Maria Auxiliadora da Silva

1935Campo Belo, Brazil | 1974São Paulo, Brazil

Brazilian painter.

Maria Auxiliadora da Silva continues to epitomise the Afro-Brazilian woman artist in the eyes of many, iconically represented in her numerous self-portraits as Autorretrato com Anjos [Self-portrait with angels] (1972). Through her paintings, M. A. da Silva celebrated – and for some, humanised – the everyday life and forms of sociability (popular manifestations, religious rites connected to Afro-Brazilian cults and so on) of Brazil’s Black and impoverished communities, notably from the São Paulo districts of Brasilândia and Casa Verde. Some of her works, such as Capoeira (1970) are deemed of a great interest as they subtly depict Brazil’s rural exodus and urban development, transitioning from agricultural spaces to suburbs. M. A. da Silva is also revered due to her treatment of the feminine figure and depiction of female friendship and intimacy between women as represented in A Preparação das Meninas [Girls’ getting ready] (1972), where a group of women prepare to go for a night out in the city. Paint, for M. A. da Silva, is much more than a pictorial element; it is above all an expressive material.

M. A. da Silva grew up in a very large family of 18 children, descendents of enslaved people in Campo Belo, Minas Gerais. Art was part of her everyday life from early childhood thanks to the talents her mother, Maria Trindade de Almeida Silva, possessed in painting, sculpture and embroidery. Several of her relatives also went on to become painters and cultural producers. M. A. da Silva received very little academic education in her early life due to societal obstacles relative to race, gender and class and went on to support her family as a housekeeper while continuing as a self-taught painter.
M. A. da Silva moved to São Paulo, where she displayed her works in Praça da República, a public square in the city centre and in outdoor flea markets at Embu das Artes with her newfound community of artists. There she encountered intellectuals of European descent that started praising her work as “of the Brazilian popular” and introduced her to the Western artistic audiences under this label. In 1971 her work was presented in fairs and exhibitions in Basel, Düsseldorf and Paris, and she began painting full-time. From 1972 to 1974 M. A. da Silva’s paintings continually referred to death, in allusion to the cancer which caused her passing in 1974.

In 1973 M. A. da Silva exhibited for the first time at Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), as part of the group exhibition Exposição Afro-Brasileira de Artes Plásticas, curated by Pietro Maria Bardi, the museum’s founding director. The exhibition was controversial due to its approach and treatment of certain works shown. Posthumously, in 1981, M. A. da Silva had a tribute solo exhibition at MASP. The museum also presented, in 2018, the exhibition Maria Auxiliadora: Vida cotidiana, Pintura e Resistência [Maria Auxiliadora: Daily life, painting and resistance], which sought to critically reposition the artist’s production. Thus, since her entrance into wider artistic circuits, M. A. da Silva’s production showed what critics considered “spontaneous”, “ingenuous”, “naïve” component; a categorisation that in Brazil, and overall in the Global South, refers to productions attributed to self-taught Black and Indigenous artists in a (post-)colonial context that systematically prevented them access to academic artistic higher education.

Igor Simões

A text produced as part of the “The Origin of Others” program in partnership with the Clark Art Institute.

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