Neuenschwander tackles the politics of Walt Disney by dismantling a historic edition of the popular Brazilian comic book Zé Carioca, created in 1941 when the animator visited South America to support American relations with the region during World War II. The main character, Zé Carioca, a soccer–playing green parrot whose name loosely translates as "Joe from Rio," is a stand–in for the Brazilian everyman. Having grown up with cartoons, Neuenschwander recalls that Zé Carioca acted in stories with nationalistic overtones. "His character was based on a stereotypical cliché of the Brazilian," she says, "or more precisely, the Carioca (someone born in Rio de Janeiro): street–smart, lazy, a lover of soccer and samba, a flirt and a swindler. The cliché of the cliché, he ended up helping to crystallize the national image of the malandro (rascal)." She confronts the implicit political and racial undertones by overpainting the figures in bright monochrome colors and whiting out the text. By turning each page into an abstraction the artist offers viewers a clean slate to imagine their own stories and dialogues.
Gallery label from 2007.
In this series of drawings, Neuenschwander has filled in the panels on pages of the comic A Volta de Zé Carioca with a single color selected from the background of the image underneath and painted over the text in all the speech balloons. The comic book was published on the sixtieth anniversary of the Disney character Zé Carioca (whose name translates loosely as Joe from Rio), a parrot who embodies a number of negative stereotypes of Brazilians. Zé Carioca was one of many animal characters developed by Disney to help reinforce relationships between the United States and Latin American countries during World War II. By painting over the text and images, Neuenschwander has transformed the comic into a series of monochrome panels in which silent speech bubbles are held in tension with the complex narrative below the surface.
Gallery label from Contemporary Art from the Collection, June 30, 2010–September 12, 2011.
Neuenschwander is one of the most prominent young artists in Brazil today. Her work addresses public interlocution and private communication, time-processing in everyday life, the collision of vernacular and global contexts, and the fragility of life. She frequently uses found objects and a strategy of appropriation in her work, and often refers to the history of Brazilian art.
In these drawings Neuenschwander uses comic books as her subject. In 1942 Disney created a handful of "Latin" comic book protagonists to help foster good relations between the United States and Latin America. Among them, Zé Carioca, a parrot rendered in the two colors of the Brazilian flag, gained popularity in Brazil, and was featured in Disney comics in that country for nearly sixty years—even though the character plays on negative stereotypes about Brazilians.
In 2004 Neuenschwander made a series of watercolors using the complete set of Zé Carioca comics as motif and support. This work is based on A Volta de Zé Carioca (The Return of Zé Carioca), a thirteen-page comic book, the first Disney comic entirely drawn and produced by Brazilians. Each of the panels is filled in with a single color sampled from the original Disney drawing underneath. The figures have been painted out, and the empty speech balloons look like clouds.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art , p. 221.