oil on linen
Courtesy the artist & Gomide & Co.
Alex Cerveny created these two new paintings specifically for rīvus. The larger, Aquífera, represents the real world we inhabit; while the smaller, Atlântida, is a mythical territory. Together they explore pertinent issues to Brazil’s past and present, including the impact of Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese colonisation on the Indigenous cultures of South America; corruption and ecological exploitation; and broader notions about being human on a troubled planet.
Aquífera takes as its starting point the Guaraní Aquifer, which spreads across Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay and is one of the world’s largest groundwater reservoirs. As this important natural resource is critical for the future of fresh drinking water, its control is rapidly becoming politicised. The Aquifer is named after the Guaraní Indigenous Nation, whose language appears in the painting alongside Portuguese translations.
Cascading down from the top of the painting are the lyrics of a well-known song, Memories of YpacaraÍ, composed in Guarania – a musical genre originating in Paraguay, marked by love and longing for homeland. At the bottom left of the painting are four mines of gold, silver, aluminium and iron, indicative of the exploitation of Brazil’s rich natural environment.
For Atlântida, Cerveny turned to an influential children’s picture book titled Orbis Sensualium Pictus, or The Visible World in Pictures. Published in 1658, it paired words in Latin and local vernaculars with images, opening up learning to more children and levels of ability. The artist transcribed Latin and Spanish words relating to water, adding his own memories of the rivers of his life and other bodies of water (and animals) that may be familiar to Australian audiences.