13, rue Notre Dame de Nazareth - 75003 Paris 
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London 5 March 2000

Dear Friends,
Last week I traveled to Paris on the Eurostar to attend the opening of one of the most amazing exhibitions in Europe at the moment. Well known Brazilian artist Heloisa Novaes welcomed hundreds of guests, including figures from the international arts world, diplomats, friends of Latin America and personal friends from around the world, to her huge one woman show now on at the Maison de I'Amerique Latine. More than eighty of her paintings and sculptures are on view here as part of the Cinquieme Centenaire de la Decouverte du Bresil.

The paintings depict an intensely symbolic vision, dominated by recurring motives of totems, fish, cats and other animals, often conceived as mythical half-human creatures. Hieroglyphic markings and representations of ceramic vessels are also common objects, as are musical instruments and boats. The paintings are executed in oil, with mixed media additions shell, feathers, photographs, wood, cardboardadding elements of collage. The sculptures or `marionettes', as the artist describes these female figures, captivated me. Using wood, cloth, terracotta, feathers from Brazil and other material, Novaes captures essential, playful nuances of femininity. A unifying element throughout the exhibition is colour, natural, earthy colours of her birthplace, Sao Joao del Rei, Minas Gerais. Blues, greys, beige, and a particular colour, ranging from ochre to terracotta, blended by the artist herself using minerals she has gathered from the mines of Minas Gerais, give her work a sense of timeless dignity and profound peace.

For me, however, this was more than an exhibition, it was a reunion with old friends, for I have known Heloisa's husband, photographer Carlos Freire, since we were teenagers in Rio de Janeiro, too many years ago. I felt like the most honoured guest, being taken around the exhibition by the artist herself and later, sitting next to Carlos at the wonderful dinner held in honour of the opening. Heloisa took me first to the cabinet in which are displayed some of her most personal momentoes of her artistic career; many photographs of the artist with some of the most influential cultural figures of our time, letters representing the large correspondence she has kept with many of them, artwork for book covers and other illustrations, treasured childhood objects such as pottery, depicted in so many of her paintings, and earth from Minas Gerais. As we viewed the rest of the exhibition, she pointed out the motives of these momentoes that were recalled in the paintings. I found this very touching and could feel the sense of love that Heloisa feels for her past and for her Brazilian roots.

As I sat with Carlos at dinner, surrounded by the crime of Parisian cultural life, and later, back at the couple's lovely apartment in the centre of Paris, enjoying a simple night cap of tisane and a snack of mozzarella di buffalo, fresh from Naples, I knew that I had just spent one of the most marvelous days of my life ...astonished yet again by the talent and depth of emotion that Heloisa Novaes captures in her art, and proud to be one of the first to attend the opening of her most wonderful exhibition

Vera Ottoni.


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