Hélio Oiticica described his capes, or parangolés, as a manifestation of color in the surrounding space: “The viewer ‘wears’ the cape, which is formed by layers of colored fabric revealed as he moves, runs, or dances. The work demands the body’s direct involvement; the cape not only clothes the body, but also urges it to move, to dance.” Oiticica steered his art in the direction of participative action after spending time in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, or shantytowns, in 1964.
To inaugurate his parangolés, Oiticica asked his friends from the Mangueira favela to wear these works and come to the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro. They were, however, barred from entering. If the parangolés questioned the museum’s criteria for what is considered art, their activation by favela residents highlighted the racial and class tensions of a society riddled with social inequality. This parangolé hides within its pockets two objects: a plastic bag and a banner displaying the sentence “From adversity we live,” a political embrace of precariousness.
Gallery label from Sur moderno: Journeys of Abstraction—The Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift, October 21, 2019–March 14, 2020