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Rosana Paulino’s Art: Embroidery for Denouncing Injustices


Throughout history, art has been revered as a profound symbol of human expression and a powerful tool for resistance. With its inherent ability to transcend boundaries and communicate emotions, art serves as a conduit for promoting healing, restoration, and self-discovery (McCarthy & Dimitriadis, 2000; Mignolo, 2010). As artists delve into the depths of their creativity, they are provided with an opportunity to excavate their true selves, delve into their past, and reimagine their future. This process of self-exploration through artistic expression fosters a profound sense of introspection and self-awareness, leading to a deeper understanding of one’s identity and place in the world. One intriguing facet of this artistic reality is the conscious decision of certain artists to focus on representing their heritage, not merely as a form of self-expression, but as a means of denouncing injustices and vividly conveying their lived realities. One notable and resonant example of this artistic focus can be found in the realm of Afro-diasporic art, which stands as a vibrant testimony to the diversity and resilience of Africans and people of African descent dispersed across the global diaspora.


An Introduction to Afro-Diasporic Art

Within Afro-diasporic art, artists embrace their unique position to create a platform that magnifies the voices and perspectives of individuals within the African diaspora (Quist, 2020). This collective endeavor serves the crucial purpose of preserving and celebrating their rich cultural heritage and time-honored traditions that have endured despite the challenges of history. By depicting these experiences, Afro-diasporic artists capture the essence of the shared journey, weaving a tapestry of collective memory and identity. In this context, Afro-diasporic artists utilize their artistic creations as a powerful medium for social and political commentary. With profound intentionality, they address historical traumas that have left indelible marks on the community’s collective memory, and they shine a light on persistent racial inequalities that continue to affect the lives of their people (Gera, 2010; Hall, 2015; Hall, 2021; Quist, 2020). Through their art, they are not merely passive observers but active advocates, employing their creative expressions as a tool for self-advocacy and activism.


Moreover, the diverse approaches employed by artists in their depiction of Afro-diasporic art demand recognition for the richness and complexity they bring to the artistic landscape (Gera, 2010). Among these various expressions, one particular avenue that captivates attention is the use of embroidery as a profound means to denounce social and political injustices. Traditionally associated with an activity primarily undertaken by women within domestic settings, embroidery, in its delicate intricacy, conceals within its threads a treasure trove of untold stories and lived experiences (Hunter, 2019; Tvardovkas, 2013). In these stitches lie the narratives of individuals whose voices have been relegated to the peripheries of history. By utilizing this art form, artists ingeniously breathe life into the forgotten past and the marginalized present, weaving a collective tapestry with authenticity and meaning. Incorporated within Afro-diasporic art, embroidery serves to encapsulate and represent the lived experiences of individuals of African descent.


Figure 1: African diaspora (Love, 2021).

The Significance of Embroidery in Art

Furthermore, across cultures and generations, embroidery has transcended mere ornamentation to become a vehicle for exploring cultural identities and preserving historical memory (Hunter, 2019). Embroidery, as a craft, entails the meticulous stitching of thread or yarn onto fabric, giving rise to a creation that may encompass images or lines imbued with specific significance, ultimately culminating in a work of art. Its widespread use and significance span continents, making it exceptionally relevant in the context of the African diaspora, where cultures and traditions have been dispersed and interwoven across the globe. In this context, embroidery serves not only as a creative expression but also as a testament to the resilience and unity of a dispersed community, providing a tangible thread of connection to their shared heritage. At the heart of this narrative of representation and denouncement, one artist’s work stands as an exemplar of the power and potential of embroidery as a form of art that amplifies the voices of the marginalized and challenges historical injustices (Tvardovkas, 2013).


Rosana Paulino, an acclaimed Afro-Brazilian artist, has emerged as a pivotal figure in understanding and harnessing the significance of embroidery as a transformative medium (Paulino, 2019). Through her masterful artistry, she unveils the hidden struggles and enduring strength of Black women in contemporary Brazil, a group that has faced systemic discrimination and historical oppression. In her evocative and thought-provoking works, Paulino exposes the deep-rooted inequities experienced by Black women throughout history, unflinchingly confronting the uncomfortable truths that society often chooses to overlook (Tvardovkas, 2013). Paulino’s choice of embroidery as a central artistic approach is no accident; it serves as a deliberate act of reclaiming and empowering marginalized symbolizing voices. In each stitch, she imbues her art with profound meaning, symbolising the interconnectedness of the past and the present, and the collective resilience of those who have faced adversity. Through her evocative art, she challenges viewers to confront uncomfortable realities and engage in crucial conversations about societal inequalities and historical injustices.


