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Brazilian Art at sp-arte / 2013

26 May

I took a quick look at the Sao Paulo art fair sp-arte / 2013 in a previous post.  It’s held in alternate years to the Sao Paulo Bienal, in the Bienal building.

Famous neighbours

Female figures, famous artists

I was struck by how good an opportunity sp-arte / 2013 provided to see some of the best ‘Western’ art alongside the output of Latin American practitioners. The galleries and dealers – this is very much a selling show – showed museum-quality pieces by well-known European and North American artists. Picasso and Dali are hung casually side by side.

A famous pair

Two figures, famous artist

Picasso even looked a little over-exposed. It’s a measure of how much interest there may be in Brazil in the Western high art tradition.

Brazilian female figure

Female figure, Brazilian artist

The work of Lasar Segall, a leading Brazilian artist, was much in evidence. He makes an interesting counterpoint to the Western canon, having worked in Europe alongside leading lights of Expressionism such as Otto Dix, and in Brazil as a champion of Modernism, with Mario Andrade on  the 1923 Semana de Arte Moderna …

Classical subject

Máscaras oil on canvas 1938

… and on the 1932 Sociedade Pro-Arte Moderna (SPAM) initiative with artists like sculptor Victor Brecheret. 

Segall still life

Segall still life

His work fits comfortably into the European canon – its subject matter, its modes and its Expressionist style are all familiar in the West.


Picasso portrait

A sure sense of colour and a fluent line underpin his work …

Portrait sketch

Profile of Striemer Lasar Segall watercolour and gouache on paper 1915

… standing comparison with the best on show at sp-arte / 2013.

Warhol pencil sketch

Warhol pencil sketch

Although there were some hints of Brazilian influence in the work on show – the small bronze is perhaps a version of the Afro-Brazilian ibeji or twin figures

Small  bronze

Duas Amigas Lasar Segall patinated bronze 1936

– the work here was more comfortable viewing than the Brazilian subject matter he usually favoured – favelas, Rio prostitutes, and plantations, as well as Brazilian landscapes and the Brazilian people.

The Museu Lasar Segall in Sao Paulo holds a large collection of Segall’s paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings, in the house in which he lived.

Alexander Calder 'mobile'

Alexander Calder ‘mobile’

Bronze seems remarkably quaint alongside the materials used in today’s sculpture. The Alexander Calder ‘mobile’, once so radical, has aged gracefully into an elegant classic, with a price tag to match.

Floating world

Floating world

I did see a pale imitation of his form – a series of suspended wire horizontals, but no ‘vanes’ and no colour – but the work above brought a new meaning to suspended form, and was a real crowd-pleaser. People clustered around it, taking photographs, as everyone does these days.

Material: decommissioned fire hose

From Time to Time These Hot Days get Lonely Theaster Gates

The material of this US work – decommissioned fire hose – yielded something between painting and sculpture, evoking fire hydrants amid hot New York summers.

Chagall circus scene

Chagall circus scene

Another iconic European artist, Marc Chagall, took me back to more innocent and traditional subjects. His work raises strong echoes in Brazil, where the naive approach is alive and well  Naive art and indeed street art – graffiti, murals, posters – flourish here, so it was intriguing to see that there is also a fine art naif strand.

Milton Dacosta

Figura Milton Dacosta 1949

Brazilian Milton Dacosta was well-represented at sp arte / 2013. Like Segall, he had one foot in European fine art practice – he worked with Braque and Rouault in Paris in 1946 – and was influenced by Cubism in his progress from figurative to geometric and concrete styles. He was an exhibiting artist in Brazil’s first stand at the Venice Biennale in 1950, alongside Brecheret and Brazilian great Roberto Burle Marx. The typically simplfied geometric female figure above references Cubism.

Milton Dacosta leitmotif shape emerging

Alfredo Volpi leitmotif shape emerging

Alfredo Volpi is another modernist well-known in Brazil for his simple style. His subject matter during the 1950s was domestic architecture, especially the facades of houses, developing and refining a signature shape from the rooflines into a ‘pennant’ which has resonance in Brazil as the shape of the festive flags of the June holiday season, the Festa Junina. The cityscape view above over the rooftops of houses echoes that shape in their gable ends, further stylised in the accompanying drawing.

