Marepe

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 Marepe

Article

Everday objects, performance, and the symbolism of a dead tree trunk

Marepe was born in 1970 in San Antônio de Jesus, Bahia, Brazil, and has been exhibiting his work nationally and internationally since the early 1990s. Marepe’s work has evolved from a deep connection with the local traditions, customs, and materials of Bahia, the Northeastern region of Brazil predominantly populated with descendants of black slaves. As he often uses readymade materials and everyday objects or activities, Marepe’s work has acquired a complex layering of references and meanings. He lives and works in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil.
Marepe’s work “Cabeça Acustica” ("Acoustic Head", 1996) is assembled from two aluminum basins that are commonly used in Bahia for washing laundry. Marepe combined the two basins, creating a hollow volume, and connected another simple kitchen utensil, a funnel of sorts to one end. At the other end, he cut an opening into the volume, large enough for a human head to fit. The object’s immediate use is to amplify sounds, like a megaphone. It is activated in a performative gesture, requiring one person to place the head inside the hollow enclosure, while another person may sing or speak into the funnel. Its transformative potential resides not only in the performative requirement necessary for the work’s success but also in the way in which it enables thinking about a very different use of the most simple of materials. The simple objects of everyday life in Northern Brazil are also subject of other series of objects and installations, such as “The Itinerant Merchants” (1996) or “Cafezinho Pushcart” (1996). For these, Marepe replicates or simply transfers the mobile carts, suitcases, and tables of street vendors from the urban markets of Bahia into the gallery. The workplaces of a coffee vendor, a telephone card merchant, or a watch repairman are set up modestly in a corner of the exhibition space, as if the operator had momentarily stepped out of the room. But Marepe’s works manage to go beyond the immediate fascination that such exotic and seemingly “primitive” ways of conducting business usually provoke: The ingenuous way that these vendors’ apparatuses are constructed with their elements of bricolage approximate the realm of art, at the same time they retain the social agency and urgency of their original contexts.

The concepts of social engagement that are expressed symbolically in Marepe’s earlier installations have been incorporated more explicitly in his more recent works. The project “The Quiet in the Land: Everyday Life, Contemporary Art, and Project Axé” (2000) took place over a period of time in Salvador, Bahia, and asked artists to collaborate with local children’s initiatives. Here, Marepe developed a series of workshops with a group of twenty-four children. In these meetings, Marepe presented his own work as well as some early 19th century renderings of local everyday street scenes to the children, and then asked them to observe their own community. The resulting work “Go and Return Necessaire” (2000) consisted of several simple objects, like sandals made from cardboard that the children produced for themselves, and an installation in the resulting exhibition, for which Marepe scavenged and repaired two cotton candy machines with the help of the children. The machines tie into Marepe’s earlier works and their concern for models of independent, self-sufficient economies, as well as to the particular meaning of sugar, the raw material for cotton candy, which has been the main domestic product in Brazil since colonial times. But they also retain their function as a treat for children, a function Marepe stressed in a subsequent performance. On September 27, the holiday of Cosmas and Damian, the patron saints of children, Marepe produced large amounts of cotton candy, which he tied into a palm tree in the city of Salvador. At the end of the performance, the candy was given out to children and passers-by, and only a photo documentation is left of the event, which has been exhibited as an individual work (“Heavenly Sweets of San Antonio”, 2001).

In 2002, Marepe produced a gallery installation that once again turned to local customs and acts, even though it stressed symbolic meanings over performative possibilities. The central work of the installation, “Cuajú Tree with Cotton Snow” (2000), presents a dead tree trunk, typical for the dry and poor Bahia region, covered in pure, white raw cotton. The covered tree, strangely transformed in its pristine appearance, is a local Christmas tradition. Another work, “The Present of Presents” (2001), a row of little, elaborately packaged clay cubes, neatly stacked along the edge of one gallery wall, ties into this central theme. Acts of giving, as well as the ethics of giving in a larger sense, have been topics of ethnographic research since the beginning of the discipline. The custom of Christmas, a ritual charged with colonial history, as well as the creative transformation of the ritual into something locally specific are both referenced in Marepe’s work without one ever winning the upper hand.
Author: Christian Rattemeyer

Bio

* 1970 in Santo Antonio de Jesus, Bahia, Brazil.
Lives and works in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil.

Works

Goup Exhibitions (Choice)

Exhibition / Installation
2005 “Tropicalia”, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, USA “e-flux Video Rental”, The Moore Space, Miami, USA “e-flux Video Rental“, KW, Berlin, Germany “Karou Arima - How latitudes become forms - Arte en la era global”, MARCO, Monterrey, Mexico 2004 “Harlem Postcards Fall 2004“, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, USA “How Latitudes Become Form”, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, USA “Special Projects”, P.S.1 MoMA, Long Island, USA “Colecao Gilberto Chateaubriand“, Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 2003 “Biennial Istanbul 2003“, Biennial Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey “Gambiarra - New art from Brazil“, Gasworks Gallery, London, Great Britain “Dreams and Conflicts:The Dictatorship of the Viewer“, Biennial Venice, Venice, Italy “How Latitudes Become Forms“, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, Italy “How Latitudes Become Forms”, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, USA “Colectiva”, Galeria Luisa Strina, São Paulo, Brazil 2002 “poT“, Galeria Fortes Vilaça, São Paulo, Brazil “Nationalitaet I Identitaet“, ifa-Galerie Berlin, Berlin, Germany “Bahia de Todos os Santos - Schwarze Goetter, weisse Heilige“, ifa-Galerie Berlin, Berlin, Germany “Desenhistas e Coloristas“, Galeria Luisa Strina, São Paulo, Brazil 2000 “Fim Do Milênio“, Museu De Arte Moderna, São Paulo, Brazil Mostra Do Redescobrimento, São Paulo, Brazil Museu De Arte Moderna, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil Centro De Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain “Brazilidades”, Centro Cultural Light, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil 1999 Fundazione Sandretto Rebaudengo Perll’arte, Turin, Italy “1. Bienal Mercosul”, Bienal Mercosul, Porto Alegre, Brazil “Espaço Bahia 2000”, Casa Cor Bahia, Salvador, Brazil “Objeto Anos 90”, Instituto Cultural, Itaú, Brazil 1998 “Bienal Da Gravura”, Bienal Da Gravura, Curitiba, Brazil 1997 “The Other Modernism”, House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany “6th Salão Da Funart”, Museu De Arte Moderna, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil 1996 “Arte Construtora”, Ilha Da Pólvora, Porto Alegre, Brazil

Solo Exhibitions (Choice)

Exhibition / Installation
2005 “vermelho - amarelo - verde – azul“, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France 2004 “Marepe“, Anton Kern Gallery, New York, USA 2003 “Marepe”, Galeria Luisa Strina, São Paulo, Brazil 2000 Galeria Luisa Strina, São Paulo, Brazil 1995 “Casco De Cavalo”, Galeria Acbeu, Salvador, Brazil 1994 “Tem Pasta, Se Costa? Não Nega Besta, Tem Bosta! Você Gosta? Mas Que Resposta, Seu Costa.”, Restaurante Cia, Salvador, Brazil 1992 “A Um Palmo Do Nariz”, Universidade Federal Da Bahia, Salvador, Brazil 1990 “Espelho No Escuro”, Centro Cultural Cruz Das Almas, Cruz Das Almas, Brazil

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

The other Modernism

Contemporary Art from Africa, Asia & Latin America

(08 May 97 - 27 July 97)