by Miguel Chaia August 3rd 7pm - Opening Runs trough October 7th Galeria Estação
The Indian in the minimal esthetics of Conceição
Conceição is one of the most significant artists of the Brazilian art constellation. She occupies that reduced space of aesthetic rigor and transits easily among discerning connoisseurs.
Conceição Freitas da Silva was born in 1914 in Povinho de Santiago, state of Rio Grande do Sul. As a young girl she migrates with her family to the state of Mato Grosso, first to Ponta Porã, a border town with Paraguay; in 1957 she moved to the city of Campo Grande where she died in 1984. Her life trajectory mixes values of the Gaucho expansion to new fronts of occupation in the Brazilian West, values that should mark her artistic work.
She participated in several regional and national exhibitions, including the National Biennial of São Paulo in 1974.
The complexity of her work as a sculptress gains an original dimension in the Brazilian art when it is seen that all of it was produced around a single subject, and also appropriating the same form and technique that unfold infinitely. And yet, the artist achieves a result of a high aesthetic level – grounded in the repetition of equality and the specificity of difference. There is in Conceição an immediate radicalism that establishes an organic link between form and content of the most thought-provoking. The Indian is the unique theme. The base shape is cylindrical. With such parsimonious resources, Conceição produces one of the most interesting relations between culture and art, expressing new links between ethnicity and aesthetics.
In this sense, the present analysis of the work of this sculptor, in view of the opportunity offered by the current exhibition at Galeria Estação, is organized in two movements. A first is centered in the network of sociability where the person is included and in which the artist emerges. The second movement returns to the understanding of the work of art itself, situating the proper rules of her work in sculpture.
1. A visual anthropology
Conceição emerged as an artist in the city of Campo Grande, within a regional artistic movement of the Midwest in the mid-1960s, which discussed the national issue, demonstrating that it would not be resolved if it were centered only on the Rio de Janeiro-São Paulo axis. Such a movement was initiated and conducted by the critic and curator Aline Figueiredo and by the artist Humberto Espíndola.
Conceição’s son, the artist Hilton Silva, also participated in the group. In 1966, this group held the 1st Painting Exhibition of Matogrossenses (Mato Grosso born) Artists at Radio Clube de Campo Grande (Radio Club of the city of Campo Grande), and in 1967, created the Matogrossense Art Association. Since then, this movement due to the efforts of Figueiredo and Espíndola, and given the respectability they acquired in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, gains credibility and national recognition. It does not only occur in Mato Grosso, but expands and articulates to the whole Midwest, including artists such as Rubem Valentim, Siron Franco, João Sebastião Costa, Clóvis Irigaray and Dalva de Barros.
To impress a systematic advance on this regional movement, Figueiredo and Espíndola researched and mapped the artists of the region, an exquisite work of surveying the state of art in Brasília, Mato Grosso and Goiás.
According to Humberto Espíndola’s interview with the author (03/20/2017), in the transition of the 60's to the 70's, Hilton Silva informs Aline and him that his mother, Conceição, makes sculptures in cassava root. The two will know, welcome and encourage the initial art of Conception, which is immediately involved by the group and gradually becomes a relevant figure for the regional movement, which is highlighted by the vigorous performance of Aline Figueiredo, for the participation of Humberto Espíndola in national (São Paulo) and international (Venice) biennials and the impact of the work of Conceição in the art of the country.
The simple and hard life of Conceição is marked by the strength of the imaginary of the western region, in which the mythical and mystical aspects are strong. Thus, according to an interview given to Aline Figueiredo (1979), Conceição says that she began to sculpt suddenly, when she was under a tree and saw near her a manioc root that looked like a face of a person. She liked the sculptural creation and then started to work the wood. She lived a moment of discovery and enlightenment.
In the same interview with Aline, the artist puts forward some ideas that clarify her world view and her art conception, such as: the wood itself has the potential to generate the form it wishes to be; once a style is achieved, one cannot escape it (need to maintain and reproduce the same form); the use of yellow wax to cover the body of the sculptures was indicated in a dream (adding a costume to cover the body of the sculptures).
These aspects converge to the centrality of the Indian as the image of her sculptures. Through the interview of Espíndola to the author (2017), Conceição would have knowledge of a mythology, which would involve an Indigenous person a hundred years ago, who would bear a form similar to that of her bugres (name given to an indigenous person in Brazil).
Moreover, in the aforementioned interview from Conceição to Aline, in answering the question “Why is the head straight?” Conceição replies: “I think that an Indian has the head like that. It has to come out this way” (Figueiredo, 1979, p. 215).
Thus, when considering this first movement of the analysis, it is important to emphasize that the artist can be placed within the indigenous question in Brazil. A fact that stands out when one finds in the work of Conceição remnants of its Gaucho culture, moved to a new region with a strong presence of Indians in the process of inclusion, such as the Guarani and Terena peoples – living near the city of Campo Grande.