Like much else in Brazil, the cityscape has changed radically in the intervening years. The dominant shape is the tower rather than the pent roof, materials and colours more urban than suburban. Irish Brazilian James Concagh, for example, uses a predominantly monochrome palette, and includes the coarse woven raffia of sugar bags to meditative effect

Rafael Vicente

Rafael Vicente

Rafael Vicente paints semi-abstract canvases which evoke the Brazilian cityscape and waterfront, crammed with horizontals and verticals, always under (re)construction. He works on an appropriately large scale, and includes materials like asphalt and iron as well as paint. A daring use of colour and perspective enhances its impact.

The Garden of Delights of Raimundo Rodrigues

The Garden of Delights Raimundo Rodrigues

Raimundo Rodrigues is daring in quite another way. He collects and repurposes what others abandon or throw out. Mounted on large panels, he makes a mythic panorama from pieces of packaging, machine parts, hand tools, children’s toys, mirrors, and miscellaneous detritus, joined and unified with scrap wood. Children take particular pleasure in looking closely at this playful ongoing work, though the reference to art works such as the Merzbau of Kurt Schwitters and the complex accretion of images in the work of Hieronymus Bosch is also clear.

Africa by Jose Bechara

Africa (from the series Open House), Jose Bechara

José Bechara exhibits in the US, Spain and Portugal as well as very widely in Brazil. He produces paintings, drawings, photographs, and especially sculptures. The 3D work features furniture – tables, chairs, shelving – which by the simple expedient of upending or inclining he transforms into a disturbing commentary on contemporary life. A maquette he showed was full of power and promise despite its size.

E o muro que transborda, Daniel Murgel

Study for E o muro que transborda, Daniel Murgel

Daniel Murgel has been working with bricks over the last two years – the hollow clay brickwork from which favela houses are built – assembling them in 3D in the same casual manner. The solid wood furniture might well outlast it. Also furniture spilling out of buildings, here the walls divide, preventing dialogue between the two sides of the chess game. A commentary on Brazilian society is discernible.

The work installed

The work installed

Disturbingly, the complete chess game really is installed.

Foto Edouard Fraipon

Foto Edouard Fraipon

(from )

Julian Schnabel

Julian Schnabel

The certainties of geography stand in sharp contrast. Julian Schnabel’s navigation chart with its bright blue trig point and elegant spatterings of black is beautifully calm by comparison – the gallery owner said he couldn’t resist buying it. Only when you discover that it shows the strait between Sakhalin Island and the Russian mainland, where Korean Airlines flight 007 was shot down, do you see a similar tension.

Homage to Sao Paulo

Homage to Sao Paulo

A homage to Sao Paulo, on the other hand, with its helicopter view of the Copan building  a colour-by-numbers style, pop art lettering, and a pink gunship, seems to posit an exaggerated view. Life imitating art … click on the link below to read about the Brazilian police chasing a drug dealer through a favela by helicopter, gunning him down just as the painting suggests.

Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst

Disturbance comes in many forms. Damien Hirst needs no introduction, and continues to walk the line between decoration and disturbance with aplomb. His collection of painted insects pinned in a mirrored cabinet toys with his usual preoccupations. The familiar spot paintings make their presence felt too. Is it Hirst or sp arte / 2013 which has ‘arrived’?

Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst

What a delight to encounter the work of Jesús Rafael Soto! An op artist and sculptor born in Venezuela who lived in Paris from 1950, he worked with Victor Vasarely and Jean Tinguely. This small work was intriguing to the eye, as decorative as any Hirst or Vasarely, as playful and as seriously engaged with the materials and mainstream art of his time.

Mini cube, Jesus Soto, 1966

Mini cube Jesús Rafael Soto 1966

More evidence, if it were needed, that Latin American art stands shoulder to shoulder with the best of the West. More of his work at  Perhaps there will be more work by women artists as sp arte / 2013 continues to evolve …

sp-arte / 2013

7 Apr

“The art market in Brazil today experiences a peculiar and intense conjunction of forces: if, on the one hand, we witness an increasing interest in contemporary art, the escalation of value and dealing of artworks from both younger and older generations, all fueled by BRIC inflated euphoria, on the other hand Brazil’s most canonical art historical figures remain profoundly experimental and marginal.” Adriano Pedrosa, Curator of the Educational Program, sp-arte / 2013

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Figure by Kang Hyung Koo, Brazilian background

Went to the Sao Paulo art fair sp arte / 2013 yesterday. It’s held in the Bienal building, in alternate years, and as the official text above suggests, the event has gone from strength to strength, attracting prestigious European and North American galleries – White Cube, Gagosian, etc – and giving South American artists the opportunity to reach new publics as well as their (growing) home markets. It is an international event.

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Internal public entrance with security guard

It’s a popular event too, with visitors thronging the walkways on the public days, browsing the art work displayed for sale, patronising the sponsored bars, and networking furiously. Here’s some of what I saw.

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Busy art market, though not too many red stickers

The dichotomy between the commercial art market and art and art-historical education is reflected in the support for the event – retail shopping centre, Brazilian and Canadian banks, and telecoms company alongside state-owned water company, state and federal governments.

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Bar sponsored by up-scale shopping centre

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Purpose-built for art display, but not as big as the Bienal itself yet

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Lounge sponsored by private banking business

This dichotomy is also a preoccupation of the artists being shown.

Video work by Marina Abramovic on Samsung screen

Video work by Marina Abramovic on Samsung screen …

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… alongside photographic print by Abramovic

High-resolution display screens were an identifiable trend, though most were carefully clear of branding. Other trends? Video, but very little other time-based work, for example performance art.

Location-specific Rapunzel

Location-specific Rapunzel

In view of the concern with Brazil’s heritage, that’s surprising, since performance art has been very strong here, during the dictatorship years, and in actions associated with squatters. Hmmm …

The display of time …

by Guto Lacaz

by Guto Lacaz

A more traditional time display

… and generally poor display of the details about artists and works.

Photographic and hyper-real figurative work, and few abstract works.

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Temple of David, Beirut,1996, Robert Polidori

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Another human animal, the work of Adriana Duque

A preoccupation with brands and labels …

Patrocínios (Sponsorships) II 2013

Leda Catunda’s Patrocínios (Sponsorships) II 2013, from football strips

… with a provocative undercurrent.

American 'patches' sewn on a parachute

American ‘patches’ sewn on a parachute

The international language of conspiracy theory

The international language of conspiracy theory …

The comfort of traditional knowledge

… and the comfort of traditional knowledge

A continuing fascination with pop art.

King Kong goes bananas

King Kong goes bananas

International character

International character

The Marcel Duchamp heritage

The Marcel Duchamp heritage

Traditionally strong craft, plus modern adhesive

Traditional craft, modern adhesive

I was easily able to take low-resolution photographs, and to chat freely with knowledgeable dealers and gallery staff. In itself, this show provides an excellent educational opportunity, which many clearly relished.

The comparisons one can make between some greats of western art – Calder, Chagall, Dali, Hirst, Picasso, Schnabel, Warhol – and the Brazilian and Latin American canon on show – Jose Bechara, Leda Catunda, Emiliano di Cavalcanti, Milton Dacosta, Adriana Duque, Guto Lacaz, Daniel Murgel, Raimundo Rodriguez, Lasar Segall, Jesus Soto, Rafael Vicente, Alfredo Volpi – is unparalleled, and the subject of another post.

Tomie Ohtake at Estação Consolação

3 Apr

Architect Ruy Ohtake’s work is well known – his Torrre Faria Lima and Torrre Pedroso de Moraes, housing the Instituto Cultural Tomie Ohtake, is a familiar Sao Paulo landmark. The locals know the lower tower in the foreground by another more affectionate name.


Foreground, inverted ziggurat and sculptural support in the shape of star fruit – known as Palácio da Carambola

More on Ruy Ohtake at  and  .

His mother Tomie Ohtake is an established Brazilian painter, represented in the collections of the Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo (MASP) and the Ibiripuera Auditorium, among others. Like her son, she uses bright areas and blocks of colour.

