Portraits of slave resistance leaders Zeferina and João de Deus Nascimento by Dalton Paula.

 

ALEXANDER AND BONIN has added Brazilian artist Dalton Paula to its roster. Working across painting, photography, and installation, his practice explores the exigencies of the Black Atlantic and knowledge production throughout the African diaspora. His work is often realized in the form of portraits, paintings on books, large-scale paintings, and “spartan assemblages of objects over abstracted earth-toned backgrounds.”

A big talent in Brazilian contemporary art, Dalton’s portraiture was featured prominently in “Afro-Atlantic Histories” earlier this year. The landmark exhibition explored the interconnected histories of the African diaspora. Displayed across two venues—the São Paulo Museum of Art (known as MASP) and the Tomie Ohtake Institute—the ambitious and expansive exhibition enthralled the art world.

In his review of the show, Holland Cotter wrote in the New York Times: “It’s worth going a distance for greatness. And great is what the exhibition “Histórias Afro-Atlânticas” (“Afro-Atlantic Histories”) is. …it’s a hemispheric treasure chest, a redrafting of known narratives, and piece for piece one of the most enthralling shows I’ve seen in years, with one visual detonation after another.”

Spanning mediums, geographies, and eras (from 16th to the 21st centuries), the exhibition presented 450 works by 214 artists from Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean, and Europe. Among the sprawling and impressive selections, two pieces by Paula stood out—a pair of new portraits depicting historic figures. Capturing slave resistance leaders Zeferina and João de Deus Nascimento (1771-1799) with formality and dignity, the modest-sized paintings were used to promote the exhibition. His portraits illustrate the exhibition on the MASP website, the cover of the exhibition catalog and, according to a review published at Contemporary And, they were featured in advertising along public transportation routes.

In its representation announcement, Alexander and Bonin pointed out the significance of his portrait painting. The gallery said, “Paula’s ongoing interest in portraiture reflects his deep engagement with the framework of Brazilian history; his subjects are often historical figures whose faces have never been recorded such as Zeferina, a woman who founded a community for escaped slaves in Northern Brazil.”

“[Dalton] Paula’s ongoing interest in portraiture reflects his deep engagement with the framework of Brazilian history; his subjects are often historical figures whose faces have never been recorded such as Zeferina, a woman who founded a community for escaped slaves in Northern Brazil.” — Alexander and Bonin


Installation view of “Afro-Atlantic Histories” at the São Paulo Museum of Art, with portraits by Dalton Paul on display on the far right. | via MASP

 

For Paula, making art is a political act, from the subjects of his portraits, to the complex histories and cultures he examines, and mining his personal narrative. In an interview with Contemporary And he said, “My personal history and experiences as a black man pervade my work” in both direct and indirect ways. He also discussed ritual, Afro-Brazilian religious practices, the transatlantic slave trade, and spatiality as it relates to resistance settlements.

He said: “I look back at the historical past in order to better understand how power relations and, especially, the process of enslavement, inscribe themselves on what we experience in the present, which allows me to catch glimpses of potential questions and future trends.”

“I look back at the historical past in order to better understand how power relations and, especially, the process of enslavement, inscribe themselves on what we experience in the present, which allows me to catch glimpses of potential questions and future trends.” — Dalton Paula, Contemporary And

Paula also talked about his fascination with with Cuba, which he said he is interested in “as a place that received the African diaspora and in the Afro-Cuban social and cultural forms that developed there,” and Bahia, Brazil.

“Bahia has always caught my attention, especially because it has the largest black population outside the African continent, and also because of the tobacco farming and production of cigars there, which is historically relevant to the region’s economy,” the artist said. “So I’m interested in thinking about how this black population served as manual labor enslaved in this system of production, but not only that, how it was and is able to be maintained, reworking its cultural and artistic practices, its religiosity under what are still extremely adverse conditions.”

In addition to “Afro-Atlantic Histories,” Paula’s work has recently been featured at the São Paulo Biennial (2016) and in “Songs for Sabotage,” the New Museum Triennial in New York (2018).

Born in Brasilia, Brazil, Paula lives and works in Goiânia, Brazil. He continues to be represented by Galeria Sé in São Paulo, where he will have a solo show in September 2019. In New York, Paula’s first exhibition with Alexander and Bonin is planned for spring 2020. CT

 

FIND MORE about artist Dalton Paula on his website (Portuguese only)

 

TOP IMAGES: From left, DALTON PAULA, “Zeferina,” 2018 (oil on canvas, 45 x 61 cm). | Image courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York, and MASP (Museu de Arte de São Paulo). Photo by Paulo Rezende; and DALTON PAULA, “João de Deus Nascimento,” 2018 (oil on canvas, 45 x 61 cm). | Image courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York, and MASP (Museu de Arte de São Paulo). Photo by Paulo Rezende

 


DALTON PAULA, “Boiadero,” 2018 (oil on canvas, 130 x 296 cm). | Image courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York, and Galeria Sé, São Paulo. Photo by Paulo Rezende

 


DALTON PAULA, “As Plantas Curam,” 2017 (oil on book, 31 x 160 cm). | Image courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York, and Galeria Sé, São Paulo. Photo by Paulo Rezende

 


DALTON PAULA, “Caprinos e o pasto,” 2018 (oil on canvas, 130 x 296 cm). | Image courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York, and Galeria Sé, São Paulo. Photo by Paulo Rezende

 


DALTON PAULA, “Bananeira, facão e rede,” 2018 (oil on canvas, 130 x 296 cm). | Photographer by Paulo Rezende, Courtesy Alexander and Bonin and Galeria Sé, São Paulo

 

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