A new exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery presents the work of Italian born, Brazilian artist Anna Maria Maiolino. This is the first UK retrospective exhibition of Anna’s work and features 150 artworks from throughout her career. Anna led a tour around her new show to introduce selected works and chat about her career.
Anna has created her own visual language by working with a wide range of materials including clay sculptures, prints, works on paper, film and sound works, photography and mixed media. Anna’s work is compelling as it reflects both her personal life and the social context in which she has worked.
Hand-made clay sculptures in various shapes and sizes have been laid out on a table-top and piled up in an open doorway. These unfired clay sculptures are rich and earthy. They have been rolled, pinched, twisted and kneaded into shape. They appear like elongated, spaghetti loops or baked goods straight from the oven. Anna explains that these works contain a spontaneous energy which has been transferred from her creative process. They also replicate the daily task of preparing food which had been considered a traditional task for women. Anna uses this process to make art instead of food and to comment on gender equality.
Anna’s works on paper present her experimentation with line and paper. They mark a turning point in Anna’s work and creative process. In these works, she has started to consider and treat paper as a sculptural material rather than just a surface. Paper then takes on a new role which is different to a material which is purely required to receive an image. A series of works, which have been suspended from the gallery ceiling, show experimentation with fabric and paper. Lines of fabric have been stitched through the paper surface. They look like maps or abstract, linear compositions.
A series of woodblock prints depict figurative forms with open mouths attempting to communicate. The simplified forms lack facial features and appear as floating torsos with speech bubbles. These images boldly and directly depict the difficulty of expressing meaning through language. They feel aggressive or perhaps frustrated by their limited capabilities. They explore language and communication and reflect Anna’s own transition from speaking in Italian to Portuguese. Anna started using traditional woodblock printing techniques from the northeast of Brazil to create these works.
Anna’s work has been influenced by her time living in several different countries and a wide range of ideas and cultures. Anna says; “an artist is like a territory which is always ready to receive something”. She lived in Brazil during the military dictatorship of the 1960’s and 70’s. Her work references this period of Brazilian history but also comments on the art making process as a political act in a broad sense. In her performance piece, Entrevidas from 1981, Anna tiptoes through a room of scattered eggs. She is almost literally walking on eggshells. This work captures the tension felt by the Brazilian people during the last days of the dictatorship but also represents a metaphor for life and potential social and creative renewal.
Making Love Revolutionary is on at the Whitechapel Gallery until the 12th of January 2020.
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