Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil

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Tarsila do Amaral. _A Negra_, 1923. Oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 32 in. (100 x 81.3 cm). Museo de Arte Contemporânea de Universidade de São Paulo. © Tarsila do Amaral Licenciamentos.

Tarsila do Amaral. A Negra. 1923

Tarsila do Amaral. A Negra, 1923. Oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 32 in. (100 x 81.3 cm). Museo de Arte Contemporânea de Universidade de São Paulo. © Tarsila do Amaral Licenciamentos.

Luis Perez-Oramas: Brazil is a country with a large African-Brazilian population. This painting, A Negra, which means “The Black Woman,” is an iconic work. It represents Tarsila’s growing recognition of the richness and diversity of her native country.

A Negra evokes emancipation, racially and politically. The way this painting blends an international form of modern art with a black subject was a bold political position.

Brazil was one of the last countries to emancipate slaves, in the late 1800s, around the time Tarsila was born. This painting is most likely based on a photograph of a servant she knew as a child.

Notice how Tarsila exaggerates the woman’s features. We will see this distortion and exaggeration of the body in other major paintings from now on.

Tarsila renders the background of the painting in simple bands of color that evoke earth and sky, anticipating the language of Concrete Abstraction that will flourish in Brazil beginning in the 1940's. And at the right, she inserts a diagonal green shape—the abstracted leaf of a banana tree, found everywhere in the Brazilian landscape.

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