12. January – 15. March 2012


„A João Guimarães Rosa“

In collaboration with the world-renowned Instituto Moreira Salles Foundation (IMS) from Brazil, the Brasilea Foundation is presenting to the Swiss public for the first time a selection of the photographic work of the renowned photographer Maureen Bissiliat.

The IMS owns the largest private photographic collection in Brazil (in particular the Marc Ferrez Fund) and has been managing the complete archive of the photographer Maureen Bissiliat with more than 16,000 negatives since December 2003.

Maureen Bissiliat, born 1931 in Englefield Green, Surrey, England, settled in Brazil after completing her studies in Paris and New York. Between 1964 and 1972 she worked as a photo reporter for the magazine publisher Editora Abril. Her photographic work crosses the boundaries of documentary photography. Maureen Bissiliat portrays the country and people of Brazil, with expressive light-shadow dramaturgy. She is able to penetrate and reveal the inner soul of the subject.

The current exhibition in the building of the Brasilea Foundation shows a series of photographs inspired by one of Brazil’s greatest literary works: “Grande Sertão: Veredas” by the world-famous writer João Guimarães Rosa (* 1908, † 1967), published in 1956. The Brazilian national epic is the story of a landowner who describes a guest of his former wild life in the Sertão, the high steppe in the northeast of Brazil. It is the narrative of the life of an outlaw who roams, fights, robs and kills as a hunter and as the hunted, always aware of the eerie powers that surround him, without being able to fathom their existence. He concludes his report with the statement that these powers – the devil – do not exist; there is only the human being who carries his temptation within himself.

João Guimarães Rosa uses a language that reflects the spirit of the Sertanejos, the indigenous people. He penetrates the semi-desert landscape that shapes and plagues people, animals and nature.While Guimarães Rosa paints the impressive rough nature and the people of the Sertão with the word, Maureen Bissiliat describes and translates them with the picture. Maureen Bissiliat’s photos give a soul to the area of the Sertão, which at first glance seems to have no soul at all. In them we have the possibility to feel presence, heat, dryness, humidity, light and even colour, even if these photographs are black and white. It seems as if we can even feel the breeze. Her work is painterly photography, at the same time literary poetry and prose.

Maureen Bissiliat refers to the exhibition opening photography with the following sentence

“Eu sou donde eu nasci. Sou de outros lugares.”

I come from where I was born. I come from other places.

This sentence refers to the invented protagonist Manuel Nardi, a silent gentleman, with a stiff gaze, who stands between fiction and reality. This is exactly what draws Bissiliat to Guimarães Rosa: Images in which fiction and reality mix and are no longer clearly recognizable. Her photographs are not banal images of what is seen, they pass into the world of narrative, literature, fiction.

Maureen Bissiliat turned to video art in the 1980s. Her video recordings carry the same purity, directness and poetry as her photographs. The documentary film “Xingu Terra”, a production by Maureen Bissiliat in collaboration with Lucio Kodato, will be shown on the lower floor of the Brasilea Foundation throughout the exhibition. The film was shot in the village of Mehinaku in the Alto Xingu region and is a comprehensive presentation of the preparations, customs, and way of life of the Indian people for the festival of the “Yamaricumã”. The festival ceremony is the revival of a maternal legend in which women live and fight like men for a day. Proud, haughty and insurmountable, these women are shadows of a fighting tribe threatened with extinction. Film duration 83 minutes.

The exhibition also offers insight into valuable written works on the exhibition theme. A comprehensive retrospective illustrated book on Bissiliat’s work, which was published in Brazil in October 2009, can also be viewed and purchased on site during the exhibition.