Nationalist modernism: Tarsila do Amaral

“In Tarsila [do Amaral]’s ‘Cannibalistic’ (‘Antropófago’) style, the same basic components remain in place: the alliance between the nationalist program and the analytic content of the poetics, marked by the modernising and internationalising power of formalisation, instituted through lines that legislate hegemonically over the plastic field. The composition remains linear and modular. It brings together elements from previous works and internal series, in which the shapes, while varying in size and combinations, affirm themselves like derivations of a module. This rational poetics does not fear repetition.

Colour, in turn, in this ‘linear-cannibalistic’ order, accounts for the volumetry. It therefore continues to function as the element that maintains the memory of the gaze and of the tactile experience of childhood, the feeling of the agrarian and pre-industrial world. In fact, in Tarsila’s painting of the period, the chromatic fields are widened, along with imagery prospection. However, despite gaining in intensity and eloquence, the colours remain subjected to a simple and economic project whose aim is to be universalist, cosmopolitan and rational. 

Certainly, such a poetic programme has two goals: to catch up with international modern art, and to broaden the social base of national culture. However, by reiterating childhood sensations in adulthood, this desire to modernise reveals a private angle amid the universalist impulse: a socially protected life, which preserves the continuity between childhood and adult life; a passage destroyed for most without them having any say in the matter, reduced to the mere condition of being part of the workforce. Thus, the modernising impetus stems from someone educated to command and signals, like the rest of Modernism, ‘the (populist) attempt of a cultural elite to eliminate class differences and to create an art that would be the expression of nationality as a whole.’”

– Luiz Renato Martins, The Long Roots of Formalism in Brazil, pgs. 16-17

Image: Tarsila do Amaral, Antropofagia (Anthropophagy), 1929, oil on canvas, 126 x 142 cm, Fundação José and Paulina Nemirovsky Collection, São Paulo

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