Claudia Dowek

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1974, Claudia Dowek holds a Master's degree in Art and Philosophy from PUC-RJ, and a BA degree in Graphic Design from Faculdade da Cidade. In 1997 she joined the School of Visual Arts of Parque Lage, where she took lessons with professors such as Gianguido Bonfanti, Orlando Mollica, Katie van Scherpenberg, Ricardo Basbaum, and Franz Manata. Also, she has attended courses in private studios with Bandeira de Melo and Marco Cavalcanti, as well as workshops by professors Richard Wilde and Jack Endewelt from the New York School of Visual Arts. Her interest in arts lead her in her youth to teach at schools and communities, and to work at an art gallery and later at the National Museum of Fine Arts (MNBA), in Rio de Janeiro, as assistant to curator Xico Chaves, where she joined research about the Brazilian indigenous culture.

Working at her studio, in the neighborhood of Horto, in the City of Rio de Janeiro, she creates canvases and objects from minerals — extracted mainly from the soil in the state of Minas Gerais — mixed with resins, straws and laces. This chemistry results in works that mirror originary manifestations  from the Quilombola, Caiçara and riverine communities visited and studied by the artist.

Her current work, developed from a deep research in cultural anthropology, discusses the intersection between the rural and urban universes. Her canvases, washed in the poetics of conflict, and where the delicacy of lace confronts the roughness of earth, exposes forgotten customs from traditional communities. Amid dances, music and artisanry, the hand cutting  sugarcane with a machete is the hand sculpting delicate laces, in a struggle for survival. The burdened skin builds a camouflage whose limits get lost on the earth. Among its multiple dimensions, the most intriguing is that of time, which puzzles the spectator’s perception.

In parallel, its strong archetypical character casts us to a warm and welcoming dimension, and confronts us with our personal experiences. On another plane, an oneiric layer projects happy memories in the shadows. The canvas as a box tends and unveils, amid the cracks, our original Being.

Claudia Dowek’s canvases are found in private collections in Brazil and overseas.

Dowek's main exhibitions:

Art Fair: 2013 - Artigo (RJ)

2013 - Centro Cultural Justiça Federal (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 2011 - Colorida Art Gallery (Lisbon, Portugal). 1999 - Manor Grandjean de Montigny (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). 1998 - Estácio de Sá Cultural Center (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil).

Collective: 2013 - Hail Saint George!, EU VIRA (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). 2012 - ELEMENTA 5 (Correios Cultural Center, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil); Chaotic Traffic (Maria Teresa Vieira); There Goes the Bride (CEDIM and SESC, Nova Iguaçu, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). 2011 - Hail Saint George!, CAZA (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil); Shocking Pink (Hidden Zone), CEDIM (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). 2010 - Invited artist at Cristina Oldemburg's photography exhibition, Chácara do Céu Museum (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil); Peripheral Imagination - String Project (Circo Voador) (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). 2008 - Museum of Portrait (Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil). 2004 - Poematrix - Dama de Ferro Nightclub (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil); Wearables - Peripheral Imagination  (Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). 2003 - Open Doors Restroom, Dama de Ferro Nightclub (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). 2001 - Xavenas (Lisbon, Portugal); Language - Cultural Center Antônio Bernardo (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil); Spring Salon (Resende, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 2000/2001 - Gardeninvention I, II, III, Jardim de Alah (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). 1998/2000 Univercidarte - Estácio de Sá (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil).

• Full Name: Claudia Chonchol Dowek
• Artistic Name: Claudia Dowek

About the Work

By blending the rural and urban universes, as well as the delicacy of lace and the roughness of earth, I weave canvases washed in the poetics of conflict. The most intriguing of its multiple dimensions is that of time, which puzzles the spectator’s perception. In parallel, its strong archetypical character casts us to a warm and welcoming dimension, and confronts us with our personal experiences. From a plastic point of view, the earth exposes the thinnest and most susceptible layer of the skin. "Stone Flowers" overflow amid fissures, exposing an oxidized essence. On another plane, an oneiric layer projects happy memories in the shadows. The canvas as a box tends and unveils, amid the cracks,
In a multidimensional exploration, the canvas ceases to be flat. It is manufactured with mixed media, where minerals and resins swing among paint and sculptural matter. Based on a deep cultural anthropology research, ribbons are braided, scales embroidered, and laces entwined, revealing colors and textures of the woven motif.