The very term “bugre,” which the field of art imputed as a title to Conceição’s works, may refer to both the Indian and to the mixture of the Indian and the white races. However, given the origin of the artist, it is difficult to disregard the meaning of “persecuted Indian” by the “bugreiros” (Indian hunters), characters of the southern cultural formation. According to an interview with the author (on 03/31/2017), the anthropologist Carmem Junqueira informs that with the arrival of European immigrants in the 19th century, settlers in the states of Paraná and Rio Grande do Sul formed a particular type of militia called “bugreiros,” both to give security to their agricultural properties and as a means to combat and to remove the natives from their lands, now occupied by foreigners. The “bugreiros,” when hunting the Indian, would bring their ears to prove their deaths. Thus, in one of its senses, the term “bugre” began to designate the Indians fought, persecuted and removed from their territory. Considering the experiences of the artist in the cities of Ponta Porã and Campo Grande and the border with Paraguay, regions marked by the presence of the Guarani people, it is clear that the indigenous issue invades the art of Conceição. In this border area the use of the term “bugre,” with several meanings, is current.
Other aspects should be emphasized: that cassava food is basic and is part of the indigenous mythology; that the Indian walks naked and dressing him is an act of caring for the other; that the head of the Indian is framed by a gleaming black hair, smooth and long; that his posture is upright, that his body conveys solidity – a solid, rounded human block. Hence the formal proximity of Conceição’s sculptures with patterns generated by some civilizations or other indigenous cultures.
One can even raise the possibility that Conceição sculpts the immobility of the Indian, the moment of violence as a consequence of the subjection of the indigenous people in Brazil. In the stance of the totem, in the darkened eyes, in the drama of tense arms, one can perceive the sentinel waiting for the attack.
2. A minimal aesthetic
Each piece produced by the artist is equivalent to a mytheme, that is, each work is a renewal of the Great Indian, the original myth; each sculpture repeats and renews the cultural and personal myth of Conceição. A larger form – an array – carries the potential of reproduction of smaller forms (Lévi-Strauss, 1978).
This visual anthropology of Conceição is part of a limiting and innovative exercise carried out by her within the Brazilian art, for mythic repetition, the sequence of equalities in difference, finds correspondence in its aesthetic method, its language and its technique. Her art is rude, minimal and elaborated with very few resources. As the subject repeats it, the form also repeats itself in a conscious and radical way. She has already expressed herself about such contingencies: form and style from which she cannot escape (Figueiredo, 1979).
The art of Conceição is based on the transformation of the cylinder obtained from the cutting of tree trunks of various dimensions, particularly those of small formats.
From the point of view of the internal analysis of the work, Conceição deconstructs the cylinder with three standard gestures of the hatchet in the wood: two grooves on the sides construct the neck / head / trunk volumes; vertical cuts create the arms / hands; and there are grooves in the base for the feet / toes. Minimum interventions produce the total human image or visually present the indigenous cultural body – in three-dimensionality.
Until the dream of the honey, little black paint was used just to give the expression of hair, eyes and nose. From that dream on, Conceição deepens the use of the black color and begins to cover the body of the Indian with the yellow wax. She then includes painting as the finalization of the sculpture.
Minimum resources produce one of the most powerful anthropomorphic forms of Brazilian art. It is interesting to think that the proportions present in her sculptures, the colors of the skin (brown to yellow) and the attitude of the figure refer to the question of the formation of the Brazilian people, specifically the Indian body.
If, on the one hand, one can see in the work of Conceição hints of sculptors like Constantin Brancusi, in the repetition of formal units and in the columns (Infinite Column, 1937/1938), the similarities with the creations of antiquity cultures or of indigenous people are strong.
The pieces of this exhibition point to the proximity of the works of Conceição with the stone sculptures of the Easter Island, with Egyptian art, with the cadivéu (indigenous tribe) totems. A piece that reproduces the triangular shape of the Sphinx, a guardian, with certain aggressiveness and in a position of attack is present in the show.
If for Conceição the wood desires the shape to be constructed, the show also presents an image of an Indian with arms and hands raised, away from the classic position of the arms glued to the body. In this case, the artist took advantage of the natural structure of a trunk with small stumps of branches, which provided the clues to sculpt the open arms of the figure.
It is worth mentioning a sculpture with huge feet that reminds the Abaporu by Tarsila do Amaral.
As the work of Conceição is crossed by social and affective sensitivity, it is worth mentioning the development of the theme of motherhood in some works. In this line, a beautiful mother with a child in the warmth of the chest can be seen.
The faces of her sculptures take on an expressionist tone due to the small cavities made to house the eyes and the nose. The shadows of the black ink smudges are deep, almost mortuary. Maybe they'll catch a glimpse of the pains of human beings. They attract the look, making unforgettable the experience of this blunt perception. Sober faces so powerful and seemingly common to all of us that it is necessary to reaffirm this perception by looking at another sculpture, another and another – the succession of pieces does not exhaust the need to confirm the human condition.
