Open Studio | Dalton Paula
Dalton Paula was born and lives in Goiania, Brazil and his paintings have been featured in the 2018’s edition of the New Museum Triennial, Songs for Sabotage. His work, Tobacco Route, was part of the 2016’s São Paulo Biennial, whose main theme tackled questions of climate change and environmental activism.
ABOUT THE open studio
At the open studio, you will be able to meet with Paula and see the works he initiated during his residency. He will be also discussing his practice and time here in New York.
Sunday, March 25th, 11am - 6pm
203 Harrison Place, 3rd floor, studio 311
Brooklyn, NY 11237
God Bless You
Text by Tatiane Schilaro
A shirtless man appears on the corner of the screen, walking slowly. He pushes a blue groceries cart with difficulty, his black bare skin is set against a brown brick wall covered by graffiti. His struggle is due to his temporary blindness: he wears a blindfold. He hesitates as he moves forward, limping a little. He holds a paper cup, those which one gets at every corner coffee-shop in global cities across the world, but one in special: New York. The cool natural light captured in the video suggests that this is an urban space under an unfriendly weather: this is Brooklyn in the winter, just after a snow storm. As he pushes the cart, its wheels get stuck in the residues of the storm, a few inches of hard, grayish, layers of ice as if glued to the concrete of the sidewalk. The blindness, combined to the bare chest creates a sense of vulnerability, one can imagine the cold wind clinging onto the man’s skin. His image reveals a color and a body that are not the norm––this is not the black muscular body so often commodified by American TV. Where is he going? Why is he blindfolded? What is he carrying in the cart? Not groceries, but bricks, smoke, and fire: an ambulant shelter.
During his seven-week-stay at AnnexB’s studio, artist Dalton Paula lived a New Yorker’s life. God Bless You––a short video performance piece, still in process––became an exercise in grasping his experiences while in this city for the first time. Either when he works in painting, installation, or video performances, Paula is interested in the invisibility of the black subject in Brazil: for him, art is a space for cure against its violent erasure. The silenced body––as Paula calls the figure that emerges in his practice––is the black body that has been obliterated and misrepresented in Brazilian society, including in art history and visual culture. In a country that has denied the existence of systemic racism, Paula deploys symbolisms whose African roots have gone often unacknowledged or overlooked; for example, the African healing traditions he refers to in his works have been dubbed as superstitions and become part of a homogenized––or even whitewashed––Brazilian popular culture. Due to mestiçagem, Brazil has historically built is notion of nationality, through the so-called “myth of racial democracy,” the belief that, in Brazil, equality between all races already exists. That illusion has been confronted by black and indigenous activists since the late 1980s, but constructed notions of Brazilian cultural diversity continue to camouflage disparities: for example, the number of black artists represented by Brazilian galleries can be counted on your fingers.
Watching God Bless You feels like looking at a window towards two different universes. The cart, the coffee cup, the fire and smoke contrasting with ice are familiar signs of life in specific New York boroughs, and yet, the gestures that the artist makes are singular to his Brazilian universe. While pushing a groceries cart with difficulty, Paula picks up incense stones from the coffee cup and tosses it against the bricks, producing fire and smoke. About this, the artist said,
“Since I arrived in New York, I have been thinking a lot about the idea of protection, especially protection from the cold weather. Putting the bricks inside the cart was a metaphor for a shelter, the idea of taking your home with you wherever you go, as do so many homeless people I’ve seen in NY, but then there’s also the aspect of life in the underground that caught my attention very much, the subway and smoke coming from it. The coffee cup is both a symbol of begging, but also of this very fast-paced life, where everything is “to-go.” Then, I used the incense as a symbolic cure of this space. Thinking about spaces of recuperation, of protection against death and having as background the brick wall as a separation between public and private.”
It is not by chance that, in God Bless You, the silenced body appears as a beggar, a vulnerable figure seeking protection, but also confronting obstacles: the brick wall and the ice. Burning fire and the smoke of incense bring spiritual cleansing and purification in Afro-Brazilian religions; gestures that create a space of shelter amidst struggle and hardship. The bare black chest can refer to so many demeaning representations of blackness, from the times of slave labor to the negative stereotyping of life in Brazilian favelas or in African-American neighborhoods. But instead of feeding these stereotypes, Paula’s posture may also allude to the bodies of the elderly, those who ramble across the streets of New York, unnoticed and unheard. It is this vulnerability that creates a bond between the silenced bodies that Paula seeks healing for, either in Brazil or elsewhere, where black lives are constantly under attack. Paula’s taciturn work defies racism and xenophobia that have fueled waves of conservatism throughout the world. To fight these seemingly impenetrable walls, we need a lot of fire, but we may also need to open ourselves to others’ and our own vulnerabilities, in obstinate compassion––in fierce and courageous acts of healing.