Sonia Gomes is an Afro-Brazilian artist, living in Sao Paulo, who creates textile-based freestanding and hanging sculptures from found objects, discarded fabric, thread, lace, and wire. Her fabric work consists of vibrant colors, intricate patterns, and organic forms.
As a young girl in Caetanopolis, a small town famous for its textile industry, Gomes admired African clothing. She would deconstruct her clothes and turn them into something different. She favored wearing wraps and used found materials to make her own jewelry. When she was 45 years old, she left her career as a lawyer and attended the Guignard School of Art in her home state of Minas Gerais. She first worked making abstract paintings, but it would be ten more years before she exhibited her unique sculptural works and noted that “not everything is art, but art can be anything.” Her enigmatic works reclaimed the Afro-Brazilian experience and culture in her country, the last country in the Western world to abolish slavery.
Her sculptures are made by knotting and twisting fabrics into sinuous, organic forms. She freely adds wire, wood, rope, thread, lace, metal, tree branches, and even uses tree trunks in her sculptures. It is said that the pain and suffering in the twists of her sculptures represent the racism she endured as a Black woman growing up and living in Brazil. Fascinated by Brazilian folk art and Afro-Brzilian religious traditions related to witchcraft, Gomes has always felt responsibility for the clothing, fabrics, scarves, and objects that have been given to her so she could transform them into art. She says that this is appropriation and that “When these materials come they bring the history of the people that they belonged to and I give a new significance to them.”
Gomes installs her works on walls, on floors, or hangs them from ceilings, creating a maze for viewers to walk through. In her 2004 “Memory,” fragments of cloth are stitched into a tarnished map. Some of her works are colorful, mixed-media bird cages, ‘gaiolas’, such as the 2014 “Voo” (“Flight”). The exuberance found in these bird cage works is offset by the claustrophobic feeling of being enclosed in a cage. Sometimes the cages are cracked as if a bird is breaking out, recalling centuries of oppression of Afro-Brazilians by the dominant Brazilians of European descent. One such piece is her 2019 “Aninhado” where a crumpled bird cage is joined to a gnarly tree branch, a visual metaphor for a bird or a person wanting freedom but still clinging to his or her roots.
When Gomes was invited to participate in the 2015 Venice Biennale, few Brazilian artists even knew who she was. In 2017, her work was displayed at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C. and in the Turner Contemporary in Margate, England. In 2018, her work was shown at the Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum and at the Museum of Art of Sao Paulo Assis Chateaubriand (MASP), where she was the first living Afro-Brazilian female artist to have a solo show. In 2022, She will have her first solo exhibition at Pace Gallery in New York City.