top of page

Oporto, Portugal

Tapestry, ceramics and video

wool dyed with pau-brasil

© Rita Castro


“Brasilina”[1] is Flávia Vieira's second solo exhibition at Kubik Gallery, in Oporto.

There is no way to talk about this exhibition without telling a story first – that of 'brazilin'.

It was only in the 14th century that many pigments and dyeing methods made their way to Europe. They traveled in ships, often alongside enslaved individuals, spices and other products foreign to the West. High quality black dyes started to be used in Europe, which, until then, only knew very dark gray cloths, but not black. Like black, a new red also arrived in Portugal in the 16th century, the brazilin.

This pigment, with its reddish tone, which feels intense, vibrant and specific, is obtained from the wood of the brazilwood tree (Paubrasilia echinata), autochthonous from the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, was one of the products of the intensive exploration carried out by the Portuguese colonizers in South America. By the forced hands of the Tupinambás indigenous tribe, this wood was extracted and brought to Portugal, where it was applied to fabrics and paints, and dropped into the complex European economic network of the time.

The project proposed by Flávia Vieira extends to the three rooms of the exhibition space. From the street, through the windows, you can see the large reddish-colored textile installation taking over the first room. Falling from the ceiling, the tapestry resembles a curtain, a flexible screen, or perhaps a kind of cocoon or entrance to a labyrinth. In dialogue with this work, there are two other sculptures, one of the same fabric but in the form of a garment, hanging on a hanger made of ceramics, and the other standing, which in turn interacts with the sculptures in the next room. These will take us to the video, which also bears the title 'Brasilina' and brings a performative character to the exhibition. The video, which is seven minutes long, shows a theater of hands – now two, now four, now naked, sometimes painted, sometimes wearing gloves – which alternate with images of a face painted in red or enigmatic shapes that resemble the sculptures presented. Both the color of the film and the sound composition that serves as its background are diverse, yet without changing the tone.

While the use of brazilin in Europe was mainly a demonstration of power, in Brazil it functioned as a ritualistic and performative element for several tribes. The pigment's identity has somehow adapted to geography. In the exhibition, although in a subtle and camouflaged way, the artist underlines all the political development underlying the research behind these works.

Hand in hand with colonialism, certain colors acquired new symbolisms. The use of pigments coming from colonized countries not only underlined the imperialist power of the countries where they were used, but also the social power of the individuals who held them, as they were still rare shades. In fact, laws were passed to restrict the use of certain colors to members of higher social strata, perpetuating the association of these colors with authority, wealth and nobility. Brasilina was particularly appreciated as it could be transformed into many different shades of red that had never been seen before.


Flávia Vieira's works tell the story not of the pigment, but of its personas, western and Brazilian, and how, by whom and for whom this process of transformation is operated. We see this in the shade that guides the conversation between each work and in the latent way materiality expresses itself in the artist's practice. More than that, we see hands, everywhere, a member of the body so vital that they appear even where they are invisible in their physicality.


Such as in the 16th century a legislation on pigments in Europe was in force that masked individuals of power and prestige, today the contemporary individual continues to mask himself with fabrics often manufactured through the exploitation of others. Even in a more abstract way, the message is clear, it is the story that adapts to time, not time that generates the story.


Luiza Teixeira de Freitas


[1] ‘Brasilina’ is the Portuguese term for ‘brazilin’ in English.

bottom of page