- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 2, 2002

The IDB Cultural Center Art Gallery takes an imaginative approach to the fascinating, multicultural art of Brazil. Its new show, "Faces of Northeastern Brazil, Popular and Folk Art," displays 80 delightful figures soccer players, musicians, toys, masks and fantastic animals carved from wood and deeply sculpted ceramic plaques. The art comes from the coastal state of Ceara and mainly from the city of Fortaleza. That is where the IDB board of governors will hold its 43rd annual meeting this month.

The show reflects a growing interest in Brazilian art. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City is showing "Brazil: Body and Soul." The National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington recently displayed "Virgin Territory: Women, Gender, and History in Contemporary Brazilian art."

The IDB show is big, but never loses its appeal. Expertly carved figures of wood include "Padre Cicero," a legendary priest who encouraged the native arts; an energetic "St. George" killing a dragon; "Dove of the Holy Spirit" painted a brilliant white; and a lean, attenuated "Saint Francis" with his birds.

What is the sculpted "Jangada (boat)," which was done by a group of artists? Exhibit curator Felix Angel, gallery general coordinator and curator, commissioned the 7-foot-high ship for the show. A symbol of Ceara, the sculpture is a miniature version of the boats that Cearenses' barefoot fishermen sail out to sea, often for up to three days. It combines native, European and African art influences.

Sailors farther north would not consider sailing the waters in what looks like a rickety contraption. But these handcrafted vessels work, even with the area's high winds. The ship employs a metal container for cooking, a gourd for drinking water and a woven straw basket that drags in the water for storing caught fish. The craftsmanship is age-old and expert. Artisans painted the surface with a colorful, shiny, industrial enamel.

Mr. Angel says Brazil was the biggest importer of slaves in the Western Hemisphere, and Africans brought images such as the "Cazumba" figure to Brazil. The curator set the dramatic figure high up to show off his elaborate ritual dance vestments of polychromed wood, sequins, pile fabric, horsehair, straw and fabric. The fuschia sequins in the Dumbo-sized ears shimmer. They emphasize the signature ears of Cazumba, a character in the "Boi-Bumba" folk pageant of Maranhao in another part of northern Brazil. "'Boi-Bumba' means 'half-ox,' and people participating in the festival wear costumes of oxen," Mr. Angel says.

Another extraordinary pair of figures of carved wood are "Old Woman and Old Man (Macumba)." Carved from a single piece of light-brown wood in the classical African tradition, the two are taking part in "macumba," a popular voodoo ritual in Ceara. The intensity of the eyes staring straight ahead, the raising of the voodoo pipes and the judicious painting of certain body parts with black pigment make the sculpture the most riveting in the show.

The show has its lighter moments, such as Manoel Graciana's folk-art influenced band of five musicians and Cicero Ferreira Cardoso's "The Flamengo," a group of 11 soccer club players, including the goalkeeper. The band resembles the traditional groups that play at local festivals, especially Mardi Gras. The sculptor carved each body from one piece of wood, including the humorous, tilted hats. He then attached the arms and instruments separately.

The soccer team is even funnier. The group, in striped uniform shirts, dark shorts, high socks and sneakers, stands rigidly, as if at attention. Members stare at the viewer as if in a trance. Mr. Cardoso painted them with a high-gloss enamel, modeling them after the shiny ceramic, Portuguese colonial holy figures.

Not to be missed are the charming, painted clay plaques of daily life. Three women from the same family make the plaques that are anything but two-dimensional the figures are so fully modeled they lean out of their supports.

The toys are like no playthings seen in Washington before. One is a ship modeled from the tin of tin cans. Another is a bicycle constructed from twigs. A little "Horse" was made with a horse's hairy skin decorated with an exquisitely crafted red-and-white leather saddle. It has real metal stirrups.

The artists are mostly untrained and from the very poor segment of the Brazilian population.

"It's fortunate the government supports them with two state government-supported arts cooperatives, the Father Cicero Association of Craftspeople and the CEART central cooperative for handicrafts," Mr. Angel says. "Crafts are a big industry there and the open market, usually run by the artists' relatives, are in little kiosks in the heart of the tourist section."

The arts give these craftspeople hope for better lives, while enriching the lives of people fortunate to visit this exhibition or the state of Ceara in Brazil.

WHAT: "Faces of Northeastern Brazil, Popular and Folk Art"

WHERE: IDB Cultural Center Art Gallery, 1300 New York Ave. NW

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, through April 12


PHONE: 202/623-3774

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