Collection 1980s–Present

Dalton Paula. Liberata. 2020 296

Oil, pencil, and gold leaf on two joined canvases, 24 × 17 11/16" (61 × 45 cm). Gift of Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis in honor of Peter Reed. © Dalton Paula

Artist, Dalton Paula: My name is Dalton Paula. I live in Goiania in the center of Brazil. I have an interest in the African diaspora in Brazil.

These paintings portray Black leaders, who were silenced in Brazilian history. Blacks make up more than half of the population in Brazil, but power is dominated by white people. In 2018, when I made the first two portraits, what inspired me was the lack of historical images of Black people. The only photos and paintings objectified blacks. In my portraits, I seek to create a new history.

Curator, Thomas Lax: Paula created that new history by making portraits of black Brazilians whose likenesses were not readily known. To do this, he photographed residents of the Quilombo Alto do Santa Ana. Quilombos are communities of Black resistance, established in Brazil starting in the 16th century. The photographs of contemporary Quilombo residents became the basis for these portraits. Paula depicted his subjects in traditional dress and named them after historical figures.

Dalton Paula: Many of these historical people were kings and queens from Africa. So I painted hair with gold leaf. This also highlights the importance of the head in the Afro-Brazilian culture as a sacred place that see past, present, and future.

Thomas Lax: To open up new possibilities of meaning, the artist created each portrait on two panels, creating a line that bisects the subject.

Dalton Paula: It is also metaphorical for what I experienced in Quilombo, Black communities with great challenges that struggle for better life conditions.