Rosa Maria Unda Souki In the Frames of the Invisible
Rosa Maria Unda Souki, winner of the special jury prize at the 2011 Salon de Montrouge, is currently showing her most recent work at the Institut Français Madrid ( Esquina Londres y Allende, December 11, 2013-18 January, 2014). This is a series of paintings about Frida Kahlo’s blue house in Mexico, a space through which the artist reveals her own worlds.
Rosa Maria Unda Souki was born in Venezuela and attended art school in Brazil. After a ten-year stay in France, she returned to Brazil, settling in Belo Horizonte, where she now lives. Her paintings and drawings are of home interiors, treating the home like a universe to be explored, spaces that accumulate in layers in her work over time. She represents all sorts of homes: places she has lived, like her father’s colonial-style house where she grew up, later expropriated by the government, and other people’s homes, such as Federico Garcia Lorca’s house in Grenada and Frida Kahlo’s residence in Mexico. One thing they have in common is that these are spaces that don’t exist. They are imagined rather than taken from memory. Her work seems marked by the tension between two approaches, an attraction to a naïve and obsessive popular art, and a more conceptual but still highly instinctive orientation.
WINDOWS ON THE SELF
When she first began attending art school in Caracas, Unda Souki photographed and made paintings of her childhood home. These pieces bring to mind a film by Christian Boltanski (and an artist’s book of the same name), L’Appartement de la rue de Vaugirard (1973), in which an off-screen voice (a text in the book) describes a living apartment whereas the images show nothing but deserted rooms. In another example, with no formal similarities this time, her approach could also be compared to Étienne-Martin’s sculptural representations of his house. A more recent comparison would be to Mathieu Cherkit, whose paintings also show his family home, an obsession that has haunted him for years.(1) With their warm brown tones, several of her sketchbooks show empty rooms in her father’s colonial-style house, spaces onto which anything can be projected. In her series Espaces intimes (2006), each canvas combines several different focal points, producing panoramic visions where memories seem to float between the oldfashioned furniture and the plants dangling from bowls on high. During her years in Paris Unda Souki also painted her first apartment, corner by corner, and then did the same for her flat in Montreuil. Unlike the preceding series, each room seems about to explode, as if deformed by a magnifying glass and seen from too close up, and yet there is no feeling of claustrophobia. It seems as if she were perched on the ceiling to observe the scene below with a protective eye. The obsessional character of her approach recalls the logics of Art Brut, but she has never really taken an interest in private universes. Rather her curiosity seems to concern modernism and folk arts. There is an entirely different atmosphere in the cycle Expropriation (2011), revisiting her family home requisitioned by the Hugo Chavez government a few years ago.(2) The unfurnished rooms look abandoned and spectral. The walls are painted a red that, despite recalling Édouard Vuillard’s hot hues, actually references the color Venezuelan government civil servants are supposed to wear on national holidays to show their support for the governing ideology. Vaguely menacing green plants crawl across the floor. Some of the series of drawings accompanying these paintings were done on medical compresses. These spaces are self-portraits. Since 2011, Unda Souki has made two series of paintings, each with a different approach, one of Garcia Lorca’s house in Granada and the other of Frida Kahlo’s