O Bastardo: Pretos de Griffe

Overview

Little known by the public at large until not long ago, the Portuguese word empoderamento [empowerment] gained strength in the political debate to the point where it became the most looked-up word in the Aurélio dictionary, in 2016. Since then, its meaning has been emptied and shifted from its original concept, but it is still fundamental for the discussion concerning ethnic-racial and gender issues, as it touches on changes in the relationships of power of the so-called minorities. Created by educator Paulo Freire based on the English word empowerment, the word bears the idea of minimizing the effects of oppression, so it can be said that Freire created a special meaning for the word empoderamento in the context of philosophy and education, not being a movement that takes place from the outside in, like the term in English, but rather through an inner process, through the social achievements and advances of whoever is empowered.

 

This is the discussion at the center of the series Pretos de Griffe, which is also the title of the first solo show by O Bastardo at Casa Triângulo. His paintings portray a series of black figures that have gained an outstanding position – in terms of fame, but also of power – in their areas of activity, like Kanye West and Mano Brown. These two leading figures of the music and entertainment industry are a starting point for O Bastardo to also portray figures who are unknown to the public at large but have nonetheless played an important role in his network of relationships. He thus establishes a stand that symbolizes the general idea around this exhibition, with the aim of expanding the notion of griffe [designer label] beyond its literal sense to now denote ostentation – especially when this concept is linked to “the minorities.”

 

Here, the artist portrays these characters freely, while also including indicators of lifestyle, such as colored or bleached hair and fashionable clothes that are eye catching for their neon colors. While the larger paintings show more of the context surrounding the portrayed characters, the smaller ones give more emphasis to the features of empowerment exalted by the artist, which blend relationships of power and influence with upward financial mobility – themes that impact the lives of the black population directly, on a daily basis.

 

The artist thus points to the need to take a fresh look at role of the black person in society, laying claim to a place of existence for these bodies no longer linked to historical traumas and violences, but now under a perspective of freedom. These paintings – prepared especially for this exhibition and shown here for the first time – therefore seek to normalize the success of black people through their achievements. Nevertheless, the portraits created by the artist evince codes that put this identity group into places that have always been absent from the narratives.

 

In his paintings with quick gestures, which also valorize and evidence the process of drawing directly on the canvas in relation to the final finishing, O Bastardo reflects the uneasiness of a new generation of racialized artists, who are now coming into their own and are urgently laying claim to processes of justice and the righting of historical wrongs. This inverted meaning in his painting can furthermore be aimed at rethinking the art object’s making in a way that is less academic and Eurocentric, and more “marginal” – just as graffiti and other manifestations of black culture have always been assigned a low status in relation to a notion of dominant high culture.

 

Among issues concerning the history of art or social policies, O Bastardo points to the urgent need for a historical revisionism that will enable black people to increasingly believe they are what they have always wanted to be: free to enjoy life in all its fullness.

 

by Carollina Lauriano