Lydia Pape was a Brazilian artist, who worked in a wide range of media, including paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, film, performance art, and installations. She was one of the founders of Brazil’s Neo-concrete movement that encouraged chance and experimentation. She made participatory art that questioned the space between the artist and the viewer as she closed the gap between art and the world around it.
Pape studied in Rio de Janeiro, receiving her B.A. degree at the Universidade Federal and her M.A. degree from Universidad Santa Ursula. She taught at Universidad Santa Ursula in Rio from 1972-1985.
In the 1950s, Pape created her Teclares Series of minimalistic woodblock prints, which featured thin black lines on white paper intertwined to the “warp and weft” of weaving, invoking the craft of Brazil’s indigenous people. While her early interest was in geometric abstraction, she developed these early abstractions into organic three-dimensional objects designed to be handled and manipulated by viewers, such as her unbound books that were to be held and rearranged by viewers.
Like other Brazilian Neo-concrete artists of the 1960s and 1970s, Pape explored the interdisciplinary aspects of Concretism – in particular, how a moving image could serve as an outlet for experimentation.
A collaborative artist, Pape choreographed group performances, her most famous being “Divisor” in 1968. This piece entailed a large group of school children sticking their heads through holes in a massive white sheet. As they did this, their movements became restricted as they merged into a single organism. At this time Brazil was ruled by a dictatorship, and her piece indirectly commented on the limitations to personal freedom imposed by this government.
Although a military coup d’etat in Brazil prompted a reconsideration of the Neo-concrete movement’s legacy and limitations, many artists like Pape continued to explore some of the core tenets of Concrete and Neo-concrete art: the materiality of color, geometric forms in space, and viewer participation in order to counteract the alienation of modern urban life.
She was also a video artist whose films were bold and political. In her 1975 film “Eat Me” she filmed a close-up of a mouth sucking on and spitting out objects. This work especially references the cultural ‘cannibalism’ of Tarsila do Amaral’s Anthropophagic Movement and the violence that racked Brazil. In the 1980s, Pape returned to sculpture, the medium which had always held her interest.
Her 2000 “Tupinamba” series showed the ways in which Brazil’s Indigenous past informs the present. Everyday objects are swallowed by an overgrowth of artificial red feathers, recalling the plumage of the Guara bird, which used to adorn ceremonial capes worn by the Tupinamba people performing their rituals.
Her work has been exhibited worldwide in selected exhibitions in Los Angeles, New York, London, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.