Adriana Carvalho

Art Center South Florida, Miami

By Irina Leyva-Perez | March 06, 2013

101 Dresses is the Brazilian sculptor Adriana Carvalho’s most recent one-person exhibition. The show is a retrospective look at her work from the years when she was an artist-in-residence at the Art Center South Florida, in Miami Beach.

Adriana Carvalho

Carvalho is known for her iconic “metal dresses”, which have become her signature style. The exhibition’s title is derived from the way in which her sculptures are perceived: as dresses.

Her work might be read as a recreation of the feminine world, especially because of the pieces in which she “reproduces” lace using metal mesh, and on which she then “embroiders” corny phrases, from those typical of adolescents to the most rebellious ones. It immediately brings to mind the usual perceptions regarding femininity due to the unequivocal association of women to fashion, vanity, and the sense of enhancing beauty. However, on approaching the works we notice the visual dichotomy between what we assumed were fabrics and the real nature of the material employed, mainly metals such as steel, aluminum and copper. The apparent daintiness of her works contrasts with the hardness of the material and with the use of aggressive elements such as thorns and texts which may be considered shocking or offensive.

The sensuality of her works induces a feeling of hedonistic and aesthetic pleasure, which may however be interrupted by the understanding that Carvalho is bringing up more pressing issues. By featuring what is apparently perceived as femininity, which is sometimes read as women’s vulnerability, Carvalho addresses the role of women in contemporary society and the perception of women constructed through a common imaginary over the course of centuries.

Female sexuality is a constant throughout her work, and she has explored it widely by “making” feminine underwear and artifacts such as chastity belts, and above all, through her series of photographs, in which she poses “dressed” in her works. Like other artists addressing these themes, Carvalho has been influenced by Frida Khalo, to whom she pays tribute in one of her installations.

Katrina, a piece belonging to her series Road-Kill - Loss of Innocence, contrasts with the rest of the works in the exhibit. It portrays one of her dresses crushed by a traffic-light pole, conveying a physical tension between the two elements and creating a feeling of anxiety in the viewer, who sees one of those precious dresses partially destroyed.

With humor and sarcasm, Carvalho shakes the preconceptions which might be held with regard to “pretty objects”, as her sculptures might be perceived. In her work, aesthetic beauty is only a mask behind which emotional wounds hide; a form of pain and losses that the collective feminine memory reveals.