Amanda Maciel Antunes: Narrative Artist Across Mediums
Written by Genie Davis
Amanda Maciel Antunes tells a story. Whether she is creating large-scale installations, paintings, or performances, her work is indelibly narrative; inspired, as she says, by “the thoughtful, the bewildered, the fantastical, the surreal and the unknown.”
If every picture tells a story, then the stories Antunes tells are as varied as the mediums she works in. “My paintings pull their narrative from my photographs and writing, which then pull from my performances, which pull from my life’s interactions, which then become one relationship with the work that develops through the opposition or tension between mediums. There’s a common thread between them all, as I like to provide guidance and direction in my work by operating in all these different mediums. I’ve never been a one medium and one direction kind of artist, because, honestly, I don’t think I can be. I need the sense of manipulating environments within different choices to have any sense of order in my mind,” she says.
From a stained-glass-like puzzle-piece painting like “Sad Young Women on the Gold Line” to the hauntingly beautiful mixed-media installation of “Memoryhouse: Marfa, Texas,” Antunes enchants, weaving a kind of magical environment in her work. Her rich, figurative “Self-portrait” is infused with abstract elements and surreal placements, creating a multi-layered view of herself that fascinates while being richly relatable.
Antunes creates some of her most dramatic work in site-specific installations and performances. One such recent piece took place inside a former church that is now Blue Roof Studios in Los Angeles. The work, which ran from December 2018 to February 2019, was produced in collaboration with Antune’s friend, artist Galia Linn, and titled Between What We See And What We Say.
“The whole experience was a bit surreal in a sense that it wasn’t just about the work, but about our connection to ourselves and each other in the work,” Antunes explains. “I met Galia last summer, and it was as if we had already shared a lifetime together. She came to my studio soon after we met and we started a dialogue about a possible collaboration. It started out by us deciding to spend one day a week together in her studio, I called it ‘Tuesdays with Galia.’” Antunes says that it didn’t matter what they made, they had total freedom to talk and create.
“We exchanged roles largely based on our skills and principles and that’s how the installation came to life. And we learned so much to become less intense, less oppressive to ourselves. Our backgrounds and our migrant stories – she’s from Israel and I’m from Brazil, we both left our homes for a reason and in that respect we also both looked for what could save us. She’s from the exploited ancient land. I’m from the exploited forest. And that is, some may agree, one and the same.”
Together, they activated the space in the former church as “a sacred, non-religious inclusive site for reflection and conversation,” in which they considered the female body as “a vessel of experiences, exploring the conflation of time, space and personal excavation. Our finished project was an encounter between our different generations, backgrounds and perspectives, offering viewers a chance to step inside a charged environment and experience a shift of their own.”
As with each of Antunes’ performance pieces and installations, it was a formative experience. She’s currently creating a series of site-specific performances and multi-media installations titled Before Language, which the artist describes as “an ongoing narrative telling the story of adapting to a new environment and thought faced with the limitations of language and appropriation.” The work will take place at Shoebox Projects in the Brewery Arts Complex this June.
“The work takes into consideration the system of language and behavior, combined with interpretation and intervention, and reconstitutes the room the artist occupies. It’s a continuation of a previous project titled Autopsychography where I translated the poem Autopsicografia by Fernando Pessoa in five different languages, and it was re-translated back to its original, Portuguese.”
This new iteration of the work will add twenty new language translations of the poem. It offers what she terms as a “substantial study of the continuity of anthropological investigation of man before language and communication. It explores all our senses: sound, visual, touch and smell.”
Antunes began developing this work while in residency in Hrisey, in the northern area of Iceland last year, when she was living on the island for a month without speaking the native language.
She is also currently at work on a series of paintings commissioned by one of her favorite musicians, Samantha Crain. Antunes says it will be a part of Crain’s upcoming album release. And she continues to work with Galia Linn in the Sanctuary at Blue Roof Studios.
The artist describes her current body of work as following a trajectory of sorts, one that has occurred naturally in her art over the years. She explains that from the start of her practice, “I was already striving for critical mobility. And since then, my works are free bodies that slowly accumulate into clusters that grow denser almost like a force of gravity.”
Performance is a recent component of her work, begun eight years ago; painting has been in her practice since she was a child with the guidance of her grandfather.
As she works to sustain her practice, she finds herself searching to develop a “response to a very real need to understand the world,” including the material forces that drive the artistic marketplace. In spite of that need, or perhaps as a direct correlation to it, Antunes’ highly evocative work stems from something wonderfully ephemeral. “I grew up in rural Brazil, a place that’s not on a map and that believes in miracles. As a child, I had a witch doctor that cured me from having uneven legs, and that’s just one of many bizarre stories I could tell you,” she confides. “My family and where I come from created this intense and visceral world that I live in, and that in particular influences how my practice takes shape.” According to Antunes, “I like to feel and care for my work as I used to observe my family take care of the land and each other. You build slowly on different elements of the land by understanding their growth and interaction, and the consequences of that care is what comes to fruition.”
Of her eclectic, electric work, Antunes wants viewers to know that “Nothing is
entirely yours or entirely mine. My work seeks to listen in order to say something.”
And what she says is infused with a kind of alchemic passion that is well-worth listening to – in any language, and any narrative form.