Review of Axe Bahia: The Power of Art in Afro-Brazilian Metropolis at the Fowler Museum

The Fowler Museum, located at UCLA is now displaying a three-part exhibition based on Brazil’s African history and cultural heritage. Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is surveying Latin American and Latino art. It is also collaborating with various art institutions all over Southern California. Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is presenting Southern California with significant art exhibitions about the ancient world and pre-modern era. Its exhibits range from topics about the luxurious goods in the pre-Columbian era to Latino artists boundary crossing practices. “Axé Bahia: The Power of Art in Afro-Brazilian Metropolis”, one of the three exhibits, will be showcased from September 24 to April 15, 2018. The Axé Bahia exhibit’s curatorial team was led by Patrick Polk, Fowler’s curator of Latin America and Caribbean popular arts, in corroboration with other co-curators such as Roberto Conduru (a professor of art history and theory at Rio de Janeiro State University), Sabrina Gledhill (a Brazil-based scholar of Bahian history and culture), and Randal Johnson (a Spanish and Portuguese professor at UCLA).

The exhibit factors various pieces of work from modern and contemporary artists like Mário Neto, Rubem Valentim, Pierre Verger, Rommulo Conceição, Caetano Dias, Helemozão, Heráclito, and so on. It explores distinct cultural identities of Salvador, Bahia as well as the complex issues of race and cultural affiliation in Brazil with Afro-Brazilian art from the mid-20th century to present times. The exhibition also investigates how art including sculptures, paintings, photographs, videos, and three-dimensional works are expressed to shape and broaden Bahian identity and experience.

Some of these visuals portray a strong and provocative response to slavery and present forms of discrimination. Caetano Dias, a Brazilian visual artist built Delirios de Cathrina (The Ravings of Catherine), a contradicting artwork made out of wood, metal, sugar, ox blood, and resin which differentiates the pleasant taste of sugar to the pungent bitterness of sugarcane production in Brazil. The Ravings of Catherine includes a merge of two distinct tables, one made out of wood and the other of blood. The table made out of wood incorporates metal into its composition, it is a worn down white rectangular work table where the enslaved labored. The table made out of ox’s blood is round and extremely detailed, contrarily it is where slaveholders ate. The piece also includes a large amount of African dismembered human heads made out of sugar. The heads are placed underneath the worker’s table and spread out among the museum’s floor to indicate the exploitation of slaves in large colonial farms.

A student observing and taking in the different images on the Códice piece by Jose Cunha at Fowler Museum on November 3rd. Photo credit: Laura Sandoval

The Axé Bahia exhibit also displays Jose Cunha’s collection of painted canvases called Códice (Codex) on the museum’s wall. In order to comprehend Cunha’s work, it must be read from left to right and bottom to top. The collection has 21 panels each depicting the central beliefs of Candomblé and Umbanda, two different Afro-Brazilian religions. The canvases portray mythological tales and historical events of orixás (saints) and other supernatural beings. The 13th panel is of Tempo, a personified figure of time and the seasons. Tempo’s canvas is a multi-colored painting that associates him with the Earth’s 4 elements (earth, water, air, and fire), its seasons (spring, summer, fall, and winter), natural geographical features, and the stages of human life.

The Axé Bahia exhibit gives visitors the chance to learn about the importance of the culture in Salvador by showing off a broad spectrum of creative Afro-Brazilian practices as well as the history of Latin America. With this exhibit, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA brings awareness to a complex set of issues about the current relations in the Americas and Southern California’s altering social and cultural infrastructure.

Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas at the Getty Center

Although gold is a highly cherished metal in contemporary society, this was not always the case for ancient Americans. At different points in history; feathers, shells, jade, textiles, and so forth were as much, if not more than valuable to ancient Americans. Depending on the native peoples, the curators of Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas believe that additional materials were also thought to be greatly fitting for the production of luxury.

Entrance to “Golden Kingdoms” at the J. Paul Getty Museum on Dec. 17, 2017. Photo credit: Amara Higuera Hopping

The Golden Kingdoms exhibition takes visitors through a progression of time, starting with the earliest works bore from the south of Peru and finishing with the latest artworks from Northern Mexico. It follows the growth of art in luxury in the Americas around 1200 BC to the early sixteenth century when European colonization took place. As previously stated, the exhibition primarily focuses its attention to the fact that ancient Americans, unlike European conquerors, did not find gold to be the most valuable material. Golden Kingdoms, located at the Getty Center, was co-curated by Kim N. Richter from the Getty Research Institute and Joanne Pillsbury from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibit consists of numerous masterpieces from various lenders. A large amount of these fine masterpieces include jewelry, cups, plaques, ceremonial tools, funerary masks, and so on.

This show is a part of the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, which is an expedition of Latin American and Latino art led by the Getty. Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA will take place from September 2017 through January 2018 at over 70 different institutions all across Southern California.

Several works demonstrated in the exhibit were handed down over generations and sent to great lengths as funerary backgrounds, heirlooms, and votive offerings. These works were not only used as a means by which ideas became interchanged throughout time, but were also made and utilized to inspire sacred power among those who used them. Instead of creating tools and weapons made of their culture’s most prized materials, craftspeople in the ancient Americas often created luxurious objects for rituals and coronations. The narrative and the name of the exhibition draws attention to the gold element, but the objects displayed in the show and the enlightenment that comes along with them is a counter-narrative. Jade, feathers, and turquoise were among the most highly valued materials in Mesoamerica. Jade, instead of gold, was the most treasured material to the Olmecs and the Maya, and as for the Incas feathers and textiles were valued more so than anything else.

Museum visitor photographing ear ornaments of the Lord of Sipán dated around AD 640-680 at the J. Paul Getty Museum on Dec. 17, 2017. Photo credit: Amara Higuera Hopping

Conceivably, the most eye-catching pieces of work in the exhibit are not made of gold, but of other substances due to their color and radiance. These masterpieces, made of priceless metals and supplementary substances, influence visitors to reimagine the value of different materials. Encouraging the public to question widely accepted narratives about Latin America is the basis of which Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is founded upon. It aims to showcase to the public what has yet to be seen as well as raising awareness to complex and controversial issues throughout the Americas by providing insight to the values of different cultures.