Frames and Masters I:
Cultural Clashes and Recovering Sensuality
Winning sensuality in painting à la manière of the „European Masters“ and putting them into question
Secret Box, oil on canvas, 76 x 101 cm
Many paintings of Dalva Duarte look somehow “old-fashioned“ at first sight. At a second look, we discover disturbing elements. In painting à la manière of the masters, she is winning back a sensuality in painting that for her is damaged in life and in the reflection of the possibilities of painting today and can only be articulated indirectly: cut off parts of bodies, disconnecting layers of surfaces, several frames, inclined or feint, an eccentric squaring down.
This astonishing procedure is added to the unusual choice of subjects, as the naked black boy in Body and Soul in a reduced Renaissance-like architecture or the boy being measured in When I grow up, or the two black men in Museum guard: here the triptych as a religious form is transferred to a museum as a contemporary holy church – an authority including the happy few, where as the guards are probably men without any access to higher education. The intelligent, vivid face of the man directly looking at us seems to be quietly questioning the whole setting. Funny to remark that the madonna in the painting suddenly seems to be mocking herself also, as if she were his complice.
Frames and Masters II:
Homage and “wrong projections“ in the European tradition
Dalva Duarte finds an orientation in great artists of other centuries as Velasquez, Goya or the Dutch, keeping thereby a cultural memory, using tradition as a filter to look at the current state of things but also putting this traditon into question – as if she was “falling out of the frame“ given. So she often uses a technique of cutting off parts of a body or layering disconnecting surfaces and /or frames over each other as in Las Niñas (Tribute to Velasquez).
Of course the girl in the white dress in the center of the painting – like infant princess Margarita in Las Meninas of Velasquez – is not part of a royal familiy, but maybe she´s Daddy´s princess or somebody else´s forbidden darling (her strange white stockings where dark skin is shining through is giving an irritating hint); and her expression is not that of a self-assured little girl looking at her parents and the contemplator but rather a frightened one. On the other hand, the artist’s self-portrait as a Holbein-like nun is playing with the role; she is proud and self-confident, attacking manipulating powers.
If the surface of a painting can be understood as a space for projections, she is often drawing a sort of demarcation line between imaginary realms like in Passion of the Sea II. The ideal of a white perfect body which is the cultural norm is not only a fake, but also an a-sexual impossibility to be lived.
Passion of the Sea II, watercolour, 184 x 150 cm
Olímpia’s sweet dreams, oil on canvas, 121 x 91 cm
Dalva Duarte is pushing this thought even further in Olimpia´s Sweet Dreams (Tribute to Edouard Manet): Olimpia, not resting but rather floating on her bed, her eyes closed and not as Manet´s figure daring and directly looking at the contemplator, seems to be the narcisstic Icon of a nowadays noli-me-tangere, her white gloves (broken as the girl´s stockings in Las Niñas) touch her pubic parts – maybe self-stimulating, but not even able to feel herself because of the gloves – as a luxury work of art, not as a sensuous creature. In her background behind a veil, body builders are forming their competitive bodies, far away from any pleasure.
So, where Manet was shocking with his self-aware naked courtisane Olympia, shameless, erotic and very natural, Dalva Duarte is deconstructing an ideal of prudeness, normative perfection and lost nature – an ideal which is not made for coloured women anyway, though imposed onto them, too. Here also we find white lines and layers in the construction, putting into question “wrong projections“ of this European/white tradition.