This so-called blasphemous art turns out to be very quiet in the Oude Kerk

It can meander through forests, connect a puddle of mud with another, sail across oceans and say, “I used to be one of those people, but I’ve grown up, I’m a different person now, the road I traveled went from here to here. . ” Inauguration is a crucial concept for the Brazilian artist Antonio Obá (1983). The road he traveled can now be seen in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam. That is why he named this exhibition path

Obá was born in Ceilândia, Brazil, a city in a poor region of Brazil. It was a city that was completely rebuilt in 1976 to stop the spread of favelas in the capital Brasilia. A descendant of slaves, he evolved from a poor environment permeated by Catholic mysteries to an artist known in and outside Brazil. Despite his background, his work – consisting of paintings, sculptures, performances and installations – is criticized in his home country for being blasphemous. After a critical performance in 2015, in which Obá clothed a statue of the Virgin Mary in dust and covered his own black body with white powder, in protest against racism and prejudice against minorities in Brazil, he was threatened so much that he fled his homeland . .

At the exhibition in Amsterdam, his work appears more calm, poetic, tactile and loving than blasphemous. It is also quite modest why the Oude Kerk with its grandiose main organ, richly carved wooden benches in the choir and the ornate altar itself is not a particularly nice place for his work. The visual spectacle that late Gothic architecture offers is simply too overwhelming.


Obá shows six new works, sometimes consisting of several parts. Four of these can be seen in the central church, two in the more intimate lecture hall. That intimacy immediately works well: Pregacao and Totem are both actually abstract works that, because of their material (rusty nails, a wooden beam, candles burned at different heights) evoke the scent of penance, sacrifice and prayer, but nowhere explicitly create a connection.

The installation Iron Garden by Antonio Obá in the Old Church.

With the paintings in the central church, it is less easy. Hanging child for example – at the end of the chorus – is a surreal canvas in which a dark, almost naked boy on stilts very emphatically refers to Christ on the cross. Also the baroque triptych MalungoConsisting of two paintings and a small installation with a golden cup and a bottle of cachaça, it is full of references to the sacrament of the sacrament, to saints and above all the physical challenges they endured to attain the status of holiness.


The best works in this exhibition are the two installations Suspended children and Iron GardenSuspended children is a spiral structure attached to steel cables of painted banners and mirrors that appear to fall from the ridge of the church as draperies. On the banners paintings of children jumping up. It gives the work a beautiful void, which is further enhanced by the reflections in the mirrors. The installation Iron Garden, just down the road, is definitely the most photogenic. The installation sways like a magic wheat field in the tall choir. Walk through the wheat field and touch the slender stalks of steel. The brass bells mounted on top of the 2,400 stems provide a soft-sounding sound. It’s thin, it’s poetic, you think of Angelus – once so quietly painted by Van Gogh. But now you also hear other things. You hear a field where the grain crackles after the rain. You will hear the sound of the bells dying behind you as you walk the path through the choir. And in the end, there is only silence left.

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