A search for identity in mountains and rivers

The project “A not that picturesque trip”, was financially supported by the Stiftung Kunstfonds, and investigates representations of the population and landscape in the Serra dos Órgãos National Park, in the state of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). The creative impulse for this exploration was the fact that the oldest visual depictions of this territory were made by white male German painters on scientific expeditions during the 19th century. Through a combination of digital and physical field research, I suggest an ecological approach to rethinking belonging, identity, and visual representation.

The Atlantic Forest, is the biome that characterizes this region, and is a biological hotspot where 40% of the vascular plants and 60% of the vertebrates species are endemic. These high figures make this location unique. It is also where the colonialization of Brazil began more than 500 years ago, which has led to massive deforestation, the extinction of more than 250 species, and the genocide of the indigenous Tupi people. Alongside the exploitation of Black slave labour, which was responsible for the colonizer’s wealth, and was only formally abolished in 1888.

I was born in the Serra dos Órgãos National Park, the same place my family inhabited for at least 150 years. My investigation started remotely during the Coronavirus pandemic, when I began to search through public databases for historical, hydrographical, and topographical maps. Digitally traveling around the valley where I grew up using Google Earth, I found the places where two 19th century landscape depictions were probably painted. The first illustrates Spix and Martius’ book Reise in Brasilien in den Jahren 1817-1820 vol.1 (1821) and the second one is part of Moritz Rugendas’ book Malerische Reise in Brasilien (1835). These virtual observations of the landscape were the basis for a series of watercolor paintings and linoleum printing stamps I subsequently created.

During my field research in Brazil, I confronted the memories of the land with new perceptions, learned from elders, and accessed ancestral knowledges. I started to listen to the rivers and contemplate the effects of the constant summer storms on the soil. In my sketchbook, I documented plants with a strong presence in the neighboring forest, besides drawing portraits of surprisingly familiar people I had never met, but who were conjured from my brain through spontaneous wrist movements. In addition to figurative illustrations that remount ancestry and depict forest entities, my most recent watercolours use abstraction to understand mountains and rivers, and consider with reverence the transformational power of water, wind, and earth.

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