By Sarah Coursey, Editor
RIO DE JANEIRO – Abigail Nunes professes to hate moving. For the past four years, she has shuffled across the Atlantic between Rio and Paris. Setting up studios in the bohemian neighborhoods of Santa Teresa and Belleville, she puts down roots – however temporarily – and gets to the work of creating what she humbly calls ‘small’ and ‘restricted’ art. While some of her paintings and drawings have been made on rather petite canvases, the cultural understanding that informs her work spans the globe.
A Paolista by birth, Nunes was raised in Rio Grande do Sul and attended university in Brasilia. She believes that nomadism is an inherited trait, as her father moved often in his lifetime. A childhood spent dreaming about living in Paris and devouring books on the city’s Montmartre neighborhood, it was her obvious next port of call.
Nunes was certainly not the only Brazilian in the City of Lights. The millitary dictatorship at the time forced a creative exodus, with many choosing Paris for its rich history in the arts, music and so-called high culture.
Nunes set up shop in Belleville in the late 70s, at the time a working class, immigrant neighborhood on the cusp of its discovery by artists and musicians for its cheap rents, abandoned factory spaces and traditionally leftist politics. She learned French, married a Frenchman and raised two children while working as a graphic designer and pursuing a career as an artist.
Nunes poetically summed up her dual life, “To make a living I am a designer, but I live always on the edge, robbing time from my own life to produce art.”
As part of Santa Teresa’s bi-annual arts event Portas Abertas (Open Doors), Nunes opened the exposition titled ‘Transito 13-10-13’, named for the Parisian quarters where she has rented studios over the last five years. On display this August, the show gathers work from ‘Marina Verde’, a series of figurative paintings, and a two-part series titled “Memoria de Hoje” (Memory of Today) and “Memoria de Ontem” (Memory of Yesterday).
Nunes’s ‘Memory’ pieces are the sequel to a concept originally realized for a packing supplies company in Paris called Raja in commemoration of their fiftieth anniversary. While looking around in their factory for inspiration, she noticed bubble wrap as a potential starting point. As she was clearing out her studio at the time and found it increasingly difficult to declutter, she recognized a strong metaphor in the material.
Nunes created seven panels filled with her own objects for the event, and has done two similar pieces with a collaborative twist for the Santa Teresa exhibition. She has inserted everything from rings to hair elastics, ticket stubs, four-leaf clovers and cut-out letters from newspapers into the bubble compartments.
Each piece has been given to her by a passerby, and is essentially whatever small object they had in their pockets and handbags at the time. The symbolism in what people carry around, and subsequently in what is ‘impossible’ to get rid of, is cleverly exposed in her ‘Memory’ series.
Other significant works include ‘Natureza Morta’ (Dead Nature), a macro/micro series in mixed media, using photography, printing and painting to create a very personal body of work realized in conjunction with the artist’s mother. The two would sit in front of a vase of flowers and paint together, and then photograph small sections and create new paintings from the micro-photographs. The macro side to the series uses skin that has been drawn with dots, lines and words, including ‘fleur’ and ‘peau’ (flower and skin in French) and then photographed. By choosing to focus a camera lens on a small area of skin and then filling the entire frame of a photograph, Nunes has created a sensual and intriguing landscape.
As a true nomad, Nunes not only creates art, but creates collaborative exchanges of artists between Brazil, France and Vietnam. She has organized three artists from each country who will follow a triangular route to meet and create art together. From July 29 to August 10, their work will be on display at Hanoi’s Cultural Arts Center. She has also been active in the exchange between Carioca and Parisian artists who participate in their sister city’s Portas Abertas exhibits.