… in conversation with Hu Yisheng
Christus Nobrega is a Brazilian artist who travels between multiple communities and keeps an open mind to the various ideas he encounters. These communities leave marks in his works of art.
Nobrega was not born in Brasilia, but he decided to move to this capital city of Brazil fifteen years ago, because of his love for the idea of the city.
In 1956, Brasilia was established at the initiative of the then president, Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira. In a sense, Brasilia became a symbol of change. The founding fathers wanted to break with the past and to create a new perspective of Brazil.
“That’s the new moment. At that moment, we became modern.”
That is how Nobrega considers the moment of establishment of the capital.
He loves the concept of ‘democracy‘ in Brasilia. There are more public spaces than private spaces in the city, and all the ground floors are also public, where citizens can walk across and through the buildings.
He loves the concept of ‘equal‘ in Brasilia. Everyone lives in a small residential area, everyone resides in the buildings, and they have very similar space. The citizens share a similar environment with each other which narrows the perceptions of socio/economic gaps between them.
He also loves the concept of ‘community‘ in Brasilia. The idea comes from Lúcio Costa, the architect who designed the Plano Piloto (central area) of the capital: future populations can settle in the areas around Brasilia, but do not make the capital city itself bigger. ‘if you grow more than this,’ he explained, ‘we lose the idea of community.’
Nobrega accepts this idea. When I ask him, ‘what do you dream Brasilia to be’, he answers:
“I don’t want to change anything.“
He mentions UNESCO, who put Brasilia on the World Heritage List in 1987. The city meets the requirement of Criteria (i), ‘to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius’, because of its excellent expression of the Modernist Movement in the central zones and; Criteria (iv), ‘to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates significant stages in human history’, because of its urban principles in the architecture of the Three Powers as well as other structures.
Nobrega believes that Brasilia is the only modern city to gain this label from UNESCO. The city does not only belong to the Brasilia community, but to the whole world.
Thus, it is necessary to retain the values that UNESCO has identified in this young national capital.
“So my dream is to stay in the line.“
Nobrega uses this phrase to conclude his idea. He loves the conception of Brasilia urban principles and prefers to maintain this contemporary space.
Brasilia also influences the thematics in Nobrega’s work. Power takes center stage in the Federal capital. The Brasilia community is central to his work because it is political, and he makes numerous artworks about politics.
In addition the geographic position of Brasilia is important to him. The city is seated in Goias Plateau, in the middle of Brazil. This location conforms to the original concept of democracy, allowing Brazilians to travel to other centres within the country quickly and conveniently.
Below is Nobrega’s artwork titled “Expedição Outono (Autumn Expedition). 2014. Photograph collection, methacrylate pigment on cotton paper.”, the result of a journey to the Amazon Rain Forest in Northern Brazil where he collected leaves from century old plants. He then imprinted photos from long-forgotten family albums onto them:
Travel and displacement
Nobrega loves traveling, using the word “displacement“, to describe his journeys to other places. He believes this concept of “displacement” drives his art practice.
“I put myself in a different perspective, in a different environment, and enjoy this experience, and try to find this experience as a mirror.“
Different cultures provide different kinds of mirrors, where an artist can see something exotic and even opposite to his own ideas, so that he can reflect on himself and know who he is.
The idea is more like comparative philosophy. Lucien Febvre, for example, of the Annales School, believes that European cultures can be defined by contrasting them to the rest of the world.
While traveling, Nobrega also uses the concept of “ubuntu” to establish his theory of collaboration. The word comes from Zulu or Hausa in southern Africa.
He simply explains this complex concept: “I be” because “you be”.
“I’m here because you are, the idea “to be myself” directly relates to the idea “you be yourself”; if you can’t be yourself, I can’t be myself.“
In his opinion, collaboration is not just two separate people who work together to make art, but instead, it is a system in which two people help each other and, importantly, support each other to be themselves.
“Ubuntu means we are the same thing.”
When Nobrega talks about this concept, he closes the fingers of both hands, and puts these two hands together. Thus it is not simply two hands, but two hands connected with each other.
