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um só corpo

There are many bodies that inhabit Marcos Roberto's production. In his traffic signs and enameled metal plates, we see women, men and children, partly in a situation of vulnerability or isolation, but also, in some cases, in a position of resistance and strength. More than simple portraits, these paintings, made between 2019 and 2021, seem more interested in discussing and claiming the presence of these bodies - not only in art history, but also outside of it. There is in what we call history (both the one farther back in time and the one we see happening every day, in our time), a web of relations that structure it, and among them are power relations. In the history of art it is possible to think about these relationships if we ask ourselves, throughout the centuries of artistic production, for example, who are those we see portrayed and how they are portrayed, having their images eternalized in time. 

In the serie Eu sou negra, a fome é amarela e dói muito [I am black, hunger is yellow and it hurts a lot], Marcos Roberto starts from a dialogue with the writer and poet Carolina Maria de Jesus. "The color of hunger is yellow," she wrote, explaining that when the limit of hunger goes beyond what is bearable, the things of the world turn a single shade of yellow. Here, the enameled metal plates have their background painted yellow. On them, we see weakened bodies, in situations of vulnerability, some asking for help, others more apathetic. There is an atmosphere of isolation in these images, not only because of the situations to which they take us, but also because these scenes do not have a scenario. It is in this yellow background that everything happens. And this is a choice made by Marcos Roberto: to evidence the plate as part of the work and also the presence of these people and the situations in which they find themselves - usually camouflaged by the scenery where they are and by what happens around them.


In the Cotidiano serie, the traffic signs are structured on the same principle. The bodies we see seem to float, contrasting with the surface of the signs and their direct orientation, emphasizing the solitary atmosphere. It is possible to notice that the indications of allowed mileage always refer to low speeds: 10km, 20km, 30km, or even STOP. During the period when he moved to São Paulo to study art, Marcos lived downtown and walked a lot in the neighborhood. There, besides the memories of these bodies and scenes, there was also the perception that the traffic signs always indicated low speeds for the circulation of cars. This indication of deceleration, if thought of for our bodies, among other possibilities, is almost like a reminder for us to look around and see what the speed of the urban flow ends up making invisible. 


In more recent works of this series, other bodies begin to populate these signs - not only circular, but also rectangular, originally indicating paths and directions through the streets of the city. They cease to present themselves as vulnerable, to assume a position of resistance and strength, looking the viewers straight in the eye. Different from what we see in Tarsila do Amaral's Operários (1933) (a reference for these works) there is an active attitude in these figures, with a claim for collective presence and visibility, with men and women placed side by side. Mixed, but individualized.


Traffic signs and enameled metal plates can also be read in Marcos' work as bodies in themselves. They are not treated by the artist as simple supports for the painting. On the contrary: even when completely covered by the paint, they remain present and are incorporated into the work as material and also subject matter. Enamelware began to be researched as early as the 18th century, in Germany, in studies that sought to find a coating for tableware that would be an economical, practical, and durable alternative. In Brazil, despite their quality, agate utensils ended up being adopted initially by the population with lower purchasing power. In Marcos Roberto's work, the incorporated dishes are used, bearing on their surface the marks of their use up to that moment. These marks are like the ones our bodies also accumulate with the passage of time - which imposes not only natural wear and tear, such as wrinkles and stains, but also scars left by our experiences. Here, it is as if they are personified, as if they mirror the bodies that use them.

The same happens with traffic signs. All the ones we see in Marcos' paintings were used by the public power. Installed in the streets as a tool to control the speed and flow of cars and public transportation, they were exposed to time and urban space. This "experience" was marked on each one of them, individually - just like on the plates. Each plate has a history engraved on its surface, with dents and paint wear, for example. Just like the plates, although produced industrially, they are individualized in their stories and experiences in the real world. These memory traces are incorporated into the paintings. A bala perdida sempre sobe a favela [The lost bullet always climbs the favela] (2021), for example, gathers four rectangular plates and its starting point was literally a point, which we see at the top of the image: a real bullet mark, incorporated into the scene constructed by the artist. Like the plates, the plaques also reveal socio-political-economic issues present in the cities. Or are we capable of thinking that a plate marked by gunshots could be found in the prime part of the city? As evidenced by the study published in 2020 by the Network of Security Observatories, right in its title, "The Color of Police Violence: the Bullet Doesn't Miss its Target.''


But there are still other bodies that inhabit these signs, even before they hit the streets: those of the workers in the factories that produce them. Bodies that carry in their skin the marks of the production system and of the working days, especially accidents that end up leaving many scars over time. And Marcos knows these marks well. The scars that spread all over his body are in great part a memory of the years he spent working himself as a production assistant for more than two years in these factories, producing these plates. 


And it was exactly this interest in bringing to his production this universe that surrounded him that made Marcos adopt these plates in his artistic production. And also the scenes and characters - and here I refer to characters, not people, because the figures that we see populating his paintings are not portraits. They are not references to acquaintances, but invented bodies, although real. To build these figures, Marcos photographs people in the street, with positions and expressions that interest him, and joins these references to his memories and also, many times, to images of his own body. All this is used as reference for the constructions we see. Thus, it is not the real existence of these figures that gives reality to these images, but rather Marcos Roberto's memory and experience of this reality. In this sense, it is as if the whole exhibition we see here is in fact like a big self-portrait. As if all the bodies present in the gallery were, in fact, Um só corpo.

Fernanda Lopes


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