Jeanine Macola's 🖤 Beats For Her People
The Brasilian digital artist's comic book colour schemes and impossible fantasy soap opera weirdness depict a reality where the odd are the heroes we need
In a Jeanine Macola NFT, the day-glo vibrancy of hair and costumes clashes with things like coffins, burning buildings, and the bloodsport of professional wrestling. in the Macola world, everything seems to be a world within a world of micro-dramas, oddness and juxtaposed anxieties.
While the colour scheme reminds you of maybe graffiti in a Sao Paolo favela; or carnival flowers and ribbons; or even the rainbow holograph of a post-party hangover, the narrative matter of her work shows you that what you are looking at is the tightrope lifestyle of a place that is on the one hand a hyperbole of human interaction and on the other hand a deep pathos-laced experience that relies on hope.
These subjects do not look pretty, but any viewer of her work should take a few moments before making a judgement.
We are not meant to honour the superficial or celebrate the fineness of her illustration.
The way she juxtaposes the media her subjects “star” in, and the way she shapes her subjects into contortionist positions elevates them. What you see is a kind of presentation of their virtue.
These people are depicted as saints.
In one image, “They’re building a coffin your size,” the character behind the coffin is posing in a posture you might see in a 15th century painting of saints.
The hyper-modern presentation might fuel you to think this is pop art. But I see it more like meditative almost religious memorialisation to the strangeness of modern Brasilian life.
Each NFT is an amalgamation of Macola’s feelings about her sense of place, and the types of people she loves, but also, their depictions are meant to also convey the importance of media, and how it shapes how she sees.
She says, though, she doesn’t really think about that.
“I guess maybe it's something subconscious [from] someone who grew up on television, internet and public figures that almost lost humanity to the public,” she tells me.
As a kid, the media was my main way of interacting with the world. I saw something wonderful, chaotic and cynical in it all, even though I wasn't aware of those terms at the time. I loved these almost divine representations. a religious veneration towards these characters. I was also curious about the ability of these people (sometimes famous for a lifetime, sometimes famous for 5 minutes) to be at the center of something, to be the main character and how ordinary people gathered around them: smiling, crying, getting emotional and waiting for the their next step, who were basically gods made of flesh and bone. I always find myself, unconsciously, admiring and judging these things about our society and, consequently, about myself. I don't think I'm better than anyone. In fact, I like to be inside it all, but always trying to observe myself and others in our interaction with the media, with the parallel world that we consume every day.
With the media influences; the harshness of poverty; the general unsteadiness of life in a world wracked by coups, wars, covid and the extremes of polarised opinoins, Macola’s comic drawings should vibrate our frequencies.
It comes from a natural place.
“My mother is a civil servant focused on labor rights - fighting child slave labor and also for the rights of the poorest workers,” she tells me in an email one day.
Macola doesn’t illustrate figures to make them into fetish objects or carnival attractions. She uses detail and attention to celebrate a weirdness of life that is a reaction to rigidity and dogma. Her work is both plaintive and melancholy and hopeful and enunciating of small joys and the pairing of unlike things together to make new things. It seems very much of and about what makes Brasil Brasil.
I love my country. It is a special place, with a beautiful history of popular resistance. We have scientists, artists and people who deserve to be recognized, and it's tiring to see my people being reduced to ultra sexual women and similar misogynistic and racist stuff.
For example, we have a universal healthcare system, which was an achievement made by the people, and I never see it mentioned by people who are not from here, so it's frustrating, as a brazilian, to be reduced to things as stupid as disrespectful stereotypes. In the end, I think that's what hurts me the most.
Despite these claims, you can see that Macola still uses her pen to play with the tropes of those who see Brasil from the outside. But in doing so, she presents her subjects as very aware, and even adorns them in the cloak of the “West”, worn by those who might do the gazing.
In this picture, you see the female wrestler at centre ring. Adorned in costume, and highlighted both by lines that show her contours and comic deliberateness, as well as her shadow and dimensionality. She is surrounded by an audience, but not just any audience. It is an audience of the West’s most famous animation and Hollywood figurines. But they have been customised, familiarised for the circus freak atmosphere of this sudden and illuminating wrestling performance. What is the subject wrestling? It’s not another figure. It’s the gaze.
She is wrestling all that we bring to her. Yet, before the performance strikes up, she takes that time to pause, present herself, and indicate that whatever we may think of her, it is her time.
“Brazil has a culture that I wouldn't trade for any other and I consider myself privileged … We are a force of nature, the result of a lot of suffering and resistance. a creative, intelligent people who have an enormous capacity to never stop fighting for our rights and creating art,” she says.
You can find Jeanine Macola’s work on Objkt. She does almost all of her transactions using Tezos.