Based on “ubuntu”, Nobrega creates a theoretical method underlying his practice which he calls ‘show your fragility and ask for help’. He shows other people that he needs help, while still others will offer help and give him some love. He uses this method to understand different communities, to build a connection with people, to support others and be supported, and to know more about himself. Then, this activity becomes an artwork.
“Dicionário Feminino. 2015-2017. Photograph collection, Mineral pigments on writing paper“
This artwork focuses on ideas Nobrega developed around the Chinese Character “woman”
The idea of “ego”
This concept of “ego” or “I be” is central for Nobrega. He thinks about “ego” when discussing “displacement”, as his mirror idea helps him see different perspectives of himself. It also arises when he talks about “ubuntu”, as this collaboration theory emphasises how to ‘be myself‘.
He seeks always to know more about himself, to understand himself, and to develop himself.
Of course, he does not only look at “ego”, but also cares about others. In fact, his conception of “ego” is established with “others”.
For Nobrega the “displacement” affects more than himself; it includes other people, other countries and other histories. It’s a collage of history, which puts various traditions and cultures together.
“it’s not an ego process, it’s a collage process.”
“Ubuntu” also fits his theory. He cares about “I be”, but it is “you be” that can shape, support, and understand ‘myself’.
This idea may have resulted in his seemingly contradictory opinion about art. When I ask him, ‘do you think art is important in creating community’, he gives me a contrary response: “it is a big YES and a big NO“.
He believes, in a sense, that art is useless in creating community, because it does not have social goals. Art does not need to teach people like education, to cure people like medicine, to organise groups like politics, or to analyse like philosophy.
“Art, we don’t have a reason to do it. We just do it. When you put functions into art, I think you are killing the root of art. Art needs to be free, so we can do what we want.“
In his statement, art is more about “ego”. It is about what the artist them-self wants to do, and does not need to take into consideration whether it has the power to create communities. As far as Nobrega is concerned, art is the only space where creators do not need to care about reception, but must just do it and keep it free.
On the other hand, he admits that art can create communities, as art is about how humans understand each other. Sometimes humans do not know how to express an invisible feeling, and art can make the invisible visible. In this way, art does have its function, which can create and reinforce the idea of connection.
And so, Nobrega’s idea of art is about the expression of “ego”, but also about other groups of people and connections with each other; a combination of “ego” and “collage”.
The journey never endS
When I ask him, ‘what is your favourite project?’, he replies with good humour, “Oh my God. You can’t ask this to a father with lots of sons, who do you love more?“
He indicates, “all works are unfinished,” which is like a ghost always staying in the mind.
Nobrega uses an excellent metaphor: art is a symptom. Artists may have an unformed idea during an experience, and this idea is like an internal disease which will develop external symptoms in the future. As the idea continues to mature, it will give you a “symptom”, in other words a work of art.
It is like the concept of “tacit knowledge” in the field of pedagogy.
Thus, even if you come back home, the journey does not end, because the idea is still in mind, waiting for its moment to be used; to become a work of art.
Nobrega practices his ideas of “displacement”, “mirror”, “ubuntu” and “the journey never ends” in other cities and countries during his travels.
He visited Canberra over summer 2018/19, bringing his exhibition titled “Labirinto. 2015-2018. Photograph collection, flax prints, mineral pigments on cotton, photographs on books, marble slabs, video installations” to Canberra Contemporary Art Space (see images below).
He considers that Canberra has much in common with Brasilia. They are both planned federal capitals
Nobrega hopes that these two cities can build a bridge and see the opposite as a mirror to learn from each other, think with each other, and have fun with each other.
Please enjoy the video below that I have made about Nobrega’s journey to China.
1. Fábrica de Pipas (Kite Factory). 2015-2017. Performance, pipeline manufacturing, gold tube
2. Roupa Nova do Rei (The Emperor’s New Clothes). 2015-2017. Cutting Chinese art paper
3. Muralha (Great Wall). 2015. Photograph collection, carton
4. Empório Celestial de Conhecimentos Benévolos (Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge). 2015-2017. Photograph collection, mineral pigments on cotton paper, books, postcards, letters, objects, and drawers
You can find them on Nobrega’s website: