PIPA Prize 2017 Finalist, Éder Oliveira is the second interviewee of a series of exclusive talks guided by PIPA Institute curator Luiz Camillo Osorio. Born in a small town in the North of the country, Oliveira moved to Belém, capital of the state of Pará, when he was 18, starting his Art Education studies at the Universidade Federal do Pará (UFPA). It was then that he started his research on the identity of the Amazonian man. “The reflection on identity is a constant in art, and what I develop from this specific sample of the Amazonian population allows me to discuss universal themes such as poverty, marginality, ethics, the historical role of the colonized, and so on.”
Searching for references, he came across the police section of Belém’s yellow press. Its pages are filled with bright, huge pictures of supposed criminals being arrested by the police, even though they haven’t even been judged yet. Oliveira started to collect the pictures, reproducing them, in primary colors, in street walls and galleries. Taken away from its original context of crime and vulnerability, the paintings allow for a different gaze towards those invisible men. Read the complete interview below:
ÉDER OLIVEIRA IN CONVERSATION WITH LUIZ CAMILLO OSORIO
I would like to start by asking you about your training as an artist. Did you attend Art school or are you a self-taught artist?
I was 18 when I arrived in Belém. Before that – in the village where I was born and raised – I didn’t have any contact with cultural institutions nor any formal means of access to artistic codes. I went to the capital, Belém, to study Fine Arts at Universidade Federal do Pará (UFPA), a public university. There, despite attending a regular university degree course, I was in touch with several languages and, having a natural ability to draw since an early age, I chose painting and started my own way of working based on the practice and observation of art works, mainly academic ones.
Did you start your career with graffiti? How do you feel about this confrontation on the streets, and how is it different from exhibiting your work in museums and galleries?
I spent my childhood and teenage years in a small village, and was never street-savvy. My contact with graffiti and street art resulted from the impact of my urban intervention works – a description adopted from the very beginning, a result of a research I did in college on the work of other Brazilian artists. Thanks to that, these street artists embraced my work as belonging to urban languages, and that sparkled my interest about the subject. Today, respect for street artists codes is crucial for my actions; in addition to the permission of the owner of the wall to be painted, I never use a surface that already has the interference of a graffiti or even tagging without prior permission from the authors.
On a side note, I can’t use spray or other graffiti techniques, the street painting I do is based on a large-scale reproduction of easel painting.
By contextualizing this work for presentation in institutional spaces, I try not to reproduce it as a copy, but rather to create a new work in every space, as in site-specific art. Beyond the initiative to bring to museums a social extract usually excluded from those spaces, still very reserved to a select audience who can master the formal codes of art and erudition, I try to bring to the viewer the idea of transience that painting suffers on the street, where each piece tends to be erased at the end of the event.
What were/are your major influences as an artist?
All of the studies done before the beginning of my current research were based on reflections about photography portraiture; photography artists and theoreticians who discussed the issue of identity. These are contained in my paintings, since they are always based on some printed reference. In addition to the need to deal with a particular social theme from the aesthetics of contemporary portrait, I was inspired by some contemporary artists who use urban interventions and actions, but, above all, I was inspired by existing photographic appropriations by Rosangela Rennó, and by the series “Sumaré”, by Alex Flemming. Those were the first two references that laid the ground for my early work.
Working on the streets implies facing the inattentive, moving gaze of passers-by. Working in institutional spaces implies facing an informed gaze instead, full of expectations about what one will see. Do you agree with that distinction? Which gaze is harder to mobilize?
I agree, the artwork out on the streets anticipates an immediacy for those who will confront it. The vibrant colors and the dimensions emerged to handle this dynamic. Works on display in institutional spaces, especially those painted directly on the wall, need to create mechanisms to justify their existence beyond reproduction, but this framework doesn’t come from a change in the painting technique; instead, it is a result of its own content. It is certainly still the image of an anonymous Amazonian who, as an individual, probably doesn’t have access to such spaces, but who, like the painting, can’t go unnoticed. This symbolism is, even today, what instigates me most in this presentation, and this is where I have concentrated most of my efforts.
How has the specific situation of Belém do Pará defined your professional pathway?
When I first came to Belém, I was in love with the city, its beauty, its issues. As a student at UFPA, I lived in the outskirts of Belém, and a mix of values built my perception about urban life. Without doubt Belém is an unique city when it comes to incoherence, and the violence that is parallel to the joy and the reception of the people produced in me, as well as in other local artists, an aesthetic quest materialized in a relatively natural way. To treat violence through portraits allows me to discuss my very existence in this town.
How do you see the articulation of the local and the global in your poetics?
I’m still building my perception about the role of my work in the world. The reflection on identity is a constant in art, and what I develop from this specific sample of the Amazonian population allows me to discuss universal themes such as poverty, marginality, ethics, the historical role of the colonized, and so on. These issues are not specific to Belém. Even so, when the work is exhibited within the Amazonian region, my work still has some peculiarities. When exhibited in a German city, it led to a reflection about immigration on the local mayor’s speech. Such a perception was repeated in São Paulo, but there there is also the violence issue.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Luiz Camillo Osorio is the Curator of PIPA Institute, PIPA’s founder and Board Member. He is a Professor and current Director of the Philosophy Department at PUC-Rio. Camillo was the Curator of MAM-Rio between 2009 and 2015.