Challenging "Reality" Through the Means of Art
In my art, I expose the underlying tensions between concepts, identity and experiences. I want to challenge the audience and confront them with their taught beliefs, which they themselves have not even reflected on yet. Just as my reality and image of women is a rather powerful strong one (empoderamente), rather than the helpless, “petite” images we are trained to perceive as feminine.
Brazil, Southern America
Story by Milton Camilo. Edited by Mira Kinn
Published on June 22, 2020. Reading time: 4 minutes
This story is also available in
I am an Afro-Brazilian painter and performer living in Germany. With my art, I play with and challenge my experiences growing up in Brazil and living in Germany for the last 20 years. In particular, I focus on gender roles: what we are taught to believe, the realities of gender roles, and their discrepancies.
I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Rio with my single mother. My perception of women was shaped and taught by her. Coming from a matriarchal family, I have always learned from the presence of the women in my life. I know of the significance of Black matriarchal women in Brazil and their rituals. For example, the women in my family taught me how to use what nature has to offer for my health. When we did not have much to eat, we collected herbs. One can only do that when you know what is edible and what is poisonous. I inherited this knowledge from women, not from men, and this has had a strong influence on me.
I feel the benefits of these matriarchal teachings especially now, in the times of coronavirus, when I can hold on to and believe in knowledge that has been passed on to me through generations. The Portuguese word empoderamente describes the power of the knowledge and the women who hold it. The community of black women I grew up with empower themselves: they have empoderamente inherently by developing their own survival strategies over generations.
My upbringing gave me an image of women as strong, independent, and powerful. This view is not the fragile, petite white women that are the beauty ideal, envisioned as counterparts for a strong man. My art is also informed by my own experiences with gender and identity. I started dancing ballet as a 19-year old in Brazil, in a time and place where it was not socially acceptable to be a boy who danced. In my neighborhood in Rio, I was immediately stigmatized as being gay, although I say that I love souls, no matter the gender.
In my art, I make these tensions and experiences visible. I want to challenge the audience and confront them with their taught beliefs, which they themselves have not even reflected on yet. For example, in 19th-century art, women are often painted as naked beauties, lying on a sofa almost like a sacrifice for the gaze of men. But as I said before, I have a different image of women, I connect them with empoderamente. Hence, I recently started painting men naked, as fragile beauties, to reverse the concept, and in some of my paintings you can see gender portrayed as a fluid concept:
My paintings can, therefore, be understood as political statements as well, visible to the attentive observer. They give a space where “the question of identity, cultures, time, and space are negotiated and challenged constantly, which happens in the form of an open question that is never fully answered.” I hope that through my art, people start questioning, reflecting, and deconstructing concepts that seem “normal” and realize that the reality of gender is not as binary as it seems. Just as my reality and image of women is a rather powerful strong one (empoderamente), rather than the helpless, “petite” images we are trained to perceive as feminine.
 See more on my website: http://www.miltoncamilo.de/index.php
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