Figure 2: Rosana Paulino (Junior, n.d.).

Rosana Paulino and the Bastidores Series

This article delves into the exploration of stitches as a powerful means to denounce political injustices, explicitly focusing on Rosana Paulino’s Serie Bastidores. Created in 1997, this series encapsulates the untold stories of the artist’s ancestors. The term bastidores originates from Portuguese, translating to 'backstage', signifying a spotlight on what lies beyond the surface. Through this series, Rosana Paulino aims to share the narratives of Brazilian Black women whose voices have been disregarded throughout history (Paulino, 2019). The very title of the series already hints at the deeper purpose of embroidery as a political instrument. As viewers engage with the artworks and their connection to the title, it becomes evident that stitching serves as a method to reveal the suppression of voices, shedding light on why certain voices remained unheard and how societal forces compelled individuals to remain invisible and disregarded. This artwork reveals more than just stitching across mouths; it prominently features other pivotal areas, such as the throat and eyes. Each of these elements serves as a poignant display of how Black women were systematically marginalized, their potential contributions disregarded, thus inhibiting their engagement in societal matters. Further exploration of this section will delve into these aspects in greater detail.


As such, it is possible to delve into Bastidores, where a myriad of artistic techniques come to life, yet none shine as brightly as the art of stitching. As the title suggests, this remarkable series delves into the hidden realms of life, peering beyond the surface to unveil the secrets concealed from the world. The deftly crafted stitches delicately cover crucial areas like throats, lips, and even eyes, hinting at a purposeful erasure and silencing of ancestry. For Black women, the struggle against oppression runs deep, compounded by the burdens of gender and race (Paulino, 2019; Simioni, 2010). Rosana Paulino, the brilliant mind behind this thought-provoking creation, boldly addresses these inequalities head-on. Through the use of embroidery, the faces of these strong Black women emerge, bearing a paradoxical revelation —their features masked, yet their essence unmistakably visible (Paulino, 2019). It is a testament to the enduring spirit of survival amid oppressive histories, a reminder of the silenced voices yearning to be heard in the present day. Intriguingly, embroidery’s significance transcends beyond the realm of art; it intertwines with womanhood and domestic life, amplifying the denunciation of injustices. Throughout the centuries, embroidery has been closely associated with female household activities, serving as a medium through which women can express their social and political realities within and beyond the confines of the home.


Figure 3: Bastidores Series (Pacífico, 2019).

An In-Depth Exploration of the Political and Social Commentary of the Bastidores Series

The modern era, unfortunately, still perpetuates the invisibility of women’s thoughts and voices, stifling their potential to shape the world with their perspectives. As Bastidores portrays, the struggle for recognition and equality continues, calling for a profound re-evaluation of societal norms. Rosana Paulino’s artwork transcends the boundaries of time, skilfully weaving together history and contemporary issues. Bastidores not only presents the resilience of Black women but also serves as a powerful call for change —a testament to the enduring power of art to ignite conversations, challenge norms, and inspire transformation. It is through such a way that Rosana Paulino makes evident how stitching is a technique that allows her to narrate her stories as well as those from her ancestors. Yet another aspect is that Black women in Brazil were not just silenced, but also brutally treated by often excluding them from society and ignoring their experiences.


Emerging from the realm of domestic existence, Rosana Paulino captures the veil of anonymity that shrouds the lives of women within their homes (Simioni, 2010; Tvardovkas, 2013). In an exploration of personal narratives within these intimate spheres, Paulino illuminates the political undertones that underscore the transition from the private to the public. The manifold mistreatments, discriminations, and injustices that permeate the lives of Black women in Brazil seamlessly metamorphose into a poignant political discourse, a call for equity and recognition. Their encounters turn into a collective demand for acknowledgment, forging a connection between the deeply personal and the political. So, Paulino’s choice to employ embroidery as a medium in her work, particularly in the Bastidores series, transcends mere depiction of domesticity; it delves into the intersections of gender and race. This artistic endeavor becomes a revelatory lens through which the oppression is refracted, intrinsically entwined with the features of gender and race. The confines of the household, intended to be a sanctuary, instead showcase the oppression and violence that Black women are ensnared within. Thus, the artwork exposes the intricate tapestry of discrimination that persists within these concealed spaces, which remain unrecognized by the broader society due to the suppression of these women’s voices.


Figure 4: A close-up Bastidores (Unknown, 1997).

