Acquisition: Sonia Gomes
Sonia Gomes (b. 1948), a contemporary Afro-Brazilian artist who lives and works in São Paulo, Brazil, is known for her mixed-media works made of fabric, wire, and other materials. The National Gallery of Art has just acquired Correnteza (Current) (2018), a sculpture from her Raízes (Roots) series.
Gomes brings the aesthetic and the human together in memorable sculptures that are at once traditionally Brazilian and fluently contemporary. Most important to Gomes's practice is the fact that the pieces of fabric she works with are almost always given to her. "I feel that when people give me these items, they are bestowing a great responsibility on me, a sort of plea asking me not to let them die," she has said.
Textiles continue to be at the heart of Gomes's work as she addresses floors, walls, and ceilings: among her many series are reliefs, hanging works (Acordes Naturais), and, most recently, wrappings around branches (Raízes). Correnteza epitomizes the blurring of "high" and "low" and of international modernism and Afro-Brazilian tradition found in Gomes's approach. In this work, the drawing-in-space of a modernist like David Smith (1906–1965) meets the fabric work of a Brazilian outsider like Arthur Bispo do Rosário (1909–1989) (one of Gomes's heroes). Other artists in the National Gallery collection who have used fabric to explore similar intersections include Miriam Schapiro (1923–2015), Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010), Al Loving (1935–2005), Thornton Dial (1928–2016), Ernesto Neto (b. 1964), and Hélio Oiticica (1937–1980).
Gomes was born in Caetanópolis, Brazil, a center of textile manufacturing. Her mother died when she was three years old and she was raised for three years by her maternal grandmother, a shaman who performed folk cures and who twisted fabric to make rodilhas, cloth turbans. When Gomes returned to her father's house, she absorbed European culture in his extensive library. At age 28 she moved to Belo Horizonte, capital of Brazil's Minas Gerais state, and eventually studied law but continued to make her own clothing and jewelry. In 1988, when she was 40, Gomes started to take free art classes at the Guignard School. She left her law career in 1993 to devote herself to art. In 2015, she gained international renown when curator Okwui Enwezor included her in the Venice Biennale. Her solo exhibition in 2018 at MASP, the São Paulo Art Museum, was the institution’s first ever by an Afro-Brazilian woman. She currently lives and works in São Paulo.
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