Tomie Ohtake, Composição em Amarelo, Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo MASP

Tomie Ohtake, Composição em Amarelo, Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo MASP

Entrance to theatre, Instituto Ohtake, architect Ruy Ohtake

Tomie Ohtake’s work is also on more public display. On a recent trip to Santos I used the Green Line, the Linha Verde or Line 2 of the Sao Paulo Metro. I was struck once more by the unabashed way in which Brazilian architects use exposed raw concrete in their work, alongside colourful tiling deployed with equal abandon. I have seen it in other settings.

Concrete and tile, Clube Paineiras do Morumby

Concrete and tile, Clube Paineiras do Morumby

The Metro stations use the same vernacular. See  .

Tomie Ohtake takes the language a step further. She has hung long shallow strips of primary-coloured tiling along the platform at Estação Consolação. The grey concrete is an effective foil for the colour, but more than that, the swooping shapes of the darker hues inserted from the top edge appear to dip as the slowing trains pull in, the uptick at the end of the shape reflecting the speed with which the train comes to a stop. She uses the kinetic aspect of her setting with refreshing playfulness.

Art advert ...

Overview for stationary passengers

The way the piece interacts with its setting even for stationary passengers is also an unexpected pleasure. You may not see the  colours swoop while standing on the platform, but the reflection in the steel pedestrian strip shows the work in a different light. The subtle and playful use of colour, shape and light enlivens the drabbest grey. You begin to understand why Tomie Ohtake has achieved her respected status, and how art can animate the urban built environment.

P.S Here’s the yellow panel in more detail, a beautifully realised colour balance.

Detail, tiled panel

Detail, tiled panel


 ... and the art itself

Platform Estação Consolação

James Concagh Irish Brazilian

28 Mar

James Concagh left Ireland and the UK many years ago to find fortune and favour in Brazil. An artist and teacher, he is thoroughly acclimatised to the Brazilian way of life – but note the title of his exhibition: Within a Narrow Landscape (Dentro de um Estreita Paisagem). Paulistanos will recognise the description – Sao Paulo has undergone rapid ‘verticalisation’  in recent years. It feels like you’re living at the bottom of a cold concrete canyon here, especially on overcast days. The urban environment can take on a dystopian tinge.

Pillars / panels / set piece

Pillars / panels / set piece

Concagh makes a study of urban textures and effects – rough plaster and wood, graffiti-scored walls, the coarse weave of the raffia bags used for commodities like sugar – incorporating them into pieces at first glance bleached or drained of colour, abstracted like the city itself. In his introductory text curator Gavin Adams uses words like ‘Kafka-ian’ and ‘Sisyphean’. The critic from radio station Alpha FM calls the show ‘existentialist’. It dates from 1994 onwards.

First impressions of the show revolve around its theatricality. The plaster and wood pillars are beautifully placed and lit, the paintings exude a calm, meditative air. The L-shaped gallery, formed of raw concrete with a pool of giant carp and water plants behind a glass-panelled wall, match Concagh’s work closely. Adams and MuBE Director Renata Junqueira have created a sympathetic showcase.

The artist at the vernisssage

The artist at the vernisssage

The halo effect of a MuBE show is considerable. The Museu Brasileiro da Escultura is a prestigious gallery, as much at home on Avenida Europa as the Lamborghini dealership a few doors down. Its low, raw concrete bunker challenges and sets off the art on display outside – currently a commission of brightly-coloured temporary mural art catches the eye, in the same way that a burnt-orange Lamborghini stands out in a city where almost all cars are black, silver or white. I have mentioned before that passers-by regularly photograph these 3D objects.

Even fully saturated colour doesn't do it justice

Even fully saturated colour doesn’t do it justice

At the private view friends, family and fellow-artists and -expats congratulated James on the show.

Though more subtle than the lacquer of a supercar, it’s not as miserabilist as the critics suggest – the panels are playful, with artfully-coloured toes at their plinths, the monochrome paintings are not really that, especially under gallery lights, and the multiple layers of some of the works are dazzling. Even abstraction dances in and out of view – James described one ‘white’ painting as the view from an aeroplane window, and suddenly the city was spread before me, its arterial roads and rivers laced into the ground, then obscured again by cloud. Flying in to Sao Paulo elicits a sense of awe which Concagh begins to capture.

