Irène Laub gallery is delighted to present a solo show by Portuguese artist Pedro A.H. Paixão, curated by Sorana Munsya.
A murmur, a whistle, or even the sound of a heartbeat can be heard. Where does it come from? From the belly of the forest or the crackle of flames? From the Bembe mask discreetly inhabiting the exhibition space, or from silence? Silence born of gathering and pooling, or perhaps silence that inhabits spirits on a quest, spirits in meditation… This Bembe mask, evocative of forest spirits, by its very presence seems to radiate the mystery of knowledge and enchantment onto the artist Pedro A.H. Paixão, but also onto those who populate his works. Indeed, from inspiration to exhalation, the path leading to the source of mystery becomes clearer and inexorably leads to light, to fire.
In this series of drawings in vermilion monochrome by Pedro A.H. Paixão, as in his previous series, the gesture of drawing, in its desire to produce a world, is also the result of a movement not without purpose, but certainly imbued with mystery. Drawing, like a journey without a precise destination, is undoubtedly one of the keys to the inspiration and interpretation of Fire and Spirits. Indeed, inspired by the texts of G. Agamben, the artist questions the act of narrating as an attempt to recall the source of mystery represented in his drawings by a source of light.
Agamben says in his text The Fire and the Tale: “In the course of its history, humanity moves further and further away from the sources of mystery and, little by little, loses the memory of what tradition taught it about the fire, the place, and the formula—but of all this men can still tell the story”. He thus sees literature, the act of storytelling, as if not an attempt to recover the source of the mystery (its place and its fire), as the telling of the story of the loss, the forgetting of fire. However, what constitutes storytelling is what brings the writer and reader closer to the source of the mystery (its place and its fire). For where story resides, mystery resides. Whereas where history resides, the fires of mystery are extinguished.
With Fire and Spirits, Pedro A.H. Paixão turns the act of drawing into an act of storytelling. It’s an act that, in its smallest nuances and most precise details, seeks out the mystery or witnesses its oblivion. The very quest for the right gesture, but also the artist’s losing himself in his gesture and his monochromatic universe, is what, paradoxically, seems to bring him closer to the source of mystery. A kind of truth that history can no longer account for, because it has become disenchanted.
Indeed, in the various drawings presented in this exhibition, Paixão invokes figures and objects from our history, with the intention of re-enchanting them with omnipresent light. It’s as if the re-enchantment of these figures radiates beyond the lines delimiting the works: the viewer becomes re-enchanted too, and is invited to participate not only in the artist’s narrative gesture, but also in the hypnosis with which those who make up the worlds inhabiting the drawings seem to be caught.
These are animals, adults and children, objects and plants. Without any hierarchy, they breathe on the same rhythm, giving back to history its zones of incomprehension and mystery.
– Sorana Munsya, 2023
Pedro A.H. Paixão works in a variety of media – sound, video, installation – but the core of his practice is based on several cycles of graphic works, beginning with a series of scarlet drawings produced between 2007 and 2017. From 2019, the Portuguese artist developed new monochrome series: graphite drawings and pencil drawings in turquoise blue, purple and vermilion. These works, dedicated to the (neo)colonial period in Central Africa, address complex histories of struggle, emancipation and the possibility of reparations. Political history is presented in a suspended atmosphere that evokes dreams, animist magic and initiatory journeys. Creating an incantatory space, Pedro A.H. Paixão’s drawings offer a visual as well as an emotional experience that allows us to think and feel differently about their subject: not as a trial of history and morality, but with a distance that helps us to overcome taboos, prejudice and misunderstanding.
Pedro A.H. Paixão was born in Lobito, Angola, where he lived until the outbreak of civil war in 1975. He studied Fine Arts at Ar.Co in Lisbon and at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He holds a Doctorate in Philosophy from the Faculty of Letters of the University of Porto. He was awarded grants from the Luso-American Foundation, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the Foundation for Science and Technology in Lisbon and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in Venice. He won the international Navigator Art on Paper prize in 2018, and the first major comprehensive exhibition of his work was held at CIAJG, in Guimarães (PT) that same year. He now lives and works in Tuscany (IT).
Sorana Munsya is an independent curator and psychologist based in Brussels. She is interested in notions of fugitivity, opacity and healing as they relate to Blackness and reflects on how it can function in Western institutional contexts. Focusing on contemporary visual arts created by Black artists, she has curated, among others, the group show “The Act of Breathing” (2022) in collaboration with KANAL-Centre Pompidou, Joud Toamah’s solo show at Photoforum Pasquart (Biel, Switzerland in 2022), Leonard Pongo’s solo show at Bozar (2021), Michèle Magema’s latest solo show at Extra City (2021). She was assistant curator of the 5th Lubumbashi Biennale of Contemporary Art. She is an editor for the Belgian art magazine GLEAN and has contributed to numerous art catalogs, such as the catalog for the 12th Rencontres de Bamako, the catalog for Pascale Marthine Tayou’s latest Belgian solo show (Mu.Zee) and others…
She has been appointed artistic advisor for the creation of a public art project in Brussels with the NGO SOS Children’s Villages in 2024, and is a member of the artistic advisory board of Morpho Residency (Antwerp). She is also a board member of The Constant Now (Antwerp) and is a member of Celador, a curators collective that organizes semi-private and semi-public events in Brussels.