Mario Cravo Neto

Article excerpt

Mario Cravo Neto is one of the few prominent Brazilian artists still living in his home country (many of his compatriots have set up house in Europe and North America). Based in Salvador, Bahia (a city in one of the poorest regions of Brazil, the Northeast), Cravo Neto is a master of the formal language of photography. His most recent show (the final stop of an exhibition tour which opened at the Museu da Bahia, Salvador) comprised black and white photographs that portray their subjects in strange yet balanced configurations. Luscious and slick, these images are undeniably beautiful, almost perfect: their sharp focus and printing complement the photographer's rich use of textures and contrasts and his clever manipulation of composition and lighting.

This exhibition was a retrospective of work produced between 1983 and 1995. The majority of the photographs portray what has now become highly contested subject matter: the other. Images of women and black men, many of them naked, dominate the show. As if to make matters worse, the subjects' faces are often veiled, hidden, or out of the lens' range. The resulting images flirt openly with another bete noire: primitivism. Figura voodoo (Voodoo figure, 1988), for instance, portrays a black man squatting, his naked body covered with splashes of some kind of dried-out liquid, his head looking down at the floor in a position that alternately suggests deep concentration and guilt. Crianca voodoo (Voodoo child, 1990) depicts the naked torso of a black boy who holds a large and seemingly exotic feathery animal. The examples continue: men hide themselves behind birds (Homem com lagrimas de passaro [Man with bird tears, 1992]), stones (Mascara X [Mask X, 1993]), a turtle (O Deus da cabeca [The god of the head, 1988]), or their own hands (Tinho [maos] [Tinho, (hands), 1990]); women are covered by veils (Kade corn veu [dormindo], [Kade with veil (sleeping), 1993]), or have their faces wrapped with thread (Luciana, 1994). …