Curator, Director, Artist. Foto: Denise Andrade

Curator ………….. Director …………. Artist      Foto: Denise Andrade

He’s put together a gripping portrait of the landscape he alludes to in the title, finding beauty and drama where one might see only drab grey constructed verticals. After his ‘white’ and his ‘raffia’ phases, I’m looking forward to seeing what he’ll turn his hand to next.

P.S. James can be contacted at

His work is also available at Juliana Benfatti in Jardim Paulista.

More of his work in this exhibition at

P.P.S. James hasn’t let the grass grow under his feet since this post was first published. A commission from CPTM, an urban transport organisation in Sao Paulo, is resulting in a new mural at the Metro station Dom Bosco in Itaquera, in the eastern zone of Sao Paulo. He is working with CPTM employees to execute the work.

Preparations at the mural site

Preparations at the mural site

It is to be unveiled by the Irish Consul-General in Sao Paulo. More at

And from the Irish Times at

Decor Deb Berman

17 Feb

Deb Berman is a New York artist working in traditional media such as paint and paper, and also in performance – sometimes both. See her Human Canvas project here  and here

from Human Canvas project, Sao Paulo

Her father, John Berman, is a musician based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Here’s a few snaps of Deb painting a quick-sketch mural for the practice room of the Banda Choro Blue, the Brazilian band for young people which her father runs through NGO Choro Blue  For more about the band, see

Brushwork begins

Brushwork begins

The sun comes out

Here comes the sun

Clouds come rolling in

Clouds come rolling in

Music chase those blues away

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Make you smile again

Look, a cloudscape

Look, a cloudscape with music

The artist at work

The artist at work

P.S. Here’s the evidence that music is in Deb Berman’s heritage as well as her art. At Pizzaria Corleone, Rua dos Pinheiros 317 in Sao Paulo, one Friday night in February …

She sat down to sketch ...

… she sat down to sketch …

 ... and she stood up to play!

… and she stood up to play!

Gildo Zampol Escultor

11 Feb

The public cemeteries of Sao Paulo are grand affairs, with imposing gates, lush planting and acres of memorials. The work of monumental masons is impressive, while some of the sculpture is strikingly effective.

Masonic temple in miniature

Masonic temple in miniature

I’ve written before about the Cemitério São Paulo on Rua Cardeal Arcoverde  with its wealth of works by nationally and internationally known sculptors

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Túmulo da família Forte or Túmulo do pão by Italian Brazilian Galileo Emendabili

On previous visits I have been drawn to one piece in particular, not as striking as works in more recent styles, but sculpted with breath-taking virtuosity.

I look more closely.

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Every structure and surface handled with assurance

White marble, classically the sculptor’s material of choice, appears often here.

Granite an effective foil

Polished granite an effective foil

(Sao Paulo can be tough on that choice, but …

100-year old maiden

100-year old maiden

… outside fairy tales, alternatives are limited.)

Angel in a box

Angel in a box

Metal fares better, one reason why it predominates. In the first half of the last century, that difficulty was less obvious, so if you could afford it, marble was a good choice in the effort to perpetuate the memory of your family. Its expressive possibilities were – and are – enormous.

Pietà religioso

Especially apt for the innocence of childhood – and a more manageable size –

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” … and  flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

– white marble also suits the purity of angels and young maidens.

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Her scroll bids the deceased sleep in peace, “Dorme em paz

The floral arrangement looks odd, suspended or implanted like that … Back to the angel which had caught my eye originally. It was signed.

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with address – Rua Cônego Eugênio Leite – and telephone number

The lettering – so much of its time – and the address – literally the approach to the Cemitério – piqued my interest. I looked around.

 Rua Cônego Eugênio Leite 1138, ex-monumental mason's yard

Rua Cônego Eugênio Leite 1138, ex-monumental mason’s yard

There were more white angels, especially along the approach from the gates to the chapel of rest. Whether this heavenly host had been summoned to outshine one another or whether it was that they were there simply because the plots were allocated at around the same time I could not be sure. But I began to discern a style I could recognise.

