Arthur Bispo do Rosário in Dialogue with the Collection of the Fábrica de Arte Marcos Amaro
During the large part of his life that he was an inmate in the psychiatric hospital Colônia Juliano Moreira, in Rio de Janeiro, Arthur Bispo do Rosário gathered a large collection of materials discarded by that institution, which he used to make a set of artworks. Working as a great archivist who collected pieces of everyday life, over the course of five decades, Bispo do Rosário created collages, banners, objects, mantles and other garments with the aim of bringing them to the light, in the kingdom of heaven.
In the exhibition Costuras Abertas [Open Seams], at the Fábrica de Arte Marcos Amaro [FAMA Museum], the works by the namesake of the Museu Bispo do Rosário are put into relationship with artists in FAMA’s own collection, including Nhô Caboclo, Arjan Martins, Luisa Almeida, Giovanni Battista Castagneto, Josafa Carneiro das Neves and Leonilson, thus allowing Bispo do Rosário’s creative impulses to be considered in a context of relationships beyond his condition. “It is not his insanity that made this individual become an artist. He is an artist and, by chance, is insane, schizophrenic,” Ferreira Gullar said once about Arthur Bispo do Rosário. Defying our attempts at definition, between delirious and visionary, the artist’s work presents us with ever-increasing layers of complexity for understanding contemporary questions.
One possible first reading refers directly to the title of the exhibition. Insofar as it is located in a former textile factory, FAMA has at its core a materiality that it shares in common with the artist’s creations: fabrics, thus directly situating the artist’s work within the context of the exhibition space. After deciding, on his own free will, to lock himself for seven years in one of the asylum’s cells, Bispo do Rosário used a needle and thread to embroider the writing of his banners and scraps of fabric, characteristically using blue threads he unraveled from old uniforms of his fellow hospital inmates.
Lutas e condecorações [Fights and Medals], a central work in the exhibition, is a minutely embroidered jacket that mixes a series of honorary medals with inscriptions that question the laws of men, in an intimate and individual character. It is a memorial in and of itself, which considers the great feats of those who struggled for an ideal of nationhood, while celebrating those who went away and nevermore returned. Garments also play an important role in the works of Luísa Almeida and Josafa Neves. Here, the clothing of the characters portrayed operate as symbols of freedom and resistance of a people who are fighting to de-marginalize their culture and existence in a country that insists on repressing the memory of its historical background of slavery. Bispo do Rosário also carried within himself all of the stigmas of social marginalization that still prevail in our notorious society – black, poor, crazy and confined in an insane asylum.
On another interpretive layer, the exhibition guides us through a discussion about belonging, memories and diaspora. In this sense, the set of works by Bispo de Rosário that includes a map of Africa, a sailboat and banners of African beauty pageant winners is in direct dialogue with works by Arjan Martins, Castagneto and Nhô Caboclo. These are works that deal with cartography and navigational formats, which arrive as highly significant elements for considering migratory and colonial questions. In the beauty pageant series we can recognize the artist’s attempt to shed light on the standards of beauty centered on whiteness, making us see other bodies as a possibility of reference. By creating a space of belonging, Bispo do Rosário creates a place of freedom, but more than this, by perceiving black people as a power, the artist points out that for a social group to be recognized it is necessary to bring dignity to its existences.
Finally, at the back of the room, we observe a work by Leonilson, which bears the inscription “objetos de mártir” [objects of a martyr]. This work, whose composition features drawings of various objects, is surrounded by an installation of instruments of torture made by Bispo do Rosário. Both artists, who bear within them the weight of existence, produced works that reflect on questions that concern the complexity of existence itself. Beginning at an intimate place, by collecting cast off items from the psychiatric hospital, such as wooden spanking paddles, cudgels, a frying pan, handcuffs and whips, Bispo do Rosário allows us to see that the cataloging of his daily life speaks directly about the conditions to which people like him were subjected.
With his genius, Arthur Bispo do Rosário managed to subvert the exclusionary logic, proposing, based on his work, the resignification of the intimate and private universe in questions that are a nod to the urgency of a historical revisionism, transforming “the voices that told him that the hour had come to represent all the things existing on earth for presentation at the final judgment” into a set of works that tells us that this moment awaited by the artist is here and now.