Brazilian artist Lygia Pape was one of the frontrunners of the avantgarde Neo-Concrete movement in Brazil, known for her experimentations in sculpture, printmaking, and film.Read More
Pape was born in Nova Friburgo, Brazil. She studied philosophy at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro before receiving informal artistic training at the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, alongside Polish-Brazilian artist Fayga Ostrower in the 1950s. Pape received her Masters in Philosophical Aesthetics from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in 1980.
Pape also worked as an educator and designer. In addition to teaching at several universities in Rio de Janeiro, she conceptualised packaging design and created posters for the Brazilian films Mandacaru Vermelho (1961) and Vidas Secas (1963).
Early in her artistic career, Lygia Pape became interested in woodblock prints inspired by the European constructivist movement, which focused on explorations in geometric abstraction, colour, and light. While studying at the Museu de Arte Moderna de Rio de Janeiro, Pape met other Brazilian artists such as Hélio Oiticica, Ivan Serpa, and Aluíso Carvão, together forming Grupo Frente in 1952. This collective and artistic movement rejected the figurative and nationalist painting style of the Brazilian arts scene in favour of exploring concrete art and abstraction, freeing their work from symbolism and overt political readings.
Pape's early work, which employed woodblock techniques called tecelares (weaving), involved intricate geometric prints that seemed to follow the natural grooves of the wood she worked with. Tecelar (1957), for instance, is a print depicting several intersecting geometric shapes. The print is deceptively simple and is, in fact, the result of Pape's complex rendering inspired by the materiality of the woodblock itself.
Pape, alongside other Grupo Frente members Oiticica and Lygia Clark, wrote the Neo-Concrete manifesto in 1959. This statement laid out the movement's approach to geometric abstraction, which not only put importance on the work itself, but also emphasised the experience of its viewers. During this time, Pape experimented with video and performance. Between 1958 and 1959, she worked with Brazilian poet Reynaldo Jardim to develop Ballet Neoconcreto I and II, where dancers would move across a stage in colour-blocked cylindrical costumes. Another work of hers was Livro da Criação (Book of Creation) (1959–1960), which laid out 16 square tiles as graphic representations of history reduced to pure forms, beginning with the discovery of fire, and proceeding to the invention of the wheel.
Pape's work made a critical shift from the late 1960s as a result of the unstable political climate in Brazil. In 1968, she staged one of her most iconic pieces, Divisor (Divider) (1968), in the streets of Rio de Janeiro. This piece involves a large sheet of white fabric punctured with several slots. Initially presented to children living in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, the sheet is activated by participants, who stick their heads through the slots in the cloth. When performed, Pape's work appears like an undulating cloud of heads, unified into a single mass.
During this time, Pape often collaborated with the film collective and movement Cinema Novo to create posters for their provocative films, which addressed the sociopolitical conditions in Brazil. Pape created experimental films into the 1970s, including A mão do povo (The Hand of the People) (1975), which juxtaposed Indigenous arts from Brazil alongside consumerist items found in its cities.
Lygia Pape has been widely exhibited internationally. She has held solo exhibitions at Serpentine Galleries, London; The Met Breuer, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; and K20 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf. Her work has been included in international biennials such as the Bienal de São Paulo; Istanbul Biennial; and the Venice Biennale.
Arianna Mercado | Ocula | 2022