10 Brazilian Artists Who Are Shaping Contemporary Art

Ela Bittencourt
Aug 14, 2023 8:44PM

The 35th São Paulo Bienal, which opens on September 3rd, promises to highlight tensions in Brazilian and global contemporary art. Its title, “Choreography of the Impossible,” echoes the last biennial’s reference to the Martinique philosopher Édouard Glissant and his emphasis on the Global South’s art and political potential. The team of Brazilian and European curators cited diasporic film histories as a conduit for exploring the many possibilities of agency and movement, outside the notion of “freedom,” as defined by Western neoliberal economies.

It’s an apt direction for 2023. As the Brazilian art scene shakes off the ultra-conservative culture wars, Afro-Brazilian, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, and women artists are gaining a foothold in what’s traditionally been an art scene dominated by white male artists. Across a vast territory, Brazilian art looks to futurism, to ecological and post-human frontiers, as much as to its own utopian modernist past to shape this new art movement.

Here are 10 trailblazing Brazilian artists everyone should know.

Hudinilson Jr.

B. 1957, São Paulo. D. 2013, São Paulo.


When the São Paulo–based artists Hudinilson Jr., Rafael França, and Mário Ramiro created the collective 3Nós3 (literally translatable as 3us3, and a play on the phrase “three knots”), their primary media were performance and public art. The artists gained some notoriety—and press opprobrium—for covering the heads of public statues of famous national figures with plastic bags, interventions that were interpreted as acts of sheer vandalism. Each of the artists then launched their individual practice—Hudinilson Jr. in the newly burgeoning field of Xerox art.

The artist’s photocopy renditions of his own body, for which he is best known today, are exquisite instances of homoerotic art, and also point to the artistic possibilities that would follow from other tech-driven media. But the artist also worked in diverse formats, including photography and assemblage. Somewhat forgotten, along with the work of other members of 3Nós3, Hudinilson Jr.’s practice resurged in the public limelight thanks to the gallerist Jaqueline Martins, who represents the artist’s estate, and recent institutional shows, such as his retrospective at Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo in 2020.

Luiz Roque

B. 1979, Cachoeira do Sul, Brazil. Lives and works in São Paulo.

Luiz Roque Urubu, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo, Brussels, New York

Luiz Roque’s art blends cinema—borrowing from science fiction and music videos—and critical theory. For instance, his video, Heaven (2016), featured in the 32nd São Paulo Bienal, envisioned a dystopian future, in which authorities hunt down transsexuals, claiming that their saliva causes the spread of a new virus. The work echoed the homophobic language of the AIDS pandemic, while also referring to the climate of gender violence in Brazil.

In another short video, Urubu (2021), a black bird swoops down silently between the metropolis’s high buildings. Vertiginous yet sensual, menacing yet entrancing, the video, made during the COVID pandemic, underlined Roque’s ability to distill complex ideas into succinct images. The artist’s more recent solo shows were at nonprofit art space Pivô and Mendes Wood DM in São Paulo in 2022; he also participated in the 2022 Venice Biennale.

Emerson Uýra

B. 1991, Santarém, Brazil. Lives and works in Manaus, Brazil.

With a background in biology and a master’s degree in ecology, Uýra (who is often known by only one name) is a veritable meteor on the Brazilian art scene. The artist’s interests include plant life, gender fluidity, Indigenous rights, and post-colonialism, and her works featured in the 34th São Paulo Bienal were a fine example of this rich amalgam: A series of photographs, bursting with color, showed Uýra as a hybrid forest being amid plentiful plant life.

It was a particularly forceful series, at a time when the Amazon Forest, the Indigenous struggle, and the LGBTQ+ communities were all under threat following the impeachment of the left-leaning president Dilma Rousseff. In 2022, in addition to two museum solo shows in Rio, the artist participated in Manifesta 14 and was awarded the prestigious art prize Prêmio PIPA.

Maya Weishof

B. 1993, Curitiba, Brazil. Lives and works in São Paulo.

Maya Weishof’s paintings are unapologetically bawdy, deploying curvaceous forms and reveling in fleshy, lewd humor which takes inspiration from a range of sources, from antiquity and classical Italian painting to the early modernists.

Like the Fauves, Weishof experiments with color in an expressive way, though her voluptuous designs create a very peculiar and highly personal lexicon, with an eye for sexual freedom that’s refreshing, particularly in Brazil, where young women painters are finally making a mark. Weishof’s most recent solo shows were at Galerie Hussenot in Paris in 2022, Kupfer in London in 2021, and Auroras in São Paulo in 2020.

Graziela Kunsch

B. 1979, São Paulo. Lives and works in São Paulo.

Graziela Kunsch, installation view of Public Daycare, 2022, in Documenta 15, Fridericianum, Kassel. Photo by Graziela Kunsch. Courtesy of the artist.

Graziela Kunsch’s practice as a writer, educator, and artist is rooted in psychoanalytic and pedagogical approaches. It also draws on the work of iconic Brazilian artists such Lygia Clark—particularly Clark’s notion of art as a proposition. From 2001 to 2003, Kunsch used her house in São Paulo as a public residency: Casa da Grazi (Grazi’s House) invited collaborators from across Brazil in a series of workshops and exhibitions, while also running a restaurant and a library.

