Paulo Nimer Pjota, Do cômico e do trágico, exhibition views, 2023. All images are courtesy of the artist and Mendes Wood DM.

Retroactive manifest

Texto crítico publicado na revista Terremoto sobre exposição individual do artista

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Paulo Nimer Pjota’s Do cômico e do trágico at Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo, Brazil

In a critique of an artificial purity of thought and time claimed by the Western culture, Paulo Nimer Pjota entitles his exhibition with two apparently opposite concepts: the comic and the tragic. The artist composes works that are not only built in the threshold between these counterpoints but attest to how they can happen simultaneously, proving how obsolete is a system of thought biased by duality and hierarchy.
    Ancient Greek philosophers, surrounded by some of the artifacts that Pjota provocatively represents through paintings and sculptures, understood tragedy and comedy as extreme peaks of the emotional phenomena awaked upon an audience when fronted by a cathartic experience — usually an artwork. An entire system of beliefs, ideas, and icons was built above this duality, spread and maintained by colonialist dynamics playing blindfolded before wellsprings of non-European epistemologies. Only in this century, the scholarly theory of image would embrace that these emotional phenomena — studied by the Greeks under the name of pathos — can take non-linear trajectories, in transhistorical formulas that operate not in the representational power of images, as it was then thought, but in the images themselves.
    It is by accessing, citing, and remixing non-Eurocentric images that Pjota confronts the well-established and forged heroes, icons, and procedures of Western culture. In these expressions, the artist finds complex solutions to a rotten, languishing, and reductionist mainstream theory of knowledge. By a transdisciplinary act, the artist puts in parallel practices of the contemporary counterculture with the revision of the comprehension of time, history, and image, not only placing his paintings and sculptures face to face, but highlighting that the space between these two is a movement of conscious displacement, a thought-out glitch or alchemist combination, and/or a silent — but pungent — act of rebellion against the hegemonic and violent cultural system. Pjota argues that what is recklessly sold as factual history is a human-made discourse controlled by few, in order to place these heavy and fake bronze relics as the truth, on a pedestal.
    Contrasting with this heaviness, the paper, a technological creation that holds a central role in historiography and arts by providing a perennial medium to cultural registers and manifestations, is cited by Pjota in the exhibition in its most ephemeral form: the walls are painted as the light-pink paper that wraps bread and meat sold in small grocery shops in Brazilian peripheral neighborhoods. This keen choice addresses consumption, tradition, and ephemerality; all temporal reverberations that dwell on Pjota’s main concern: culture.
    Trying to equalize three enormous spectrums in the realm of image, the artist dwells on pictorial quotations of history, art, and culture, all amalgamated together. Leisure, functional, and devotional artifacts cohabit with references of painting, sculpture, drawing, and music, all crossed by images of stickers, graffiti, and tattoos. In the recent works showcased in this exhibition, there are recognizable artistic references usually made by the artist such as Cy Twombly’s poppy plaster sculpture Thermopylae (1991), in dialogue with Cerimônia com papoula (2023); Henri Matisse’s The Red Studio (1911) in Estúdio azul (2023); Amedeo Modigliani’s Head (1913) in Torre preta (2023); Pablo Picasso’s The Weeping Woman (1937) in Boneco de neve II; and Solange Pessoa’s fanciful anthropomorphic figures in Mercúrio sentado dando presentes (2023), for example.
    Pjota focuses on that which is indistinguishable between history, art, and culture, comprehending that the specificities of Brazilian cultural hybridisms merge them all: from drawing of plants of power and ritual masks in syncretic religions — as in Cenas de casa (vaso abóbora) (2023) — to flora drawings made by European explorers in the colonial period — as in Mercúrio com cabeça de elmo romano, citipati, e cerâmica pré-colombiana (2023). These intersections are transmuted through the painting of shape-shifters entities, carrying masks and offering gifts, seen for the first time in Pjota’s work.
    If the birth of images can be staged, so can their death and survival be. Forcing friction between canonical images and ephemeral expressions, the backgrounds of Pjota’s paintings – in their roughness, accumulation, and scratching — mark the attention he gives to the urban space and the painted walls of peripheral buildings. The city, the cradle of contemporary civilization, is the chaotic temple of fluxes, of everlasting changes and mutable traditions.
    Following the urban land- and soundscape, rap and hip-hop music are pillars of Pjota’s history not only by musical affinity and personal taste. They are strategic tactics to reorganize an established system, to question and confront given traditions. Transgression, the only possible way to keep up with the proper rhythm of things, ideas, and images, teaches that fiction is always present, serving as a way of escaping the brutal urban reality and as a resilient alert that enthroned conventions are impure and invented.
    This pendulum spiraling between poles is infinite because it focuses on a process, on a structural dynamic, and not on specific themes or images. It starts/ends with a vertiginous flux of incessant sparks of time, resulting in constellations of images and the endless relations between them. In the present works, Pjota proves that the imagetic pathos is what connects the tragic and the comic, the future and the present, the difference and the repetition, because each and every image is pulsating, beyond good and evil.

Texto originalmente publicado na Terremoto, em 10 de agosto de 2023

Paulo Nimer Pjota, Mercúrio com cabeça de elmo romano, citipati, e cerâmica pré-colombiana, 2023. Acrylic, oil and tempera on canvas, 210.4 x 158 cm

Paulo Nimer Pjota, Colheita de flores mágicas, 2023. Acrylic, oil and tempera on canvas, synthetic enamel on iron plate and bronze sculpture, 245 x 208 cm

Paulo Nimer Pjota, Boneco de neve I, 2023. Acrylic on canvas, 208 x 84 cm

Paulo Nimer Pjota, Cerimônia com papoula, 2023. Acrylic, oil and tempera on canvas and bronze, 202 x 154 x 50 cm

Paulo Nimer Pjota, Torre preta, 2023. Acrylic, oil and tempera on canvas, 170 x 155 cm

Paulo Nimer Pjota, Estúdio azul, 2023. Acrylic and oil on canvas, 203 x 156.5 cm

Paulo Nimer Pjota, Mercúrio sentado dando presentes, 2023. Acrylic, oil and tempera on canvas, 210.4 x 158 cm

Paulo Nimer Pjota, Ex-voto, 2023. Bronze, 85 x 11 x 30.5 cm