Paulino’s artwork thus metamorphoses into a conduit for the silenced narratives, an unapologetic proclamation that exposes the forms of prejudice that continue to exist in society. The embroidery, while a testament to the traditionally feminine craft, serves as a contrast to the harsh realities it portrays, thereby deepening the impact of the message conveyed. By intertwining the personal and political, Paulino rekindles the embers of awareness, challenging the viewer to confront the truths that lie dormant beneath the observable reality. Through her engagement with these verities rooted in her heritage, Rosana Paulino adeptly manipulates the reservoir of collective memory. In doing so, she strives to underscore the enduring significance of Black women throughout history, advocating for the integration of their voices into the narrative. It is within this intricate interplay that the artist illustrates the complex tapestry of reality, exposing its multifarious nature and unsettling the conventional paradigms of identity. In a compelling gesture, Paulino presents an alternative comprehension of the diverse experiences within the African diaspora, thereby challenging and redefining knowledge.


Conclusion

After an in-depth exploration of the Bastidores series, the profound significance of employing embroidery as a formidable medium for both political and social commentary becomes unmistakably clear. This artistic endeavor transcends the surface-level associations of a traditionally feminine craft, delving into intricate narratives that define lives within the domestic realm. What sets this apart is the artistry of stitching itself, which metamorphoses into a conduit for Black women to give voice to their innermost thoughts and lived realities. Bastidores stands as a testament that unearths a concealed reality lying beneath our conventional perceptions —a reality often relegated to the margins, subject to marginalization based on inherent attributes. The experiences of Black women are especially illustrative of this marginalized existence, as they grapple with injustices stemming from their race and gender. Rosana Paulino finds her platform within the realm of Afro-diasporic art, exposing the transgressions suffered by her ancestors —a legacy that casts a shadow over her present and reverberates across the lives of African descendants, both in Brazil and around the world.


Figure 5: Close-up "Bastidores" (Unknown, 1997)

A central motif of this artistic denouncement is the meticulous stitching of pivotal features: eyes, throats, mouths, and brains. This deliberate choice symbolizes the systematic suppression endured by these individuals. The artwork illuminates their deprivation of sight, voice, and agency within discourse, relegating them to the backdrop of societal narratives, as these aspects did not align with the interests of the dominant order or the universal dialogue. Yet, this creation extends beyond a mere critique of injustice; it reclaims the historical roles of Black women, demanding acknowledgment of their contributions to society even as they remained marginalized. Through this act of social and political defiance, Rosana Paulino reclaims her Afro-diasporic identity, memories, and experiences —elements that have endured imposition and distortion by dominant societies throughout history. Utilizing art, particularly embroidery, as a unique medium, the artist paves a path of resistance, empowering marginalized communities to reclaim their identities and pen their narratives.


The mastery of Bastidores resides not only in its creative execution but also in its profound ability to unearth hidden narratives. Through this embroidery-adorned denunciation, Rosana Paulino weaves a vivid testament to the resilience of Black women, spotlighting an indomitable spirit that defies erasure and oppression. It resounds as a triumphant proclamation —an embodiment of resistance that commemorates the past while forging a pathway toward a future characterized by justice and inclusivity.


Bibliographical References

Gera, J. (2010). The Search for Identity in the Art of Ana Mendieta and Arnaldo Roche [1]. Rabell. Retrieved from: http://americanaejournal.hu/vol6no1/gera


Hall, S. (2015). Cultural Identity and Diaspora. In Colonial discourse and post-colonial theory (pp. 392-403). Routledge.


Hall, S. (2021). “Africa” Is Alive and Well in the Diaspora: Cultures of Resistance: Slavery, Religious Revival and Political Cultism in Jamaica [1975]. In Selected Writings on Race and Difference (pp. 161-194). Duke University Press.


Hunter, C. (2019). Threads of Life: A History of the World through the Eye of a Needle. Abrams.


McCarthy, C., & Dimitriadis, G. (2000). Art and the postcolonial imagination: rethinking the institutionalization of third world aesthetics and theory. ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature, 31(1-2).


Mignolo, W. D. (2010). Aiesthesis decolonial. Calle 14: Revista de investigación en el campo del arte, 4(4), 10-25.


Quist, D. (2020). Basquiat’s and Ofili’s Double Consciousness: An Exploration of Transnational Black Identity Through African Diasporic Art [Master’s thesis. Leiden University]. Leiden University Student Repository.


Simioni, A. P. (2010). Bordado e transgressão: questões de gênero na arte de Rosana Paulino e Rosana Palazyan. Proa: Revista de Antropologia e Arte, (2).


Tvardovskas, L. S. (2013). Tramas feministas na arte contemporânea brasileira e argentina: Rosana Paulino e Claudia Contreras. Artelogie, 5.

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