As part of Deana Lawsons participation in the 34th Bienal de São Paulo, the US photographer was invited to travel to the northeastern state of Bahia, in Brazil. There she produced a set of photographs that portray people and places marked by the strong presence of cultures deriving from the African diaspora. These photographs are included in her exhibition at the Kunsthalle Basel
, Centropy, on view from 9 June until 11 October 2020, a show co-produced with Fundação Bienal de São Paulo as part of the 34th Bienal.
Sensitive to the stereotypes in Western, African and afro-descendant portraiture, Lawson predominantly explores topics such as physicality, identity, gender and family in a practice that is grounded in thorough research on blackness and representativeness. Even though they reveal a profound degree of intimacy with their subjects, Lawson's photographs are meticulously staged and often based on drawings and sketches she makes before the session, and include theatrical objects carefully chosen by the artist. Mostly produced in domestic indoor spaces, these photographs are endowed with an ambiguous atmosphere, between the voyeuristic, the theatrical, the ethnographic and the activist, without being completely subsumed by one of these possible interpretations.
Lawson's new series was developed in the city of Salvador, in Bahia, one of the Brazilian regions where the rites, gastronomy, religions and music of African origin are most present. The exhibition in Basel will present a selection of around twenty large-scale photographs, as well as a series of smaller pieces and videos, most of them never exhibited before.
As part of the 34th Bienal de São Paulos original curatorial project, Centropy would be presented at the Bienal Pavilion, in São Paulo, in July 2020. With the changes enforced by the Covid-19 pandemic, this show and other events preceding the major group exhibition had to be cancelled. Adapting to its new shape, the curatorial project will now incorporate a large number of the photographs from Centropy into the group show scheduled to take place in São Paulo between 3 October to 13 December 2020.
Several themes addressed by Lawsons research and production relate to discussions proposed by the Bienal de São Paulo project more broadly. Marked by mutual encounter and leverage between the curatorial project and the Bienals institutional activity, the 34th Bienal de São Paulo Though its dark, still I sing emphasizes the multiplicity of possible readings of an artwork proposing an exhibition based on the concept of relations, approached by thinkers Édouard Glissant and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, among others.
Led by Jacopo Crivelli Visconti (chief curator), Paulo Miyada (adjunct curator), and Carla Zaccagnini, Francesco Stocchi and Ruth Estévez (guest curators), the 34th edition of the Bienal offers opportunities for artists to be exhibited in different contexts and to generate different relations and understandings.
The 34th Bienal de São Paulo largely revolves around a reflection on the importance of the context that surrounds an artwork. In that sense, the partnership with Kunsthalle Basel on an exhibition as Centropy is highly symbolic: each of Deana Lawsons images tells a story, and that story is likely to be understood and felt in profoundly different ways in places like Basel and São Paulo Jacopo Crivelli Visconti.
Since its inception in 1962, the Fundação Bienal has been committed to the establishment of connections, and the 34th Bienal encapsulates this aim, as it joins efforts between the curatorial project and the institutions vocation of creating bridges between different people, contexts and countries. With international partnerships, such as with Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland, this edition also highlights the heightened focus and growing importance of the Fundação's international collaborations since 2016, when the foundations International Advisory Board was created José Olympio da Veiga Pereira, president of the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo.