Whether travelling from Brazil to New York on foot and bus, where the artist ceremonially washed his dirt-caked feet in the Hudson River before turning around and heading back (Noticias de America, 2011–12), or a sublimely ambitious work-in-progress for which the artist is walking the world’s slave routes, Paulo Nazareth’s art is about mining histories, mixing with people and picking up stories. Anthropological by nature, the nucleus of this work is formed of social reactions experienced ‘in the field’. The artist’s current project, which he refers to as Cadernos de Africa, can be tracked via a photoblog that documents the people (a hobo dressed as Superman, buskers on a beach, etc) who have become part of the work as a result of various chance encounters along the former slave routes. Back in the gallery space, Nazareth’s travels materialise as souvenirs. In the case of Noticias de America (shown at Mendes Wood, São Paulo, last year and in the New Museum’s recent group show Walking Drifting Dragging, 2013) – ephemera from his travels across the Americas – beer caps, water-bottle labels, posters, flyers and substantial photo documentation – were gathered, collected and presented as a colourful hotchpotch of material. Nazareth, who is Brazilian, and conveys an almost shamanic look in his dress, Afro hairstyle, unkempt beard and mixed-race heritage, is an artist who knows how to subtly expose cultural and racial stereotypes present throughout the history of art. His work incorporates the colours and Arte Povera schema of the Brazilian avant-garde, together with the country’s history of performed public actions, but simultaneously mocks such historic references in contemporary art. At the 2011 edition of Art Basel Miami Beach, for example, he sold bananas from a truck, drawing parallels to the current hunger for Brazilian art in the West through an allusion to the colonial-period cultivation and commercialisation of the fruit. In one photo from the Americas trip, the artist holds a sign reading ‘My image of exotic man for sale’. Nazareth’s art is one that embraces the world outside the gallery, but mines art’s own history in the process: it’s a practice based on contradictions and complications, and an extremely poetic delivery
This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue.