Rubem Valentim: afro-atlantic constructions


Construções afro-atlânticas [Afro-Atlantic Constructions] brings together 90 artworks by the painter, sculptor and engraver Rubem Valentim (1922–1991), a key figure in 20th-century Brazilian art and Afro-Atlantic histories. From the 1950s onward, Valentim incorporated the language of geometric abstraction to create complex compositions that redesigned and reconfigured Afro-Atlantic symbols, emblems and references. In this process, Valentim transformed the European artistic languages that dominated most of the art production in Brazil and worldwide during the 1950–60s (geometric abstraction, constructivism and concretism), blending them with African references, mostly through drawings and diagrams
representing the deities of Afro-Brazilian religions—known as orishas— such as Shango’s double-edged axe, Oshoosi’s arrow and Osanyin’s rods.

Despite his importance, Valentim has yet to be appropriately recognized, and this exhibition and accompanying catalog aim to reposition the artist in the history of Brazilian and world art. The focus seeks a broader approach to his work, underlining its political, religious and above all Afro-Brazilian aspects, going beyond his abstractions, constructivisms and geometrics.

The period covered runs from 1955 when Valentim, while still living in Salvador, decisively assumed his references from Candomblé and Afro-Brazilian culture, to 1978, his most fertile period. The exhibition crosses chronologically the different phases and locations where the artist worked: Bahia (1949–1956), Rio de Janeiro (1957–1963), Rome (1964–1966) and Brasília (1967–1978). The selection includes works from significant series like Emblemas logotipos poéticos da cultura afro-brasileira [Poetic logotypes emblems of Afro-Brazilian culture], exhibited in the 1976 Bienal Nacional [National Biennial], in São Paulo, and from Relevos emblemas [Reliefs emblems], of 1977–1978.

In his renowned 1928 Manifesto antropofágico [Anthropophagic Manifesto]—a pivotal text of Brazilian modernism—, Oswald de Andrade (1890–1954) poetically put forward an actual program for native intellectuals and artists: to swallow and digest the European cultural legacy in order to create—in an anthropophagical way—unique hybrid Brazilian works that merge Indigenous, African and European references. Valentim is one of the artists who undertook the anthropophagic project in its most complete and ambitious way. In this process, he carried out one of the most radical operations in the history of Brazilian art, subjecting the European language to an Afro-Brazilian language in a contribution that was effectively singular and powerful, decolonizing and anthropophagic.

CURATED BY Fernando Oliva, Curator, MASP.