In reverence to the language of matter in Anselm Kiefer and Nuno Ramos, as well as the absence of it in Armando Reveron, I research the power of perception in Lygia Clark's interactivity. This confluence results in works filled with stories and aesthetic content.

“Névoa baixa, Sol que Racha” Nearly a Prelude
By Paulo KLEIN*

“- Bom bom-dia, minha gente. - Bom dia para os presentes. - Bom dia, futuramente. - Bom dia ainda, no ventre.
As mulheres de descascar
- Bom dia tem que dizer
Quem chega a todo presente.
Dizer bom dia é como
Tirar o chapéu, compridamente.
- Bom dia não antecipa o dia que espera em frente. - Nem bom-dia tem a ver se é sol ou chuvadamente”.

‘A path does not exist; a path comes to existence as we tread it’2. Under the scorching sun, ground in poetry, and to the sound of Elomar Figueira de Melo’s singing – the wandering bard of the banks of Gavião River – artist Claudia Dowek makes her original path, gets lost and gets us lost many times, only to meet herself again, and meet us, in the intangible path of Arts. She pours herself as a river of serenity in Névoa baixa, sol que racha, a station of reveries and reflections, where we again meet her art, as well as the art/life of these warrior women, heroines of the far land of the many profound Brazils.

Images and stories that attach to our memory regardless of the distances; hands calloused by the rough labor dreaming of the delicacy of fairy tales, even wearing gaiters and male trousers under the grimy dress, and using a sickle. In addition, reality plants its hard feet on the rough and dusty ground, the saga of Marias, Severinas, Josefas, Marianas, so many Anas, so many daughters, mothers, partners in pleasure and in dismay.

Claudia Dowek gets off the truck of rural workers, known as ‘boias frias’, treads the beaten ground, the acridity of the fields with a transmedia experience/reflection to produce an exhibition that rescues the inner elements of the human in precious colors, tempera and mineral alchemy.

To say that Claudia Dowek honors those women warriors is a motto, nearly a preamble. She penetrates the meanders of misery, doubt and suffering with rare authority and tenacity, and from those she extracts the Beautiful, which sprouts on earthly layers, iron oxides, specularite, phyllite and mineral pigments collected during her travels to Itabirito, Minas Gerais, Southeastern Brazil – a landscape first visited by the artist in company of plastic artist Xico Chaves, with whom she worked, and immortalized by Franz Krajcberg between 1964 and 1971, when he lived and created at the bottom of Pico de Cata Branca.

In Névoa baixa, sol que racha Claudia Dowek presents works that sprout like pathways bifurcating and converting into many other. In one of the exhibition rooms, six works establish a connection with traditional techniques and language, in their loyalty to painting, which is deemed invaluable, yet open to daring. So open is it, that it will take lace and hollow fabrics as per canvas, causing a play of shadows and embossment, a provocation that dialogues with the matter painted with pigments collected in Itabirito. She aggregates to the performance of experimental praxis; in her own way, she drifts from the procedures of the materic and suprematist art, recreating possibilities for the resistant and enduring act of painting.

In this series of canvases – for they constitute a series, despite their ruptures – the artist rescues the outback casing, the make-do insinuating the elegance through the transparency of the laces – an exposed structure, in contrast to the historical moments of the ‘object art’, of the daring rips on Lucio Fontana’s canvas, of the cuts exposing viscera in Adriana Varejão’s work, of the straightforward (‘a palo seco’) cut  of João Cabral – ‘a palo seco is but the blade of the voice / without the support of the arm / without seasoning or aid / it must cut the silence / with its naked flame’3.

This process of study, research and perspiration resulted in the present manifesto, named ‘Som da Gente’ (The Sound of Our People). The title emerged from the conversations (oral history) held with women in the rural areas of Bahia – conversations in which they spoke about having ‘their own voice’ heard or not. Under such heading, Dowek created three canvases and a videoinstallation, which stimulates sensations by recreating the atmosphere of those remote rural areas, in contrast with the hasty pace of the edgy metropolis.

