21-05 to 24-06-2023

Marcela Cantuária
Artist production assistants: André Ebert | Carolina Carvalho | Isabella Ôgeda

curated by Inês Valle
Venue: Palácio do Grilo & .insofar

We are pleased to announce Marcela Cantuária: Bestiário, the artist’s first solo exhibition in Portugal, featuring recently produced artworks. The exhibition “Bestiário”, curated by our artistic director Inês Valle, will be on view at the Palácio do Grilo from May 21-24 and at .insofar from May 26 May to 24 June 2023.

Her painting is characterised by vibrant colours and bold brushstrokes, interweaving historical images of the political world with representations of contemporary visual culture. Her work unveils alternative narratives to those of a society structured on machismo and misogyny, by proposing the construction of alternative vocabularies that reflect her extensive research into women’s struggles around the world. In the search for freedom, her work seeks to question women’s place in society, the class struggle, the division of power, gender stereotypes and disputes over political meanings. Her work is represented in several art collections, including Pérez Art Museum Miami (USA), Museu de Arte de São Paulo (BR), Assis Chateaubriand MAC-PE (BR), Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo (BR), Museu da Maré, RJ (BR). A collaboration with A Gentil Carioca (BR).


From Shock to Independence
text by Inês Valle

We are fully aware that the official historical narrative has overlooked certain episodes that inflamed the spirit of freedom. Throughout history, the story of humanity has been largely shaped by Eurocentric concepts such as humanism, colonialism, and racism, resulting in the marginalization and suppression of traditional, local, and indigenous knowledge. In this anthropocentric era in which we live, these concepts hauntingly provoke the inescapable need to retell history with broader values and knowledge. In this context, Marcela Cantuária, by rescuing and giving voice to marginalized stories, contributes to the construction of a more inclusive and diverse landscape, expanding the reach of art as a form of resistance and social transformation. Her work is crucial in promoting awareness and stimulating reflection on historically silenced narratives, allowing new perspectives and experiences to be shared and valued.

In this first exhibition in Portugal, titled “Bestiary,” she immerses us in the history and traditions of Bahia, revealing the remarkable journey of women who faced challenges and adversity with courage and determination. By exploring the narratives of Bahian women, she presents us with a vivid portrait of their resilience, highlighting their fundamental role in Brazil’s independence. Gifting us with a blend of universes that lead us through fantastic and corrosive worlds, harsh but real. Marcela brings to Portugal stories from Brazil, stories of women who fought for freedom—sharing in the larger-scale paintings of this exhibition the story of the sisterhood of Saubara’s women, now known as Caretas do Mingau, who fought for the independence of Bahia in the 19th century. These women shrouded in the cloak of night, heroically roamed the streets and trails of the forest, carrying food and weapons to their children and husbands on the frontline. Covered in long white cloaks, they carried pots filled with porridge on their heads, chanting piercing and disturbing screams.

Like lost souls, they wandered in the darkness of shadows, frightening the Portuguese troops until their retreat. In these two paintings, Marcela evokes two fragments or events from the same historical period. In one, there is a representation resembling a premonition of the downfall of the Portuguese Empire in Brazil, where “phantasmagoric” women surround a fallen soldier. On the other, we have the inevitable fate of July 2, 1823, the moment of victory for the people of Bahia. In the foreground of this painting, the women of Saubara rejoice in triumph in a clearing, while in the background, dark shadows represent Portuguese soldiers fleeing through a tunnel or cave. These symbol-laden and mystical works transport us to past times that become increasingly present when we reflect on the identity of a people, incorporating both historical and contemporary elements. For instance, when Marcela pays tribute to historical figures by personifying three female warriors from Brazilian history—Maria Quitéria (1792–1853), Joana Angélica (1761–1822), and Maria Felipa (?–1873) —or when she paints a “plainclothes” Portuguese soldier wearing contemporary attire, a t-shirt adorned with a burning caravel print. The burning caravel can symbolize the destruction of the colonizing and exploitative ships that marked the beginning of colonialism, but it also carries a powerful message of questioning the legacies of the past or even the power structures and oppression that still persist in contemporary society.

In contrast to historical representations, Marcela Cantuária propels us into an imaginary and magical world through vibrant colours, a space inhabited by mutant beings, beasts, and anthropomorphic monsters that the artist richly uses to reconstruct the complex narrative of history. These fantastic elements allude to the magical and imaginative side that all stories of struggle carry, adding a layer of depth and evoking the viewer’s imagination. References to the minor arcana of the tarot, which play a significant role in the artworks, stand out. They are depicted in the four corners of the painting, bringing a symbolic and mysterious dimension to the narrative. Additionally, the presence of the tricephalic eagle carrying a soul or the sardine-women with the heads of Bahian heroines and bodies of Portuguese sardines hovering over the painting’s narrative. These symbolic references add layers of meaning and invite the viewer to delve into a deeper interpretation of Marcela’s work, exploring the mysteries and multiple senses that each element carries. 

