I Rise – I’m a Black Ocean, Leaping and Wide
|Museum Frieder Burda | Salon Berlin
Auguststrasse 11-13, 10117 Berlin
|7 September 2019 – 22 February 2020|
For Brazilian artist Sonia Gomes, I Rise – I’m a Black Ocean, Leaping and Wide is the first solo show at a European institution. The exhibition begins with its first part at Salon Berlin and continues with a second part at Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, from October 12, 2019, through March 8, 2020.
Bodies hung upside-down, twisted into one another, recalling lynching victims or wilting vegetation. Nerve paths, mental maps, dreamcatchers: Sonia Gomes’ biomorphic sculptures have a worrying, magical presence. Born in 1948 to an unmarried black mother and white father in Caetanópolis, a center of the Brazilian textile industry, Gomes grew up, after the early death of her mother, in the Catholic family of her grandfather. But the African culture and spirituality of her mother and grandmother, as well as an interest in rituals, processions, and myths, made a lasting impact on her life and her later work as an artist. As a teenager, Gomes began deconstructing textiles and items of clothing to create her own style and to make both items for practical use and craft objects. Only at the age of 40, however, when she attended the Guignard University of Art in Belo Horizonte, did she decide, with the support of a teacher, to make a career in contemporary art. Today, following her participation in the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, she is among Brazil’s most influential artists.
In her work, Gomes uses a wide range of found materials and objects given to her as gifts, such as old textiles, driftwood, furniture, or wool, to make sculptures and large-scale installations. In this way, she combines craft techniques traditionally associated with women, such as embroidery, wrapping, sewing, and binding, with many different references, drawing on the folk art and spiritual African traditions, the formal idiom of Surrealism, Brazilian modernism, and current contemporary art. At the same time, there are often links to the culture of the Black Atlantic, a hybrid and polyphonic Afro-diasporic “counterculture to modernity,” described by the cultural historian Paul Gilroy in 1993 as “not specifically African, American, Caribbean or European, but all of these at once.”
“Sonia Gomes’ textile works develop a distinctiveness, formal virtuosity, and materiality comparable with those of Louise Bourgeois. They are incredibly powerful, but they also possess a poetic magic that had me enchanted straight away. Although Gomes has no direct political involvement in the Afro-Brazilian movement, her work renders the black, female body visible and with it (personal) history. Gomes gives us a sense of the importance of questioning grand narratives with their privileges and hierarchies – and of working for more justice and humanity,” says Patricia Kamp, artistic director of Salon Berlin and curator of the exhibition.