Cabelo now

About the PIPA Prize 2019 finalists exhibition

Fred Coelho

Exhibition catalog | 2019

Cabelo is an artist who demands multiplicities of us. His work is increasingly concerned with the simultaneity of forms, senses and materials. In the course of a career spanning nearly thirty years, this situation has arrived at a precise point with Luz com Trevas (Light with Darkness), a permanent action of the artist over the last two years which activates sound, words and images in constant interaction. In 2018, he worked with a group of collaborators to launch a disc and an exhibition at BNDES of the same name, organizing activities between different creative fields. The album, produced by Kassin and Nave, and with unpublished compositions by Cabelo, became a show whose environment is an extension of the exhibition staged under the curatorship of Lisette Lagnado. The partnership with Raul Mourão under the codename Rato Branko was also transformed into shows, parties, carnival blocks and group exhibitions. As such, all his works cut across, and expand towards, the multiple ideals they evoke.

This proposal of a work in permanent transit invokes, on the part of the audience, a commitment to movement in times of immobility. Cabelo travels through different spaces, different neighborhoods, different bodies, different credos, different languages, constituting an expanded poetic field of action. It is essential that contact with his works activates this network in order to dive into a world that is simultaneously singular and plural. Cabelo’s gaze crosses the gaps and silences, going from Amerindian illuminations to the shadows of underground urban life. These are ancient energies in motion which, through his perspective, pulsate colors, forms and voices. It is no accident that his exhibitions and shows always demand the creation of a specific environment that draws us inside and shifts us away from common sense. Lisette Lagnado, curator of the 2018 exhibition, recognizes this ability to invent temporary autonomous spaces in formulating a glossary for the catalog of Luz com Trevas. The terms extracted by her and engendered by Cabelo spread throughout works, characters and entities of the Brazilian popular imagination, ilustrating this creation of worlds promoted by the artist. He organically appropriates different information in movement and adopts the dynamic principle of [the Afro-Brazilian divinity] Exu as the creative compass of his work. It is also worth noting that the name chosen for the disc, the show and the exhibition does not create a binary image – light and darkness – but rather a trans image – light with darkness. As an exemplary character of the contemporary, Cabelo enjoins us to see light in the dark and dark in the light.

In creating his recent environments and spaces, we see mirrors, masks, plants, screens and other unusual media immersed in fabrics of printed colors, occupied by words and drawings of vibrant forms and bodies. Cabelo’s oil-paint baton creates electrical characters that emit rays and contort LED lights. There are also his egg-bombs, sculpture-paintings that announce the imminence of the birth-explosion of other beings in gestation. These are works that materialize every moment of expansion and concentration that Cabelo experiences. Viewed from the perspective of the archive, his egg-bomb creates dialogues with the poetic interiority of the eggs of Lygia Pape, in addition to also bringing the violent tension of the Urnas quentes (Hot Urns) of Antonio Manoel. Something over there is about to explode (and what isn’t, ultimately?). As Clarice Lispector affirms, “The egg is a suspended thing”; they are sculptures born of light with darkness, which turn the space into a symbolic conflagration of a ritual of life and death.

As a collector of fragments of material and spiritual life, Cabelo injects into his work a dense web of information. His current songs construct characters to be incorporated into their environments. They are specters which Cabelo’s poetry creates in sound and words to later materialize in new imagetic situations. Listening to each of them, we go from Capernaum to Copacabana, from ascending the hill to the world beyond. It is worth remembering that his work always had sound and music as fundamental drivers; and it’s also worth recalling more recently the exhibitions MC Fininho, staged at Gentil Carioca in 2011 and Humúsica, exhibited at MAM-RJ in 2012. In Luz com Trevas, Cabelo again evokes his performative presence, increasingly making the artist’s body that of the musician and the poet too. Without separations – in fact, he never claimed them – and without limits to make his work function, the stages of his shows are an active part of the environments that he has been assembling in recent years, just as his exhibitions always contain presentations by him and his guests. What he sings echoes what we see and vice versa.

During the course of his career, Cabelo has addressed the tensions inherent to the contemporary in different ways. He has created challenging performances, dark characters, poetic shelters, unusual objects whose bricolage associates the strangeness of beings and materials. His ability to observe the chaos and capture the right degree of humor and horror are currently acquiring new force. Now, however, these materials are increasingly alive and active. Alert to the powers of his time, Cabelo coordinates his work with funkeiros (Brazilian funk musicians), ogans (Afro-Brazilian priests), street poets, barbers, dancers, shamans and children, transforming his exhibition space into a laboratory of the present and, why not? – the future. His listening is linked to presentations that direct sharp-edged discourses against forms of the control and oppression of black people, members of the LGBTQ community and other groups that are increasingly affirming themselves publicly through spaces of art and politics. Here, again, the live aspect renders Cabelo’s work an incisive commentary on the here and now. His actions exist on the threshold between celebration and transgression – or rather, they are performed at the crossroads of these: a transgressive celebration.

As everything is in motion, Cabelo adds another layer of pleasure to his work: the cinema. His videos, made from visual happenstance and errant observations of the city, are only a part of the images we can take from his works. In the song that lends its name to his multimedia project, the proclamation is direct: cinema is light with darkness. His cloth and print environments are transmuted into a projection room, where the film’s beam of light requires darkness just as sound requires silence. “Cinema de caboclo” (peasant cinema) is also present in the illuminations produced by Cabelo through contact with the works and rituals of Ailton Krenak and Davi Kopenawa. Like Exu, Cabelo places Amerindian and Afro-Brazilian traditions in dialog with their urban and machinist context. Cinema is movement, cinema in movement, we hear all languages here for all the bodies that are willing to be shifted across these crossroads.

In times whose days seem harsh and discouraging, we often lose the power of speech – or at least the desire to speak. And if we lack words in the face of the unnamable, in Cabelo’s case they overflow. Or rather, they multiply at the speed of his poet-artist-musician-filmmaker intelligence. His work has never been so relevant in the face of the contemporary challenges that have been erected before the field of art and society in general. Inclusive by principle, poetic by method and transgressive by nature, with every exhibition Cabelo has been constituting an ethics, and a commitment to his time. The experimental and inventive impetus that have always nourished him have acquired new layers in his critical axis. His strategic indiscipline remains, leading him to extremes in the devouring appropriations of materials, but in recent years we have seen a creator more interested in the immediate impacts of the exchanges he provokes. His environments are composed in accordance with the ideas of his songs, his drawings are materializations of his characters, his lyrics are the fruits of existential visions and poetic contaminations. Quoting a verse from Paul Leminski, Cabelo digresses, but does not disperse. Or, as he says in “Luz com trevas”, “ungoverned the mass reverses direction”.

In this regard, what we are seeing now is the peak moment of an artist who has long been demonstrating the strength of work always produced against the grain of history and its consensuses. Without obeying schools or tendencies and building an independent career, Cabelo has remained faithful to the worlds he creates at each of his exhibitions. By working from chance, he proposes immediate responses to the problems that present themselves – at all levels. This makes his work always current, and ensures his actions necessarily activate art and politics in the present. A work that arrives in the year 2019 ready to be what it proposed since its inception: rebellion without truce.