Mendes Wood DM is pleased to present a solo project by Brazilian artist Paulo Nazareth at Art Basel Pioneers 2021.
Few things mark Paulo Nazareth’s practice more than his belief in freedom and equality. For over a decade, the artist has been at the forefront of the national cultural conversation on environmental preservation, the rights of indigenous peoples, and the question of race in Brazil, the Americas, and Europe. His approach to these issues is neither pedantic nor orthodox, but humorous and heterodox; oftentimes touching on grave – sometimes personal – subjects with a light touch. A less-considered platform of Paulo’s discourse revolves around the exploitation and commodification of the natural world. A life-long vegetarian and dedicated friend of animals, many of his projects center on this question. He draws uncomfortable parallels between the ivory trade and the Atlantic slave trade with his 2007 performance Elephant Tooth which he removes his left-front tooth in solidarity with a de-tusked elephant he sees at a local zoo. In that same year, he spent a day with his head caged with a Manon bird in his performance I Think that is on Birds and People. A 2009 pamphlet entitled How to Kill a Pig for a Wedding breezily juxtaposes the death of an animal for wedding celebrants, a tradition in his home state. Bestiary of Capital deals with both cash – concrete value – and brand imagery –conceptual value. In this way, the artist gives a fuller picture of two systems of currency that lay at the heart of Capitalism, while also hinting at a third system: that of debt. In this case, a debt owed to living things themselves. The question of debt to the natural world may seem abstract to the viewer, but on reflection, the human relation to nature has been exploitative and little more. The origamis that make up Bestiary of Capital are a pithy reproach of nature’s exploitation, asking, how has life itself become a commodity? The dry, paper ground of bills beneath these carefully-folded animals seems to represent a veldt or prairie turned into a capital expanse, numbered and coded, traded and consumed, begging a fundamental question – How can we see ourselves without seeing the other, animal or otherwise?