Colorful Census Inspires Artist To Examine Brazilian Identities


Brazilian artist Adriana Varejão has created “Polvo,” a series of self portraits that explore the diversity of identity in Brazil. According to The Huffington Post, “Polvo” was inspired by a the 1976 census in Brazil that asked citizens to describe and identify their skin color for the very first time. Today Brazil is known as one of the most diverse nations in the world, something that the census highlighted with over 130 different skin color descriptions. For example, a few of the descriptions were “Morena-roxa” (purplish-tan,)  “Café-com-leite” (milky coffee) and “Queimada-de-sol” (sun-kissed).

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Varejão fell in love with the variety of descriptions and colors people used to expressed themselves in the census. Her intrigue led her to create “Polvo.” First, she reproduced the different colors expressed in the census as pigments by mixing oil paints and then she painted her own image multiple times in different browns, pinks, blacks and whites.

Polvo [2012] Victoria Miro Gallery, London

A photo posted by Adriana Varejao (@adrianavarejao) on

Varejão’s latest work, “Kindred Spirits” is a series very similar to “Polvo.” “Kindred Spirits” however is based on the work of older artists like George Catlin, Charles Bird King, Henry Inman and Edwards Curtis. All of these artists are known for photographing and painting portraits of Native Americans.

The many portraits in this series are meant to highlight the varied exchanges of ideas, showcasing the melting pot of diverse cultures that is Brazil. “Kindred Spirits,” however, is not your typical series of self portraits. The portraits were originally made by Chinese fabricators and then altered by Varejão to include the piercings, face paint and headdresses of indigenous tribes.

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Kindred Spirits

A photo posted by Adriana Varejao (@adrianavarejao) on

The portraits in “Polvo” and “Kindred Spirits” are not meant to represent reality, but to show how blurred the line of perception of identity can become. Considered one of the biggest artists in Brazil, the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo and the Victoria Miro Gallery in London have all showcased Verjão’s work. Today, she continues to create controversial works of art, sparking conversation all over the world.