Trees are controversial topics in these days of late climate change, nowhere more so than in Brazil, where the Amazon exists as the planet’s oxygen tank but, depending on the political wind, also represents the most myopic of opportunism, such as when we all watched, in helpless horror, as the rainforest burned under Bolsonaro’s watch a couple years ago.
The woodworks in Zé Carlos Garcia’s “Escultura cega” (“Blind Sculpture”), his first exhibition at Galeria Marília Razuk, collectively evoke a forest stricken with a fatal malady, one that kills the trees but leaves some of their branches or trunks intact. Individually, the works infuse the artists’ diverse heritage in both race–he’s part Black, part Indigenous, part Dutch–and region—born in the northeast city of Aracaju, he’s spent years in Rio de Janeiro—with a hand-craftsmanship that brings to mind whittled tools, perhaps, or maybe ceremonial totems, especially when feathers and hair are incorporated into some of the works.
But Garcia’s creations, which seem at first familiar, become more mysterious, more abstract upon examination. “Choranda pitangos” (“Crying the Pitangas”), for example, looks like a dead tree with its branches still grasping at the sky, until we notice the strange formations–birds, tools seemingly with no particular use, and so on–”growing” out of the ends of its branches.
There is a strange almost anthropomorphism at work, too. The two “Vela” (“Candle”) works resemble their namesake, like majestic candlesticks, but the horsehair or bird feathers incorporated into the works suggest something else, something sadder, less decorative. “Palavra,” a series of wood symbols hung like tools on a wall, suggest the utility of words, albeit in another, mysterious language. And “Dragão” (“Dragon”) combines finely detailed wood carving with a horse’s foot, a weapon of some kind, and a plume of feathers. It’s beautiful and troubling all at once.
Garcia’s work combines an artist’s imagination with the skill of an experienced craftsman, reflecting his fifteen years working on the production of Carnival displays for the samba schools. And, notably, the wood he is working with comes from a farm he has been running for a decade in the state of Rio de Janeiro, on a site once heavily deforested by agriculture and now protected, where he is replacing invasive tree species like pine and eucalyptus that are not native to the Atlantic forests with trees that are. These removed invaders give him the raw material for his art.
Of course, the most invasive species of all permeates his artwork. We humans are the “blind” (cega) referred to in the show’s title, after all. For if the dead wood and detritus of animals hints at extinction, can the planet itself be far behind?
Zé Carlos Garcia’s “Escultura Cega” is at Galeria Marília Razuk, Rua Jerônimo da Veiga 131, São Paulo, through June 6.