In the whole of her work, the columns of heads are particularly interesting, since they refer not only to the indigenous totems, but also to contemporary art, recalling Brancusi. Like this modern artist who also carries a minimal aesthetic, Conceição elaborates her art based on the unity that is repeated in time and space and uses the overlay of equal parts that tend to rise to infinity.
Considering the production of repeated equals in the difference (which approaches serialization), the sculptures of Conceição reaffirm the complex and enigmatic character of art. In this line three observations in the sphere of the affectivity fit: Conceição always tried to personalize her sculptures, often nominating them; she also referred to them as “meek Indians,” tranquil beings; and in the midst of her normal production, she also carved out a few "negrinhos" (little blacks), with the biotype of African descendants she considered amulets and presented to her friends in an act of gift.
Recapturing Roberto Pontual (1971), in saying that the artist produces a small crowd of Indians, we can now add that she produces a line of defense of the indigenous culture with her hundreds of “bugres”. For Conceição, the “one” individual does not exist without the “tribe,” therefore she places an Indian next to the other in the world, and one more, one more, one more...
Thus, the anthropological sensibility of Conceição is based on the myth that she generated, the myth of the Great Indian, a memory form that has been unfolding continuously in her process of making art involved by society. In the same sense that her invention of differentiated serialization and her choice of formal synthesis guarantee her an unusual place in Brazilian art. The sentiment of the world in Conceição passes through her perception of the Indian in the tribal multiplicity. And her work creates a new art world in the country.
Amizo, I.B. Poética dos bugres – Uma incursão sobre arte, identidade e o outro. Dissertação de mestrado em estudos da linguagem, UFMS, Campo Grande, 2015.
Figueiredo, A. Artes plásticas no Centro-Oeste. Cuiabá: Ed. UFMT, 1979.
Junqueira, C. Antropologia indígena. São Paulo: EDUC, 2008.
Lévi-Strauss, C. Mito e significado. Lisboa: Edições 70, 1978.
Marzona, D. Minimal art. Colônia: Taschen, 2005.
Penteado, Y. e outros. Conceição, Abílio e Mariano dos Bugres. Governo de Mato Grosso do Sul, s/d.
Pontual, R. Catálogo Galeria IBEU. Rio de Janeiro, 1971.
Miguel Chaia is a professor and researcher at the Nucleus of Studies in Art, Media and Politics (NEAMP) of PUC-SP.
CONCEIÇÃO DOS BUGRES (Conceição Freitas da Silva)
Opening reception – August 3rd at 7pm
Until October 7th, 2017
This exhibition at Galeria Estação, curated by professor Miguel Chaia, is the first solo show in São Paulo of the artist born in Rio Grande Sul, who as a girl moved to Mato Grosso. It was in the city of Campo Grande that Conceição dos Bugres saw the emergence and maturation of her original production. The exhibition is a rare opportunity to see the assembled works of the sculptor, since they are scattered in different private collections in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
Conceição Freitas da Silva (1914, Povinho de Santiago, RS - 1984, Campo, MS), known as Conceição dos Bugres for electing the Indian the protagonist of all her creation, built a radical work by choosing a single theme and unfolding in a singular way, form and technique. According to the curator, the artist achieves a result of a high aesthetic level, based on the repetition of equality and the specificity of difference. "Unique theme, the Indian; basic shape, cylindrical. With such parsimonious resources, Conceição produces one of the most interesting relations between culture and art, expressing new links between ethnicity and aesthetics, "continues Chaia.
The artist, who began by carving cassava root under trees, in moving to wood declared that the material has its own potential to generate form. The centrality of the Indian in the image of her sculptures is attributed to her knowledge about a mythology, which involved an Indian of a hundred years ago, with the looks similar to her bugres (expression used to identify the indigenous people). It is also worth noting that the artist's experience is in the cities of Ponta Porã and Campo Grande and on the border with Paraguay, regions marked by the presence of the Guarani people. "One can even raise the possibility of Conceição sculpt the immobility of the Indian, the frozen moment of violence as a consequence of the subjection of the indigenous people in Brazil," Chaia adds.
Conceição dos Bugres emerged on the national scene from an artistic movement in the mid-west in the mid-1960s, led by critics Aline Figueiredo and the artist Humberto Espíndola, who discussed the national art issue beyond Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. In 1966, this group held the 1st Painting Exhibition of Mato Grosso Born Artists, at Radio Clube de Campo Grande, and in 1967 created the Matogrossense Art Association. Since then, this movement gains credibility and national recognition, due to the efforts of Figueiredo and Espíndola and given the respectability they have acquired in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. It does not only occur in Mato Grosso, but it expands and articulates the whole mid-west, including artists such as Rubem Valentim, Siron Franco, João Sebastião Costa, Clóvis Irigaray and Dalva de Barros.
Exhibition: Conceição dos Bugres
Opening: August 3 at 7:00 p.m.
Visitation until October 7, 2017
From Monday to Friday, from 11am to 7pm, Saturdays from 11am to 3pm - free admission.
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