Between October 6, 2022 and January 7, 2023, Galeria Zé dos Bois presents Black Nankin on a White Background, a solo exhibition by João Ayres (1921-2001). Occupying the rooms on the second floor of the Gallery, this show is composed of three sets of paintings and drawings, produced between 1947 and 1959.
In recent years, ZDB’s programming has focused essentially on individual exhibitions of contemporary artists, but also on shows of movements, currents, or authors who, in some way, intend to revisit by proposing a historical approach.
Black Nanking on a White Background proposes a look at the first decade of the artistic production of João Ayres, restating its historical and artistic importance as a precursor of Modernism in Mozambique in the late 1940s and 1950s.
In 1944, João Ayres was part of the II salon “Independentes” (collective exhibition where, among others, Fernando Lanhas, Nadir Afonso and Júlio Rezende participated) at the Coliseu in Porto, and the annual exhibition of the National Society of Fine Arts, in Lisbon. In 1946, encouraged by his father, the naturalist painter Frederico Ayres, he moved to Mozambique, where he worked as a painter, with regular exhibitions in South Africa and Brazil.
At the same time, he taught painting and drawing at the Núcleo de Arte in Maputo, and trained many local artists, such as Malangatana, José Júlio, António Bronze, Mankew and Bertina Lopes.
It is during this period that he begins more intensely, his artistic practice and where his first major neo-realistic canvases of social themes that reflect surrealist influences emerge. This exhibition defends the role of João Ayres as one of the first artists to portray the Mozambican reality through the neo-realist current, painting images of workers at the Maputo docks, the lamentation of the social condition, the berimbau player or the autochthonous cultural manifestations, pointing out the social and cultural differences prevailing at the time between the colonized and the colonized, the latter being the protagonist of his paintings. His first solo show, in 1949, brought together a set of these large format canvases, some of which are shown in the present exhibition.
The second nucleus – and the one that gives the exhibition its title – is composed of a set of drawings, made between 1956 and 1957 after he came from Brazil where he presented a solo show at MASP (Museu de Arte de São Paulo), showing the concretist current in Ayres’ work. Moving away from figuration, the artist began to explore forms, focusing on monochromatic geometric patterns.
At the end of the 1950s, color enters his work, as well as a greater freedom in his lines, present in the selection of drawings and paintings gathered in the third group of the exhibition. In these works there are recognizable pattern traces in the hairstyles and scarifications of Maconde sculpture and also in wall masks from southern Mozambique.
A selection of statuary – part of the private collection started by Frederico Ayres – that recreates folkloric, traditional and cultural references to the time in Mozambique, runs through the entire body of work.
The program complementing the exhibition includes two film sessions, including the film João Ayres, Pintor Independente (2022) by Diogo Varela Silva, as well as guided tours, and a lecture with Alda Costa, Mozambican contemporary art historian.