Where Life and Art Overlap

Article excerpt

Whether one recognizes it as an outlet for utilitarian genius or dismisses it as decorative craftwork, folk art contains one undeniable, enviable trait - simplicity. Schooled artists spend entire careers in search of a way to transfer raw emotion onto canvas, to give life to a figure of manipulated clay. Like other folk artists worldwide, those from the Northeastern corner of Brazil create works that are literally of the people and for the people.

The techniques involved are uncomplicated, the themes portrayed are from daily life: the rites of birth and death, the celebrations of music and dance, the ceremonies of worship, the influence of folklore and fantasy. What makes this vast display of ceramics, sculptures, prints and paintings so impressive and unique is the background of its creators.

Influenced by past settlers and oppressors--Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and Arab as well as African captives and indigenous Indians--the people of Northeastern Brazil have held onto centuries-old customs and beliefs. Some of these influences have remained pure, such as the African themes in the Afro-Brazilian work of Adriano Jordao de Souza and Jose Alves. Their carved boats and spear-bearing tribal figures represent the hopeful return of slaves from Brazil to the African homeland. Although the pieces are from contemporary South America, they would not be out of place in a collection of 17th-century African art. …