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Rafael Abreu-Canedo

Pittsburgh Center for the Arts


The close-up portraits presented here attempt to complicate the context of place and human emotion.  Presuming that the camera places us there, where are we?  Where are they? 

These intense stares are rare in day-to-day life.  Great focus is exhibited here.  The value of every millisecond is perceived and scrutinized almost simultaneously, as the sermon of a great spiritual leader, or a failing student’s last grasp at a passing grade.  The repercussions of not doing so are too great.

The heightened levels of emotions could easily place these images inside of a Pentecostal church, or even a funeral.  These events played out in the name of symbols and icons that are so important to the very core of each person’s being, that some even lose control of themselves.  They are literally carried away in emotion so great, as if the loss of a loved one, or the apparition of divinity in a religious context.

On the other side of the spectrum, very few moments are celebrated with such vigor.  The screaming and shouting, uncontrollable laughter is reserved only for the most devoted religious experiences…and perhaps, winning a multi-million lottery prize.  Scenarios at dance clubs look suspiciously similar, but they lack a degree of volition.  This type of ecstasy is a several degrees less controllable.  So much so, that a few degrees further could circle back into its antithetical state: the beginning of a riot.  Perhaps it’s a type of emotional feedback loop that happens in these types of communions where behaviors get modeled into something out of proportion.

In complicating these notions of place and context as they relate to the scale of emotional display contained within these images, perhaps it is possible to think about value, agency and communion in ways that contrast or differ from commonly accepted ideals.  If asked what are the most important things in life, health, family, religion (for the religious) and world peace seem to dominate a more logical contemporary discourse.  Yet, the emotional responses presented here exist beyond these cultural ideals.  Illogically so, yet challenging notions of value that dictate the answers commonly given.  Perhaps, underneath these emotions there are contradictions to common assumptions that could benefit from closer scrutiny.



Moving to Pittsburgh from Brasil, I attended Pittsburgh’s CAPA High School, where I develop my first body of work at the age of 16, resulting in my first solo show in New York City’s Jadite Gallery. My work took me to the San Francisco Art Institute, where I graduated with a BFA in New Genres. After working with Bay Area Conceptualists such as Terry Fox, Howard Fried, Doug Hall and Tom Marioni, to name a few, I began question the formalism of established languages and my actions pervaded the social space. After many years in San Francisco and New York, I moved back to Pittsburgh to pursuit an MFA at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Art. Currently I’m interested in human emotions and expressions as they relate to vulnerability and identity, in various forms. I've exhibited and taught throughout the US and internationally, since 2001, at the age of 16. Since then, I have worked with organizations such as Creative Capital, PFPCA, Franklin Furnace, Queens Museum of Art (New New Yorkers), Sprout Fund, Root Division, Oakland Unified School District, New York Department of Education, and Pittsburgh Public Schools, developing a commitment to communication through the arts; changing the future by working for a better today.