In dialogue with these two works, the artist expands the universe of the depicted history through smaller-size works such as watercolours and sculptures, seamlessly blending reality with the imaginary and natural world. An example of this is the representation of the eleven-headed dragon in flames, where each head portrays a man who navigated, explored, or colonized Brazil. In another painting, we encounter the woman-snail, depicted as the warrior and protector who, with every step, raises her humanoid arrow aiming for the freedom of the indigenous, caboclo, or enslaved African people.

It is fascinating to think about how the words and message of the great Italian Baroque master Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1656), expressed in her 1649 letter, can echo and find resonance in different times and places. While it is impossible to say for certain whether Artemisia could have imagined that her words would have a lasting impact on another continent and in a later period, it is undeniable that her struggle and determination have left a mark on the history of art. Could she have imagined that her words would echo or leave a profound message that Marcela Cantuária brings to us now, two centuries later?

The exhibition space, punctuated by these works, is also an oneiric realm—a palace from the 18th century commissioned by D. Pedro de Bragança, the first Duke of Lafões and an illegitimate descendant of King D. Pedro II. After being denied the throne, he hired the most prominent artists of his time to create a place to allow the soul to take flight as it wished. Thus, at the Palácio do Grilo, it is possible to simultaneously witness the dreams of a renegade man and the vision of an unconformed woman. This duality of perspectives provides us with a performative experience that transcends transatlantic borders, connecting different universes and narratives, in some way doing justice to the ambition of Julien Labrousse, the current owner of the palace.

Lastly, the artwork “Serpentária” is a striking piece in the exhibition. It is an oratory inhabited by a chimaera, a hybrid figure combining the characteristics of a woman, a serpent, and a she-wolf. This figure can be interpreted as an oracle, an entity that possesses transcendental knowledge and wisdom. The sanctuary-museum where this chimaera resides is a sacred space, adorned with a mirror that reflects and multiplies both the presence of the chimaera and the numerous micro-paintings of metamorphic beings, creating a mystical environment. Simultaneously, as she opens the doors to her sanctuary, we are invited into a world of transformation and self-discovery, where she becomes a guide to help us explore the central themes of the exhibition: struggle, freedom and independence.

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artist profile

Marcela Cantuária (b. 1991, Brazil)

Marcela Cantuária lives and works in Rio de Janeiro, and has a degree in Painting from the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Her revolutionary painting, characterised by vibrant colours and bold brushstrokes, intertwines historical images of the political world with contemporary visual culture representations. A work that unveils alternative narratives to that of a society structured on machismo and misogyny, as she proposes the construction of alternative vocabularies reflecting her extensive investigation into women’s struggles around the world. In the quest for freedom, her oeuvre seeks to raise questions on women’s place in society, social class struggle, the division of power, gender stereotypes and struggles over political meanings.

She has exhibited her projects in several solo and group exhibitions, of which we highlight: The South American Dream at Pérez Art Museum (2023, USA); Propostas de Reencantamento at Sesc Pompeia, (2022, BR); La invocación del pasado a la velocidad del ahora at Centro Centro (ES), La larga noche de los 500 años, A Gentil Carioca (2019, Brazil); Sutur|ar Libert|ar, Centro Municipal de Arte Hélio Oiticica(2019, BR); Brazilian Stories at Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand (MASP,2022, Brazil); 8th Biennial of Painting: The ‘t’ is Silent at Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens (2022, Belgium); Acts of Revolt: other imaginaries about independence at the Museum of Modern Art of RJ (2022, Brazil); Essa minha letra: Lima Barreto e os Modernismos Negros at the Museum of Afro-Brazilian History and Culture (MUHCAB, Brazil); Espelho Labirinto at the Rio Museum of Art (MAR, Brazil); Crônicas Cariocas at the Rio Museum of Art (MAR, Brazil, 2021) and Histórias Feministas: artists after 2000 at the Assis Chateaubriand Museum of Art of São Paulo (MASP (Brazil, 2019) among others. She is represented by the Brazilian gallery A Gentil Carioca (BR).

Marcela Cantuária’s outstanding work can be found in several art collections, notably Pérez Art Museum Miami (USA), Museu de Arte de São Paulo (BR), Assis Chateaubriand MAC-PE (BR), Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo (BR), Museu da Maré, RJ (BR).

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