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Her gaze beyond this world

Beautifully articulated feathers, flowers and foliage.

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She processes demurely

The treatment of the feet – one forward, sometimes showing only the toes.

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A more pensive gaze

The gown decorated with open-work trim. Fabrics precisely modelled.

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” … as the flowers of the field … “

The drapery convincingly, sometimes daringly modelled.

She feels the breath of heaven

She feels the breath of heaven

And a signature device: a hand or a foot floating free, without visible support, suggesting the aetherial nature of angels.

2013-01-27 11.45.52 Stitch

[Composite photograph – zoom in]

Perhaps I was seeing imitation, or a ‘school’ of sculpture, but some of these details showed what I thought was the one ‘hand’, both in conception and in execution. A playful, assured hand.

Confidently modelled

Confidently modelled

The back of the work suggests rock and feathers, but details hair in full, worked seamlessly into one view which reads convincingly. Drill holes are left in the rock’s crevices, matching the open-work motif of the decorated gown.

There are more cues which suggest the work of one hand – supporting rock and base modelled with assurance, easy integration of  a section for inscription, a preference for shoulder-length curling hair …

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2013-01-27 10.28.48 - Copy

2013-01-27 11.45.52 - Copy

2013-01-27 11.54.41 - Copy

2013-01-27 11.52.50 - Copy

We may be seeing the sculptor’s tendency to favour a particular style – like Modigliani, for example, or the Pre-Raphaelites – or perhaps a favoured pair of models. Or both.

Gildo Zampol worked in bronze, marble and other materials, on monumental and domestic scales. His son Antonio Carlos Zampol continues the work of sculpture, and of conservation and restoration of his father’s work, based in Taboão on the outskirts of Sao Paulo.  See   and

What impresses me is that Zampol was able to use his evident mastery of technique in the service of artistic expression. This funerary angel is a portrait, an archetype, and a spiritual ideal, which stands comparison with the best of representational sculpture. Long may it stand!

Pensive angel

Pensive angel

Miguel Morois, Brasilian sculptor

23 Oct

In Salvador da Bahia, the strength of the Brasilian  visual culture is even more evident than usual. The historic Pelourinho centre is crammed full of baroque buildings – town houses, churches and institutions  – with a wealth of colour and ornament to dazzle and delight the eye.

Town houses, Praça da Sé

Ordem Terceira São Domingos Gusmão Church, Largo Terreiro de Jesus, Pelourinho

Museu de Arte Sacra, Rua do Sodré

The interiors of the churches are heavily ornamented – in some cases to excess – the traditional crafts and the popular arte naif mode are well represented, and fine examples of high art, including wood carving, abound. You can understand why an artist might want to live in such a visually rich environment.

Interior of São Francisco Church, Praça Anchieta

Fabric craft shop, Rua das Laranjeiras

Art shop, Rua das Laranjeiras

Carved jacaranda railing, São Francisco Church, Praça Anchieta

Forty years ago, Uruguyan sculptor Miguel Morois moved to Salvador da Bahia, and stayed. His work is displayed and sold at the Hotel Casa do Amarelindo in Pelourinho in Salvador. It’s a carefully restored nineteenth century town house which demonstrates the visual acuity of its owners.

Entrance to the hotel

Miguel carves and paints figures in wood of the gods or orixas of the candomble religious tradition. This work is medium scale – the figures stand 30 to 40 centimtres high – and they make good use of the bright colours traditionally associated with the various gods. More on them here

This is the Archangel Michael, who weighs souls and defeats Satan

They stand comparison with the best of church statuary.

Saint with skull, Catedral Basílica de Salvador

Xango, god of thunder and of justice, and Iemanja, goddess of the sea and of families …

… in their setting at Hotel Casa do Amarelindo

Saint George / Sao Jorge?

Ibeji, twin child gods – in Yoruba culture, a carving can stand in for a dead twin

At Hotel Casa do Amarelindo, it’s not just the menu which offers a feast. More at

View from restaurant to orixas in foyer

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