Maria Nepomuceno on Being a Carioca Artist

Maria Nepomuceno is a quintessential carioca artist—an artist from Rio de Janeiro. Nepomuceno was born and raised in the coastal city, she received her arts education there, and she was amongst the first artists championed by artist-led gallery A Gentil Carioca—what has quickly become an institution in the contemporary art world in Rio. Renowned for her wildly amorphic and colorful sculptures and installations often made from materials of the region—ropes, beads, straw—that sprawl across the space like a lush Brazilian garden, Nepomuceno’s work has turned the heads of a global audience. She is represented in Rio and London, by blue-chip gallery Victoria Miro, and her work has been shown at major institutions, from Stockholm to Hangzhou. Artsy’s Marina Cashdan spoke with Nepomuceno about her success both in Rio and internationally, her current show at Rio’s Museum of Modern Art (MAM), and what she’s most anticipating at ArtRio this year.

Artsy: Has your Brazilian heritage contributed to the aesthetics or sensibility of your work?

Maria Nepomuceno: Yes, absolutely, especially because of the ethnic miscegenation of the Brazilian people, from which I was born. In my sculptures I use materials and techniques that are identified with the Latin American culture, as braided straw, for example; but at the same time I also use materials from everywhere. Therefore, I see my work as simultaneously universal and related to my origins.

Artsy: You frequently work with ropes and beads as a medium. Can you talk about these materials as a reference to feminine and masculine forces?

MN: The beads and ropes are materials that symbolically make an allusion to organic elements, such as cells and the umbilical cord, at the same time in which they behave as points and lines, being the essence of all the volumetrical construction of my work. This way, these materials are at the same time symbolic and in the foundation of a mathematical thought. In my point of view, the idea of femininity only makes sense associated to the concept of ancestry. In my works I evoke an ancestral feminine force—archetypical as Pachamama, the goddess of fertility. Increasingly, I have been searching for this idea of feminine and masculine combined in each work, such as nature as a whole.

Artsy: You also work with organic materials such as straw, clay, glass, and wood, among others; and you’ve spoken about your work as a living organism. Can you tell us how your work constantly lives and evolves in its various iterations? And specifically, how is your current show at MAM, titled “Tempo para Respirar” (“Breathing Time”), plays to this thought?

MN: At the same time I use these organic materials, I also work with synthetic materials, which coexist in my work composing the organic mass of the work. Further on the desire of improving myself on the use of each material, there is also the constant desire of a crossing between them. The process of making the pieces if always a work in progress, I like to start on an already existent part of work and from this part, to develop a new sculpture. As it is with plants, from which we can take a branch off so it can be replanted and as a result, gives life to a new plant. This way, my work is a never-ending process; it’s in constant development. “Breathing Time” epitomized this organic process of making and developing my pieces, because it is an installation that came from the public gallery Turner Contemporary in Margate, England, which was a completely different space from the monumental space in MAM. In Rio, I incorporated new parts and created a new way of installing the piece, according to the needs of the space. The idea of the piece “Breathing Time” is to be able to travel to many places, different exhibitions spaces, creating collaborative groups in each place, like I did in Margate and Rio, keeping the work’s organic quality, being able to combine it infinite times. This way, the piece will be impregnated with history, and it will always be a new piece.

Artsy: You’re Brazilian but represented by galleries in both Brazil (A Gentil Carioca) and London (Victoria Miro). Can you tell us about the art scene in Rio from an artist’s perspective—how do you find that it’s unique from European cities?

MN: Rio’s art scene is becoming more and more dynamic: it’s opening many new institutional and commercial spaces, engaging new and young collectors and curators. And this feeds not only the art market, but its great for the general public. It means education [about fine art] for people that previously didn’t have much contact with art before; little by little, they are creating and intimacy with art spaces. Because of that, public and contemporary art have been getting closer in Rio de Janeiro.

Artsy: Can you talk about your relationship with A Gentil Carioca and the gallery’s influence within the Rio art scene?

MN: The gallery A Gentil Carioca was the first to give me the opportunity of showing my work. It is a privilege to be part of a gallery that has such a dynamic concept, not only as a commercial gallery, but also with educational and social projects of enlarging the action field of contemporary art. A Gentil Carioca is a young gallery, specialized in young artists, therefore it is really interesting to see how my development as an artist has happened in parallel with the gallery’s growth.

Artsy: With one weekend in Rio, what local spots could you suggest for a visitor (accommodation, cafes, night spots, sightseeing, dancing, etc)?

MN: Visitors cannot miss the sunset in Arpoador, which is a place where artists gather in Rio. It is also worth seeing samba in Trapiche da Gamboa, which happens on Fridays and Saturdays. For a light program, you could have breakfast at Parque Lage, a beautiful house with a beautiful garden, which is also where the Visual Arts School of Parque Lage classes take place. It’s a space that always has interesting exhibitions going on.

Artsy: What are you personally most excited to see at this year’s ArtRio?

MN:  I think the outdoor exhibition of sculptures in MAM’s gardens will be very interesting. The gardens were designed by [landscape architect Roberto] Burle Marx and are a perfect place for it to take place.

Artsy: What do you hope visitors will take with them after seeing your show at MAM?

MN: I think the name of the show, “Breathing Time” says it all!

Maria Nepomuceno’s Rio Recommendations: Arpoador is a neighborhood in a peninsula between Ipanema and Copacabana; Trapiche da Gamboa Rua Sacadura Cabral, 155, Rio; Parque Lage Rua Jardim Botanico 414, Jardim Botanico, Rio

Breathing Time” is on view at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro through September 8, 2013. Nepomuceno is included in Victoria Miro’s booth at ArtRio 2013 - Panorama, Booth J8, September 5th – 8th.

Explore ArtRio on Artsy.

MAM photographs by Pepe Schettino and Sérgio Guerini; portrait courtesy of Maria Nepomuceno.