In her current production, Dowek reflects the shock between rusticity and delicacy by balancing the chromatic mass – based on clay and minerals (iron oxides) – against the oppressed frailty of laces and their stitch patterns – Frivolité, Filet, Renaiscence – of reminiscent memories. She subtly and movingly rescues traditions rooted in the bosom of those laboring women who, not leaving the tools of their toil, raise the flag of lyricism through music, dance and the poetry of embroidery. She thus adds referential social-anthropologic data to her creative process, and by doing so, adds a highly humanitarian weight to the coldness displayed by certain so-called contemporary productions. And she does so in a unique way of acting, elsewhere defined as the ‘poetic of conflicts’.

Three works of this series (‘Som da Gente’) were named after women engaged in the fight for women’s rights in Brazil: Margarida Alves, murdered 30 years ago, a pioneer in the fight for workers’ rights in the state of Paraíba and a symbol of women’s fight for rights in rural areas; Nazaré Flor, poet from the Rural Area, engaged in movements for land reform; and Maria Dolores, PhD from the Federal University of Ceará, dedicated to the cause of peasant women.

The other works of this series – Airequecê (Moon), Pituna (Night) and Prelude – stem from earlier series and maintain the same accuracy in the search of the right point for her Painting, which is committed to both technique and form, yet open to interacting with other elements: laces, copper wiring and jute yarn, resins, raw pigments and fruit salts.

The laces applied to her work were originally knitted by women lace makers from Orobó and Pesqueira, in the rural area of Pernambuco. The golden laces inserted in Prelude were obtained by oxidation, a technique used in the pursuit of both the ideal plasticity and the value of those artisans, which is so often ignored.

The videoinstallation brings to the art gallery the bucolic atmosphere of life in the Brazilian outback (sertão), in conflict with the urban setting. Images of both worlds are projected onto a structure made of bamboo, wattle and daub, and ribbons, and the room is filled with sounds that reflect the antagonism of those universes.

With her talent and critical sense, Claudia Dowek awakens many of our perceptions. She moves us to the center of her discourse on disclosures and poetic constructions, which fluctuate from the popular to the veiled world of Contemporary Art. In order to operate the engineering of sensations displayed on this special occasion, Dowek attended courses and frequented museums around Brazil and the world; visited popular territories and sophisticated lounges; collected life histories and mineral pigments; read naïve poems, work chants and revelry songs; studied Art History, Painting Techniques, as well as Crochet and Embroidery History and Techniques. From the contexture of straw to the swing of hammocks, she aggregated all in her own manner of doing art as an architecture of a just and harmonious morrow, an alchemy of the (im)possible, a construction of a universe of affection by means of the deeds of the simplest everyday life.

1. CABRAL DE MELO NETO, João. ‘A Casa de Farinha’ (manuscript work, trusted to the poet’s daughter Inez Cabral); launch planned to 2013 by Editora Alfaguara.
2. MACHADO Y RUIZ, Antonio. Free adaptation of “Wanderer, there is no path; a path is made when treaded”.
3. CABRAL DE MELO NETO, João . Obra Completa. Editora Nova Aguilar, 1994.

*Paulo KLEIN is a writer and Visual Arts critic, member of the Associação Brasileira de Críticos de Arte (ABCA) and of the Association Internationale Des Critiques D’Art (AICA)

Interview given to the art website

Who is Claudia Dowek?
I’m a visual artist, born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, 38 years old (born in 1974 under the sign of Aries). I have a BA in Graphic Design, I also studied fashion at Senac and did a graduate degree in “Art and Philosophy” at PUC-RJ, I’ve also done a lot of other visual-arts courses, with emphasis on practice and theory. Art has always been the main interest in my life and the place where my energy has taken me. In trying to get a greater understanding of this universe, I worked for a gallery and afterwards for the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, where I was able to gain knowledge from having worked as an assistant to the current curator, Xico Chaves. Nowadays I have my own atelier, in the Horto neighborhood (RJ), where by doing lots of research and with my sleeves always rolled up, I carry out my work.

When did you start getting interest in doing art?
In my earliest childhood memories, I was brandishing a paintbrush and painting one of those coloring books. It was as if painting had become part of my life and soul. Even though nowadays my work is incorporating 3D and multimedia resources, I’ve always called myself a painter. My interest in art itself has always flowed parallel to my interest in producing art.

What kind of fine-arts education did you get?
I studied art and art theory with a variety of teachers. For me a general education, whether in History, Philosophy and concept or manufacturing is fundamental. This is what has made it possible for me, after a number of experimentations, to find my own language!

Which artists influenced your way of thinking?

As I see it, my references in life, the work of a number of artists whom I’ve studied and admire, have influenced my way of thinking. I will only quote a few who have interested me in the last few years, as a material language, present in the work of Anselm Kiefer and Nuno Ramos and the absence of such a language in Armando Reverón, deconstructing image.  Also important are Arman’s Anarchy and the poetry in expanded shadows, as projected by candles, by Christian Boltanski, naturally, without forgetting his political designs in this work. There’s also the rawness of Artur Zmijewski in his denouncements. And finally an incredible Chinese painter called Liu Ya Ming and the sculptures sketched by Thomas Houseago, among so many others. Besides these artists, I have been enormously influenced by the aesthetic wealth present in traditional folk cultures. Folk dance and music, arts and crafts and embroidery have completed my research.

How would you describe your work?
I started developing my current language from mineworkers mining in the Itabirito region, using material that I had collected in a trip many years before. Other materials were incorporated into the research, some of which were found during wanderings, some suggested and others that fell into my hands as presents. All of this blended with a growing interest in Anthropology and regionalism. This work may be considered as an assemblage of materials and surfaces. Embroidery, shells and fibers aim at sketching an aesthetics of traditional communities, besides their diverse cultural manifestations, the result of which are canvasses with a strong archetypical character and impregnated with the aesthetics of conflict. On these screens, the rural universe mixes into the urban universe and the delicacy of the embroidery confronts the roughness of the earth. Within its multiple dimensions, the most intriguing is time, which confuses the viewer’s perception. As this language developed, concerns about narrative decreased and a politics, that already existed, flourished from considerations about how little value is given to our cultural origins and especially to perpetuating them. This work is currently becoming more and more three-dimensional and also taking on other media. I have three individual shows scheduled in 2013. In October, in the Centro Cultural da Justiça Federal in Rio de Janeiro, I would like to present an installation made up of a series of objects and a video, besides canvasses.

Is it possible to make a living off of art in Brazil?
If this means making a living off of art by selling work and getting proposals for projects, without giving classes or doing something else, few can make it! The international market can make things a little bit easier. Yet all of this has been changing in the last few years, perhaps because Brazil has become the up-and-coming art market of the moment; our cultural scenario is being seen in a new light, including by Brazilians themselves. Let’s see what happens...

What are you studying now? How do you keep updated?
I study a lot of different subjects which helps me add my own personal growth to my artwork. Basically for me, maturity means understanding that expression depends on my own personal integrity as a whole. Besides this, I travel in search of contents that will fill the blanks in my work, such as materials and research on cultural manifestations and daily life within traditional communities.

How do you feel about private funding? How would you suggest improving it?
I feel that “gallery fund” and “public grant” evaluations are kind of confusing. After all, how can you evaluate an artist’s work without having any sort of familiarity with his or her career? In any case, more than merely following one single trend, they are just very biased.

What does it take to become an icon in the art world?
That’s what I’m trying to figure out (laughter)... I trying to take it step by step without skipping any of the phases of the process.

What are a young artist’s difficulties in getting private representation?
An artist needs to raise interest, besides merely deserving a gallery owner’s confidence since this person has decided to invest in the artist’s work. There’s a lot of competition and often getting a recommendation from someone is necessary just so artists can get their work evaluated.

What are your short and long-term plans? Tell us more about your plans for the Biannual, the international market, etc...
I would like to do a show in China, in Berlin. Right now I would like to enter the Sao Paulo market. I was selected for a number of public grants throughout the country, but not there! Besides these dreams I also hope to produce work for a London gallery owner who has been following my career. He has greatly praised my work, but he only takes on artists whose resumes are much bulkier than mine, so I’m making quite an effort to beef up my resume!

What do you do with your free time?
I love outdoor activities such as taking walks, going to the beach, waterfalls. Travelling also makes me very happy. Hopping into the car, getting onto the highway, and looking at people and scenery changing as I pass by is magical! Obviously, I also really enjoy cultural activities, art shows; cinema, good music... Nowadays, however, I’ve been spending a lot of my free time with Gustav Klimt, a lovely little Border collie pup; my Christmas present. Instead of “The Kiss” I got a lot of licks!

