Born in Brasilia and raised in Goiás, Dalton Paula is a former firefighter who is today, at age 39, an established artist, with works in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA), the Art Institute of Chicago and at the Bienal de São Paulo (32nd ed., in 2016). Now he wins a solo exhibition at the Sao Paulo Museum of Art (MASP), Brazilian Paintings, which will open on Friday, 29th.
The exhibition collects a collection of 30 portraits of black people who helped change the country and whose names have simply been erased by official history. Curated by Masp artistic director, Adriano Pedrosa, assistant curator, Glaucea Britto, and historian Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, guest curator, the exhibition honors black leaders and martyrs, 12 of which the artist has donated to the museum. ..
It’s a generous gesture from Paula Dalton, each photo of which now costs $20,000 USD. Like him in Brazil’s Galleria C, in São Paulo, and in the United States, Alexander and Bonin, the Brazilian painter was able to appear in the New York Gallery alongside Irish painter Sean Scully, a brilliant name in geometric abstraction.
At first, when he left Brasilia and resided in Goiania, Dalton sold his paintings for a nominal value, only to buy paints and canvas. He worked for 12 years as a firefighter (from 2004 to 2016), he used his spare time to study art. The effort has been rewarded: he has been awarded, has participated in important exhibitions such as Panorama of Brazilian Art at MAM (in 2019), and is currently traveling to the United States on the tour of Masp’s award-winning show, Histórias Afro-Atlânticas.
Humbly, Dalton speaks of his portraits as a mission he received from his predecessors. “I didn’t see black bodies on the covers of magazines, and I felt out of place, and so, when I frequented the Columbus, I felt that this invisibility of blacks was like a disease that needed to be cured.”
In a white and European-centric society, the portrait genre of serving political, social and religious elites, as historian Lilia Schwartz recalls, was a revolutionary gesture by Dalton to remove black heroes such as leaders Daniel and João Antonio de Araujo from limbo. Both enslaved, claimed manumission and plotted a rebellion against their masters.
Lilia notes that official history teaches schoolchildren that Princess Isabel “gave freedom” to these slaves, “and erased all the rebellious activities of the blacks who fought for freedom.” Until then, he adds, slaves were only depicted for the use of a flag or as models for “submissive and submissive servants” in photographs sold abroad.
Dalton had the idea of turning to rebellious historical figures to mark their ancestors with the same respect with which portraitists of the past treated the Caucasian nobility and bourgeoisie.
“The hair of these photographers is always painted with gold leaf, which serves as crowns (or halos) or ori (a head in Yoruba, a spiritual concept related to intuition),” explains Dalton. Gold, in the Western painting tradition, distinguishes saints from mortals, because it is a metal of an incorruptible nature.
The background color of the photos is always azure for the famous color photos commissioned by the relatives of the unknown people to memorialize their dead. “I feel like an archaeologist when I paint these portraits of Maroons,” Dalton says, noting that Maroon’s descendants accurately described many of the “unidentified people” as schematic.
There are strange cases of characters such as the “wizard” from Minas Gerais, painted in white robes and a green background, colors associated with medicine and healing with medicinal herbs. Bai de Santo Another diaspora worshiper, Bai Asumano, a Rio-based religious leader, is depicted as a Muslim leader with his prayer cap coated in gold dust. And it’s not just men in this novel: Dalton immortalized Mariana Criola, who participated in the escape of slaves led by Manuel Congo, who was murdered in 1838 by the National Guard, to become queen.
His most recent work is the cover of Lilia Barretto’s biography Lilia Schwartz and illustration for two children’s books by singer-songwriter Itamar Asombasao (1949-2003).
masp. Av. Paulista, 1578, tel. 3149-5959. Tuesdays, 10 a.m. / 8 p.m. Free. Wed/Sunday, 10am/6pm. R$ 50 up to 10/30
Information from the newspaper. State of Sao Paulo.
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