BADEN-BADEN, Germany — Using recycled textiles, driftwood, and furniture, Brazilian artist Sonia Gomes creates oversized biomorphic sculptures that are palpably corporeal. In her Museum Frieder Burda exhibition I Rise – I’m a Black Ocean, Leaping and Wide, “Lona” (2010) takes the form of a dream catcher made from scraps of lace with a floral motif, stretching across the wall like a deflated lung. Similarly, “Hiato” (2019), which hangs from the ceiling, recalls a fibrous sac stuffed with wads of deconstructed cloth. At first glance, the sculpture seems to mimic a pallid heart muscle, bypassed by seams that resemble hand-stitched arteries. The next moment, it evokes a fetus ballooned in a crocheted lemon net. In Gomes’s work, fabric swallows fabric.
“Visible and mobile, my body is a thing among things,” wrote French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty in his 1964 essay “Eye and Mind.” “Because it moves itself and sees, it holds things in a circle around itself.” Gomes’s organ-like organisms are bodies among bodies that serve also as self-portraits through the artist’s use of found and gifted materials. The act of pulling these materials apart and stitching them into a new form — of sewing and tying and retying and twisting and tying again — creates a tangible bridge between the past and the present.
Gomes, the daughter of a white businessman in the textile industry and a Black mother who died when the artist was three, is inspired by this dichotomy. Her aesthetic is influenced by the Catholic traditions of her father’s family as well as the ancient healing rituals performed by her maternal grandmother throughout her youth. Titling the installation after Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise,” Gomes invokes her Afro-Brazilian history and asserts her internal strength.
Gomes finds objects at thrift stores and receives clothing with sentimental value as gifts. These objects are imbued with the traces of lives lived in them. Yet the colonial dissemination of labor and industrialism are subtly reflected in her work, which relies on the textiles fabricated within its very system. There is, thus, an underlying violence in Gomes’s colorful sculptures, in the silent entanglement of labor and commerce — a ghost of the textiles’ producers and wearers. In “Cordão dos Mentecaptos” (2016), a tied rope that hangs in a whimsical fashion takes on the form of an umbilical cord, an outstretching vine, or a lynching rope dragged across the floor. It projects fruit-like shapes onto the wall, which are upheld by a shape that reveals itself as a noose The artist tacitly inserts bodies with her swollen sculptures; her stitched wires and strings could be cages or limbs, but these bodies boycott complacency or inertia.
Sonia Gomes: I Rise – I’m a Black Ocean, Leaping and Wide continues at the Museum Frieder Burda (Lichtentaler Allee 8b, Baden-Baden, Germany) through March 8.
Editor’s Note: The exhibition originated at Salon Berlin, September 7-February 22, 2020.