35th Bienal de São Paulo
6 Set to 10 Dec 2023
Free Admission
35th Bienal de
São Paulo
6 Set to 10 Dec
Track 11

Aurora Cursino dos Santos

We have reached the space dedicated to the artist Aurora Cursino dos Santos. She was born in 1896 in São José dos Campos and died in 1959 in Franco da Rocha, São Paulo.

From an early age, Cursino was interested in music, literature and the visual arts.

Fleeing a forced and unwanted marriage, which lasted only one day, she worked in various jobs, including prostitute and domestic servant. She lived in the city of Rio de Janeiro and probably visited some European countries, such as Portugal. In São Paulo, her career was marked by internment in psychiatric hospitals, especially Juquery, in Franco da Rocha. There she was diagnosed with “amoral psychopathic personality” and “paraphrenic schizophrenia”. At the same time, she took part in painting workshops and was a student at the Escola Livre de Artes Plásticas. It’s no coincidence that most of Cursino’s paintings were made on cardboard, material that was available at the Juquery Hospital.

Aurora’s work has a self-referential character. Many of her images depict, in the form of denunciation, aspects that permeate her own biography, such as the objectification of women, abuse and the violence of the psychiatric institutions of the time. On the canvases, it is common for pictorial elements outlined by thick, free strokes to be combined with writings, encouraging us to reflect on the relationship between the visual arts and prose.

This Bienal features a series of 21 pieces with 31 works by Cursino, as some are double-sided. We will now get to know one of them, Untitled and Undated, but which we can refer to as A Brazileira [The Brazilian]. It is made with oil paint on paper and is double-sided.

Its dimensions are 50 centimeters high by 34.5 centimeters wide.

On the front, Cursino depicts a woman in a square. Everything is done in dark tones, indicating that it is night: yellow, orange, dark gray, green. Black predominates in the strokes. The woman is wearing a dark blue dress with red sleeves and a hat on her head. Her hands are raised, touching the hat. The woman is looking towards a monument in the center of the painting. It is small in relation to the size of the woman, which, in a sense of perspective, means that the monument is in the background. The figure on the monument is a man balancing on a rectangle. The man holds his left hand up. All around the square are lit lampposts, some trees and colorful houses with doors and windows. On the façade of one of the houses is written: “A Brazileira”.

This painting probably represents Largo de São Francisco de Paula, in Rio de Janeiro, where the department store A Brazileira was located. The statue in the center of the square is of the nobleman José Bonifácio, “Patriarch of Independence”. The woman who appears on the screen is a sex worker.

While the families consuming the products of the A Brazileira store sleep, she occupies the night space, and the monument serves as her companion.

On the back of the work there are two predominant pictorial elements: colorful images of people and many words written in black and with spelling mistakes, all on a brown background. A group of four people, all close together, are looking sideways at a fifth person, who is further away, sitting at a table. In the group, two of the people are wearing white clothes, possibly a medical apron. The other people are women. They wear elegant dresses and hats on their heads. One of them is blonde and her dress is black. The other is brunette and her dress is dark blue. Their faces and those of the doctors are painted in vibrant colors of yellow, orange, red and pink. The person furthest away is wearing a black suit with a bow tie around his neck. The collar extends over the table, giving the impression that the person is chained to it. His cheeks are very red and his expression is serious.

Occupying the entire background of the painting are the following words:

“State and national politics
Mendonça explain yourself
Noble Ibrahin to say
Life of Aurora Cursino
[illegible] Guatambu
Fracisca Zaes etc. stole in Portugal with my name many times and, even took me asleep
Electri half dizzy and cover her up
And her cousin Susana Descolzi
For I Aurora am the caipirinha
Maça internacional e universal catholica e ellas
They use my name
name directed by
Guatambu and Dr. João Sampaio.
They have accomplices in the ports and Dr. Ibrahim
Explain yourself
Why I was arrested
Once I was

As Tatiana Nascimento says for this Bienal’s catalog, Cursino brings us “a pain with many names: machismo, misogyny, patriarchy, oppression, rape, disrespect, dehumanization… […]. But it seems that, in addition to so many stab wounds, the many eyes he painted are looking for traces of that dream-world – in which women, whatever profession they may (or may not) have, no matter how hard the walls of the bosses’ houses, of the asylum cells try to strangle, suffocate, silence… a world in which any woman, no matter how unworthy she may be considered, an ‘amoral psychopath’, can foresee a happy future.”