Mariola V. Alvarez: Transnational Brazil

Transnational Brazil and Modern Calligraphic Abstraction

Manabu Mabe, Pedaço de luz, 1959, 130 x 130 cm, © Instituto Manabu Mabe

Manabu Mabe, Pedaço de luz, 1959, 130 x 130 cm, © Instituto Manabu Mabe

Alvarez’ research project examines the emergence of lyrical abstraction in Brazil in the late 1950s. Mostly forgotten in the contemporary moment in favor of geometric abstraction and concrete art, she reconsiders the rivalry between these two forms of abstract art and the influence of the European styles of Informel and Tachisme. Lyrical abstraction was predominantly practiced by Japanese immigrants to Brazil, including Manabu Mabe, Tomie Ohtake, Flavio-Shiró, and Tikashi Fukushima, and as a result the artists and their art challenged the category of national art as formed by European colonization and African slavery. Brazilian lyrical abstraction disorders the idea of national art as defined only in contrast to the international, the typical binary throughout the history of Brazilian modern art. Through the case study of Japanese-Brazilian artist Manabu Mabe, Alvarez’ project argues for lyrical abstraction as a transnational and diasporic art that brings together Japanese, European, and Brazilian influences. Mabe’s identity as Japanese and Brazilian resulted in the interpretation of his work through these contradictory categories, which had not been part of the formation of Brazilian culture until the twentieth century. Mabe as both a Japanese immigrant and a lyrical abstractionist confused critics and historians unfamiliar with both and their relation to the nation, and has caused his work to be neglected until recently.

Mariola Alvarez is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Contemporary Art at Colby College in Maine. From 2012-2014 she was an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Humanities Research Center at Rice University in Houston, Texas and taught in the Department of Spanish, Portuguese & Latin American Studies. She completed her doctorate in the History, Theory and Criticism of Art from the University of California, San Diego in 2012. She has published writings on Ferreira Gullar’s Non-Object Poems, Clarissa Tossins’s contemporary art practice focused on Brasília, and on Brazilian and Mexican collective art groups, Bijari and Bulbo, respectively. She has an article under review at Third Text on the Brazilian-Japanese artist, Manabu Mabe, which developed from a paper presented at an AAH 2015 panel, “Navigating the Pacific: Latin America and Asia in Conversation.” She will serve as co-chair for the CAA 2016 session, “New Geographies of Abstract Art in Postwar Latin America.”


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