Djanira de Motta e Silva

“One of our most important painters, she is more than that, she is the land, the soil from which plants sprout, the macumba terrain, the weaving looms, man resisting misery. Each of her paintings is a piece of Brazil.” So said Jorge Armado, a respected Brazilian writer and a great friend of the artist Djanira da Motta e Silva.
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Djanira de MotaDjanira da Motta e Silva, without formal training, became a prolific painter, designer, illustrator, poster producer, set designer and engraver. She began life in the year 1914, and for the first decade or so it turned out to be a struggle as hard work and poverty came to dominate her life and that of her family. When she was 23 years old Djanira contracted tuberculosis and was admitted to hospital.
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It is strange to associate illness with art, but like many other artists before and after her, it was during her convalescency that Djanira found refuge in art. In the hospital she tentatively created her first drawings—a Christ on Golgotha. Upon leaving she began a new life as the manager of a boardhouse in the neighborhood of Santa Theresa, Rio de Janeiro.
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As Djanira gained confidence in her new life post-tuberculosis she delved deeper and deeper into art. Encouraged by the numerous artists that stayed at her boardhouse and the evening drawing classes she took at the Liceu de Artes e Ofícios (High School of Arts and Crafts) she decided to begin showing her work, her first exhibition was a the 48th National Exhibition of Fine Arts in 1942 when she was 28 years old.
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As her art progressed, to take shape among those gathered under the banner of Art Naif, Djanira was travelling and discovering other artists and other styles. A trip to New York familiarized her with the work of Pieter Bruegel most importantly, and upon her return to Brazil Djamira painted the mural Candomblé within the residence of the aforementioned writer Jorge Amado in Salvador, as well as a panel for the Lyceum Hall of Petrópolis. The beautiful colonial town of Salvador became of the sources of inspiration for Djamira—you can see amongst her painting flashes of the domed rooftops and cobbled streets peeking out at you here and there. 
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Djanira's paintPerhaps the two most important sources of inspiration for her, however, were religion and the lives of working class Brazilians struggling to make an income. A trip through her vast homeland exposed her to the hard realities of miners, farmers, plantation workers, and many others. The simple style of her paintings in bright colours contrast with the manual labor that they often depict. The other great influence in her life, Catholicism, is not so evident. But if you follow her personal story it holds tremendous weight. Towards the end of her life Djamira joined the Third Carmelite Order to become Sister Theresa of the Divine Love. She also received the Medal and Diploma of the Cross from the Vatican and became the first Latin-American artist to display her work at the Vatican Museum, with the piece Santana de Pé.
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Today the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, Rio de Janeiro, has many of her works on display: paintings, drawings and engravings from various periods, among them the canvases The Circus (1944) and Mestizo Children (1952). You can see for yourself the colour and vividness that she applied to a Brazilian lifestyle common to the great majority of the Brazilians at the time but rarely shown so clearly in art.
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