Dias Sardenberg : feature and artwork (NSFW)

Brazil’s emerging talent lends voice to issues of severity and bliss.

Following descent into São Paulo’s boundary-blown stretch of shantytowns, industry, and opulence, one is immediately overwhelmed by the humid air, filthy and citric, at once nourishing and oppressive. Mixed media artist Helena Dias Sardenberg made this descent hours ago from Pedra Azul, where her jungle-wreathed studio, a stylish, organically-sourced chalet, is held bound by the thickest bamboo on the planet, a thatch roof, and the cadence of Brazil’s aviary decadence. Sardenberg’s contrasting worlds of natural order, sensuality, chaos, mysticism, and sophistication are, come what may, what her work–and this place–is really about.
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Tonight she’s presenting a new piece for a group exhibit, “Eu Tenho um Sonho: De King a Obama–A Saga Negra do Norte,” being held at the Museu Afro Brasil, a masterfully coy Oscar Niemeyer exercise in depth of field, natural light, and risqué architectural lines. From the stately, art-draped parlor of his home, the show’s curator, the magnificent Emanoel Araújo–former São Paulo Secretary of Culture; a Gold Medal winner at the ’72 Graphic Biennial of Florence, Italy; and a visiting professor of Art in ‘88/’89 at CUNY–shares on his inclusion of Sardenberg, “What most attracts and fascinates me in Sardenberg’s work is precisely the way in which she assimilates and translates contemporary issues,” Araújo says. “This is contemporary art made by an artist who is involved with her time and its social, political, and historical issues.”

Araújo hopes the show–through its solemn yet celebratory depiction of the U.S.’s progression from slavery to the Civil Rights Era to the election of President Obama–explicitly illumines the “fallacy of Brazil’s supposed ‘ethnic democracy.’” He goes on: “For the show, I felt Sardenberg would be a true interpreter of its voice because she conveys her work through narration, uniquely addressing issues from the very start, in this case the Ku Klux Klan to President Obama himself.” The piece in question, “Keep on Walking,” which measures nearly 15 feet in height, additionally blends imagery of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on his fated Memphis balcony, Underground Railroad enablers, and Ruby Bridges’ monumental entry into New Orleans’ previously all-white William Frantz Elementary School. The piece demonstrates Sardenberg’s technical range, and while it’s true her broader expression does articulate contemporary issues, this work strays from her more prevalent tonal resolve of euphoria and sensualism.
Amazingly, this expression–rich and erotic canvases of paint and reappropriated vintage Japanese kimono fabric, mythological jousting, and psychological abandon–is only five years in the making. Previous to this, in addition to earning a Masters in Psychology, Sardenberg worked extensively in fashion between São Paulo and Los Angeles. In the thick of L.A.’s textile trade, her affinity for kimonos flourished, which she eventually satisfied by purchasing a palate of ten thousand. Sardenberg took hiatus from the industry and relocated to a remote Brazilian fishing village–Barra do Jucu–where the extreme contrast from the cosmopolitan grind, coupled with the erotic ease of the lightly-clothed population, inspired the content for this coming turn in her career.

What occurs in São Paulo in these few days amounts to a lovingly muddled lychee and mango cocktail of gallery hopping, samba clubbing, and coffee and cake with Brazilian art royalty. Sardenberg, throughout, is contagiously cool, candid, and calmly in stride with this stage of her emotional and artistic global journey. Cross-legged on a hotel couch, high above the city’s central hip strip–Rua Oscar Freire–she shares on her expressive aims. “I feel I go into my work without gender or identity. Because I don’t have a formal background in art, I’m not drawing on conventions or teaching, only the purity of my sentiments or feelings.”
Sardenberg’s more recent work sees massive canvases, which, following the show, she unrolls from storage across the spacious floors of international photographer Romulo Fialdini’s studio.

Despite the supple, playful content of some of her pieces, there’s a certain kind of physical brutality to the work, a toughness, which adds to its emotional heft. Close inspection reveals the focus that re-working these kimonos’ luscious embroidery and patterning into new shapes and forms necessitates. Sardenberg explains that some of the more striking fabric was sheathed beneath exterior layers of kimono, never seeing light until she’d spliced them open. When questioned on how she might respond to suggestions this re-appropriation is disrespectful of what today are considered traditional Japanese garments, she says, “The pieces were so beautiful, always sewn by hand, and done so conscientiously. And I felt I couldn’t even touch them because I had so much respect. And 
I wanted to give them an extra life, to transform them into something light and desirable. These were in boxes and storage, unseen. I want people to see the beauty in just the kimonos themselves.”
This cultural intrigue and birthing of new meaning can be similarly observed in the piece, “Holidays in an American Desert,” a primal collision of animistic power structures, the surreal hues and shadow of America’s vast, eerie landscapes, and a mystical, defiant transcendence from yuppie spectatorship. It’s aggressively sensual, yet cooly restrained, perhaps due to the sheer space the imagery occupies. On this, Araújo states, “Sardenberg projects herself in space with total freedom. She nurtures a fine relationship with large formats, and [considering] her employment of narrative and technical process, [this space] is of fundamental importance.”

“Night in Tunisia” connotes a similar celebratory abandon–the piece projects an orgiastic entangle of female lust and languor, similarly curvy appliques of kimono insulating against a free-fall of feral footballers grinning with a kind of charming, clinical idiocy—an addition Sardenberg explains came from the international scandal wherein soccer icon Ronaldo was questioned by police after inviting three prostitutes to a pay-by-the-hour motel room only to find that they were male cross-dressers.

This frolicsome extolling of humanity’s spectral repression and passion comes from Sardenberg’s altruistic eye to the human experience. Leaning into the candlelight of a sexy subsurface sushi bar on the Rua da Consolação, she shares on the fruits of her most recent spell of creative isolation in the Brazilian jungle: “Two baby birds fell from their nest through my thatch roof and their mother kept returning to encourage them to fly.

One really took to it, trying and pushing, and eventually flew. The other was so shy and unable. But his brother kept coming back, and he was pushed and pushed, and eventually he flew too. It was profound to watch, to see the likenesses in the animal world to ours, and perhaps that comes through in my work.” She looks around, the hum of a Saturday in São Paulo reaching an early crescendo. “But I have to leave that space; I have to come back,” she laughs. “For the sushi and, of course, for the samba. In the club, I love all the different bodies and breasts and the sensuality, and all of the excitement meets my imagination. My content is not always sensual, but it’s this sensuality that really drives me.”x

posted via The Confluence