Diplomatic charm offensive at Contemporary Art Space

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Brazilian artist Gê Orthof with Canberra artist Naomi Zouwer

THERE’S a whiff of the samba around Canberra Contemporary Art Space at Gorman Arts Centre this spring and it’s hard to get the smile off the face of director David Broker.

For one thing, as he hinted to guests at an opening last weekend, the art space is hoping to move itself to the other side of the lake soon. It will start a new era at the East Space, once described as “the beach bungalow” and located below the High Court on the lake.

For another, he has a most unusual installation, “Mata! Mata!” (Forest) by one of Brasília’s favourite sons, globetrotting artist Gê Orthof. Gê will be in Canberra until November 30 on a cultural exchange with CCAS and part of a blitz of cultural diplomacy that shows just how important Canberra can be.

Guests view Orthof’s installation

Orthof’s work focuses on both the monumental spaces and buildings of Brasília that conceal the barrenness behind their facades and his miniatures, which invite the public to look more closely, as in his exhibition at CCAS.

Matching him in provocativeness is Canberra artist Naomi Zouwer whose large, colourful oil paintings in the show “Objects of Empathy” hang in apparent contrast to the objects reflecting Orthof’s personal past, yet which also focuses on small, trivial, everyday objects that are a part of her daily life.

Hovering in the background at the opening on November 8 was noted curator and researcher Dr Cinara Barbosa from the University of Brasília, here as part of a huge project in which she and Canberra’s Anni Doyle Wawrzynczak will collaborate to bring Brazilian art to Canberra and Canberra art to Brasília, effectively drawing parallels between the two utopian “built” capital cities.

Dr Cinara Barbosa

“In my work I am interested in how contemporary artists think about their origins and in Canberra I’m looking for this,” Dr Barbosa says.

As well as the fun and art that we like to associate with all things Brazilian, there’s serious international business at work.

Romero Maia, cultural attaché at the Embassy of Brazil in Canberra, spoke at the opening. It was Maia who had suggested to CCAS the idea of bringing Another Brasília artist, Christus Nobrega, for a residency at CCAS late last year and it was Nobrega in turn who suggested that Orthof would be “a good match.”

A deeply engaged cultural diplomat who’s been spotted everywhere around town in recent months, including at a “ Finnigan’s Wake” reading, Maia spoke about his love for Australia and his excitement that the Contemporary Art Space was exhibiting the work of a “famous Brazilian artist who is treating me like an old mate.”

He described Orthof’s cosmopolitan background. Born of an Austrian family who migrated to Brazil after World War II, he has lived all over the world, including various parts of Europe, Chile, the US, Tibet and now Australia.

“We can see your history in the details of your art,” Maia said as he looked at Orthof’s installation. “You are of the world, but I am very proud that you were born in Brazil.”

If there’s one thing Canberra has over the rest of Australia it is that it’s our national capital and the same might be said of Brasília, so the presence of ACT Commissioner for International Engagement, Brendan Smyth was significant.

Smyth, who has not yet been to Brasília but would like to, drew parallels between the two capital cities in an enthusiastic address to an enthusiastic crowd.

Gê Orthof, “Mata! Mata” and Naomi Zouwer, “Objects of Empathy” at Canberra Contemporary Art Space, 55 Ainslie Ave, Braddon, until December 21, Tuesday to Saturday, 11am–5pm.





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