There is blood on our hands, and on our feet. This is displayed quite literally in Lygia Pape’s Tupinambá exhibit at the LA Arts District gallery Hauser & Wirth. Inspired by an indigenous tribe in her native Brazil, Pape draws upon the themes of ritualistic cannibalism practiced by the tribe as well as the influence of the invading Europeans. Detached body parts are combined with chairs and spheres blanketed with bright crimson feathers. The blood has seemingly dyed the feathers and created these beautiful yet somehow violent sculptures.
This was our first venture into a gallery since the pandemic began. The anticipation of this event and a return to a kind of normalcy had been building for over a year. What first grasped us was the darkness and the beautiful staging of the exhibit. Like entering a theater (another place we haven’t been during this time) the daylight behind us quickly receded as the doors closed and we were drawn into the mysterious space ahead. A sea of black and red stretched out before us, the sculptures nearby at first seemed whimsical, and a beautiful use of feathers, but the more time spent examining, the more apparent the gore and grotesqueness became. The body parts, (feet, hands, breasts) are not hidden, but accentuated and almost celebrated by being placed upon thrones, popping out of spheres, or showcased in a suitcase. With the use of red spotlights the pieces nearly glowed, and the blood of the detached limbs seemed even more realistic. The size of the works was also striking, and added to the sense of tactility. I had to often mentally restrain myself from reaching out to touch the spheres or sit on one of admittedly uncomfortable looking thrones. The main installation, ‘Manto Tupinambá,’ filled half of the room with similar spheres, this time with protruding bones and hands reaching out, as if trying to escape from drowning. The feathered spheres rested on a sailcloth, illuminated with brilliant red lighting and was reminiscent of ballpit from a children’s play-place, but perhaps a nightmarish version from Pape’s dreams.
Throughout out the time spent in the exhibit I felt grateful to see art again, not just on a phone or a TV screen, but to experience with all my senses once again, to enter into a purely artistic space and to be consumed by it.The themes of this Tupinambá exhibition are best felt in person, the physicality and viscerality of the works speak for themselves, but the added context and ability to spend time with the pieces provides another level of understanding. This in-person aspect is something that cannot be simulated, it stimulates the mind and imagination, and along with the excellent curation by Hauser & Wirth, you might believe that one of the hands may reach out and grab you.
Featuring one of the most commanding and rarely seen bodies of work by Lygia Pape, the exhibition introduces her deeply Brazilian Tupinambá series to a North American audience for the first time…The Tupinambá series…reflects Pape’s longtime interest in indigenous Brazilian peoples and cultural practices—most notably that of anthropophagy, a ceremonial variant of cannibalism practiced by the Tupinambá people. She describes it as follows: ‘The Tupinambá devoured their prisoners, their enemy, not from hunger as in cannibalism, but to swallow and assimilate the spiritual capacities of the other.’ Anthropophagy thus possesses a dual valence, in one sense it is literal and ritualistic, and in another, cultural and metaphorical.
Illuminated by spotlights in an otherwise darkened room and accompanied by the projection of the artist’s seminal and quasi-manifesto film ‘Catiti-Catiti’ (1974), these sculptures come to life…By employing a host of powerful symbols that evoke the ancient Tupinambá ritual, Pape poetically reimagines and reclaims her nation’s fraught past in these distinctive forms. Defined by a bold use of red plumage—alluding to feather capes originally made with the red feathers of the Guará bird and worn by the Tupinambá when performing their anthropophagic ritual…
‘Manto Tupinambá’ (2000) serves as a sort of apex of the series and, by extension, the exhibition, dwarfing the viewer in its profound impact and effect of surprise…Pape described her conception of this work, saying ‘I wanted to make my ‘Manto Tupinambá’ an extremely beautiful thing, like original Tupinambá feather art, and at the same time seize the terror of death. Because both are present all the time.’
Punctuating the exhibition is a selection of Pape’s ‘Desenhos’ (Drawings) from the 1980s…and highlight her artistic trajectory toward an increasingly political and environmentally-minded practice, exemplified by the Tupinambá series. The early ‘Desenhos’ possess a rhythm and cadence evocative of both music and geometrical abstraction. By uniting these two modalities, Pape manifested the very tenets of the Neo-Concrete movement that she, along with Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica, defined years prior—those which seek to break barriers between the intuitive and the intellectual, the spirit and the body—in the construction of a rebellious, unprecedented, and uniquely Brazilian avant-garde.
Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, North A & B Galleries
24 April – 1 August 2021
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Lygia Pape’s work traverses a diverse spectrum of media and genres, spanning the realms of sculpture, engraving, painting, drawing, performance, filmmaking, video and installation art. Born in Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro in 1927, throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Pape worked in close dialogue with the Concrete and Neo-Concrete movements then active in Brazil. In affiliating with the Neo-Concrete circle of artists (1959 – 1961), Pape, together with her contemporaries and fellow Concretist dissentors (including Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticia, Reynaldo Jardim, Franz Weissman and Sergio de Camargo), sought to challenge the tenets of abstraction underpinning the aesthetic philosophy of concrete art, and to move toward a greater sensorial, organic and phenomenologically attuned mode of expression.