The Canvas, the Land and the Murmur (Clarisse Fukelman)

Art holds no boundaries, that is what Claudia Dowek’s sculptural canvases seem to say. For over a decade, the artist has decanted original primitive human forces – dance, dream, pre-language – by using varied themes and techniques, thus fostering the multiple dialogue of matter and shape and a permanent exercise of experimentation.

In the series Nação Jongo disquietude is distilled, getting bodily. Ingredients of the Brazilian flora and handicraft are used, stimulating sensorial perception and resulting in a fusion of the senses: what one sees is what one touches. Leaves and laces, applied and mixed with pigments and resin, are not only laces on leaves but also leaves of lace. Sight and touch invite the viewer to the fruition of works that mingle objects (straw, shells) and desire: to touch the genesis of art and evoke the union between man and nature.

The refusal of the finished form brings movement and time into the pictorial scene. The artist deliberately exposes her creation, so one sees the pressure of the arm and the moves of the hand, producing reliefs, volumes, shades of white. The physical world directs the construction of the visual universe. Relief and sculpture intervene in the canvas’s plain. A strain erupts from the cracked soil, while by gestalt contours delineate faces, maps, rivers.

The artist’s attitude allows one to infer genealogies and dialogues: Lygia Clark, Helio Oiticica, Nuno Ramos, Armando Reveron, Anselm Kiefer. Artists who use three-dimensional planes; artists who test and mix materials; artists who approach cultures.

Claudia Dowek was able to identify in Brazil the ideal soil to listen to the sounds of other time and places. The bond with art’s ancestry occurs on many levels. The artist’s search is archaeological and  kinetic. She travels, gets around, puts her foot down and sets hands on experience. Creation begins by the collection of materials, which moves the artist’s body and spirit. She paints her canvases as someone who builds a house from clay: a batch of bricks, a kilogram of sun and a project to renew language. The intaglio and the stone of the first manifestations of art murmur under her modelling and her clay.  It is memoire

There is also an anthropological attitude in the reunion of Brazil’s cultural background: Jongo (Brazilian dance with an African origin), ciranda (circle dance), and chant. In Laudation, for instance, Dowek digs into Bantu territory: she uses cattail from Quilombo do Campinho; shell from Quilombo de Mandira; and debris from the iron ore mines of Ouro Preto.

On the aesthetic level, Dowek harmonizes density and delicacy, blends word and image, and converses with traditions of old and of new (hieroglyphs, graffiti, the writing process of contemporary art). The artist excels by pinching the meaning of words. Letters and sentences are both form and meaning, both graphic symbols and messages. They are speeches forming our lives, however unconsciously. All in all, one observes the organicity “that unites, on the underground, all fragments of heterogeneity”, the “new conjunction with elements of the past”, as stated by Maffesoli.

In retrospect, her first works display, in a subtle and suggestive manner, reality filtered from the perspective of instinct. Eros and Thánatos covertly clash, intensifying the dramatic power of her creations. Aesthetically, the underneath vigour emerges into the dilution of shapes, into shadows, into the blatant panic perceptible in the centre of the pupils of a minimally sketched face (painting Cheirando cola 2), or yet in the red which covers the canvas, a blurred mix of passion, supplication and suffering (series Balanço de 98).

All said, Claudia Dowek stands out in the realm of contemporary art for her peculiar viewpoint. She “spins” and travels beyond the mere overlapping of materials. She fuses plane and depth, the popular and the erudite. All is amalgamated by a feminine mortar, beyond the soil – in the canvas, in the monological conversation, in the calligraphy, in the dark-red shadow of memory.


“Claudia Dowek experiments with the possibilities of surface in various ways, by using lacework, roughness and tracery, to propose other imaginary and mysterious surfaces, laid before us to investigate, and perhaps decipher.”

Luiz Aquila

Dragging the vision and whetting the curiosity of the observer, Claudia Dowek’s new series exhibits paintings confectioned with natural pigments (earths and ground stones). Here, rusticity confronts the delicacy of laces, straws and further objects, panned from Quilombola, Caiçara and riverine communities. Dowek’s works have an earth color, in varied pigmentation. The artist masterfully manipulates her material, composing her paintings with numerous embossments and carvings, in a subtle tridimensionality crammed with stories.

Paulo Branquinho – Art Producer