In addition to numerous other solo projects in her native Brazil, the artist also participated in the 2021 Oslo Biennial, during which she presented an issue of a magazine, Urbânia; and in Documenta 15, where she conceived a daycare for children up to three years of age along with their parents and guardians—a pedagogical project inspired by pediatric concepts of play.

Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca

B. 1980, Brasília, Brazil, and 1975, Munich, respectively. Both live and work in Berlin and Recife, Brazil.

Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca have had an explosive rise since they started collaborating some 10 years ago. Their survey show “Five Times Brazil,” at the New Museum in New York in 2022, showed many of their video works that delve into race, religion, class, and ideological affiliation—with a keen eye to gender performance and power dynamics.

One of their video works in that show, Holy Tremor (2017), delves into the Evangelical music and performance traditions, with a close attention to form, ritual, and self-representation, and a slightly fantastical bend. Another notable work, Swinguerra (2019), originally commissioned for the Brazilian pavilion in the 58th Venice Biennale, refers to a musical style, depicting a standoff between competing dance groups—part record of a vibrant cultural expression, part fantasy.

Brígida Baltar

B.1959 Rio de Janeiro. D. 2022, Rio de Janeiro.

Brígida Baltar, A concha vagina I, II, III, 2017. Courtesy of Nara Roesler and the artist.

Brígida Baltar was a member of the vibrant group of artists associated with Rio de Janeiro’s prestigious visual art school Parque Lage, founded by the conceptual artist Rubens Gerchman in 1975. In the late 1980s, after Brazil’s return to democracy, Baltar increasingly turned her body, her home, and the natural environment into experimental art projects, thus embodying Parque Lage’s conceptual ethos.

Baltar carried out actions that favored the fleeting and the ephemeral. For example, in Mist Collecting (1999), she collected mist into a glass bottle, documented in a series of color photographs. In her later works, Baltar increasingly referenced the body rather than landscape; for example in a group of minute ceramic sculptures titled The vagina seashells (2017), part of the group show “Meu corpo: território de disputa” (“My body: territory of dispute”) at Nara Roesler, the gallery representing Baltar.

Bruno Baptistelli

B. 1985, São Paulo. Lives and works in São Paulo.

Bruno Baptistelli, installation view of “4.000 A.D.” at Galeria Luisa Strina, 2023. Courtesy of Galeria Luisa Strina.

Since the early 2000s, Bruno Baptistelli has helped foment São Paulo’s contemporary art scene as the co-founder, along with the artist Maíra Dietrich, of the artist collective GDA Artistas, which currently operates out of a permanent space in the up-and-coming Barra Funda (the neighborhood that also houses the warehouse exhibition spaces of more established galleries such as Mendes Wood DM and Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel).

Baptistelli recently garnered critical attention with his solo show at one of São Paulo’s preeminent contemporary art galleries, Galeria Luisa Strina, which now represents him, entitled “4.000 A.D.” In that show, the artist presented gold-plated objects in the shape of his own body parts, all pristinely laid out in a glass vitrine, in a dark space—as if inside an ancient sarcophagus. Baptistelli lifted the title from a poetic manifesto by the Dutch Surinamese conceptual artist Stanley Brouwn that itself envisioned a distant future, where art no longer exists, but space and movement endure. Reflecting his interest in urban music, Baptistelli also participated in the exhibition “The Culture: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century” at the Baltimore Museum of Art in 2023.

Rosangela Rennó

B. 1962, Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Lives and works in Rio de Janeiro.

Since the 1980s, Rosangela Rennó has employed the photographic medium, as well as video installations, to delve into questions of memory, along with its fallibility and constructions. Her recent survey show “Small Ecology of The Images,” at Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, illustrated the depth and the consistency of Rennó’s practice.

For example, there’s her long-standing interest in the materiality of film, as seen in the series “Blind Wall” (2000), in which painted, boarded-up photographs take on muted sculptural forms. Elsewhere, in her work Candelária (1993), she printed text onto transparent acrylic, referencing a killing of eight people, including six boys, in Rio de Janeiro by police, showing how language is profoundly contaminated by the image.

Jaider Esbell

B. 1979 on Indigenous territory known as Terra Indígena Raposa Serra do Sol, Brazil. D. Roraima, Brazil.

Jaider Esbell
Untitled, 2019
Galeria Marília Razuk
Jaider Esbell
Warayo’ (Homem) - da Série Jenipapal, 2020

Jaider Esbell, who was of Makuxi origin, left an indelible legacy as part of the first generation of Brazilian Indigenous artists finding representation with commercial art galleries. The artist, who founded a community-oriented gallery in his native Roraima, coined the phrase Arte Indígena Contemporânea (AIC, or Indigenous contemporary art), to champion young Indigenous artists.

His tireless work as an educator, curator, and interpolator with his non-Indigenous contemporaries extended to institutional critique: Having advocated for broader inclusion of Indigenous art in the 34th São Paulo Bienal, he also curated a concomitant exhibition, “Moquém_Surarî: Contemporary Indigenous Art,” at the neighboring Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo. Esbell’s own astoundingly patterned acrylic and pen paintings depict spiritual beings and the continuity between the spiritual, societal, and natural worlds. His works were featured in 2021 in a solo show at Millan (which represents his estate), at the 34th São Paulo Bienal, and at the 2022 Venice Biennale.

Browse available works by contemporary Brazilian artists in the collection “Brazilian Artists to Watch.”

Ela Bittencourt