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Maxwell Alexandre Resident SAM 2020

"Contemporary art is an elitist field and also a sign of social distinction among rich people. When everyone has a yacht, a helicopter and a huge house with a swimming pool, art becomes a reference point that marks you out as being more sophisticated." Maxwell Alexandre, 2019


Born into a Catholic family in Rocinha, one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favelas, Maxwell Alexandre envisages painting as a “prophetic practice”. His immense and highly politicized compositions stage encounters between classic European painting, street art and mural painting. All these elements are remixed with the syncopated rhythms of hip-hop to resonate with the contemporary tensions of Brazil.

Scenes of confrontations with the police, sparkling gold chains, bathtubs full of cash, and symbols linked to Brazil’s twin religions of football and Catholicism: Maxwell Alexandre’s works act as chaotic cartographies that map out the complexity of life in Rio de Janeiro. In these landscapes of fragmented and unfinished faces, bodies shift, dance, and bump up against one another. Scenes drawn from the daily life of the artist and his community blend with everyday icons such as the black Power Ranger, the signs and symbols of advertising and branding like those of Danone’s dairy products, and Capri and the inflatable plastic swimming pools that dot the roof-terraces of the favelas. We also encounter iconic personalities like Biggie and Tupac prior to their deadly feud or Jay-Z and Beyoncé on their visit to the Louvre, as well as political figures like Marielle Franco, a black lesbian politician assassinated in 2019. Through his compositions, Maxwell Alexandre offers an empowering image of emancipated Afro-Brazilians set against a backdrop of the American dream. As he explains, “Sometimes racism needs to be hit smack in the fact, but I’m not brave enough to hit anyone, so I use paint.”

Following on from a residency in Paris as part of the Sam Art Project, Maxwell Alexandre will present “New Power” at the Palais de Tokyo, an exhibition which targets the contemporary art world and its markets, galleries and other “white spaces” as sites of power where racial and social struggles are reified. “Pretos no topo [Blacks at the top] has become a slogan in local rap. At first, I analyzed this phenomenon from a distance but later I wanted to show how it extends into contemporary art and to emphasize that this is where the winners are, because this is where the intellectual capital is concentrated. It is not just about money but about controlling the narrative and the image. Occupying and controlling these spaces is the consequence of a power pact. We [Black people] need to be attentive to these venues, which were designed so that we wouldn’t get to see them: we need to be physically present, to attend the vernissages, to go to galleries and museums, to get to know about art, to be consumers of this culture in all its forms.”

A former professional rollerblader, Maxwell Alexandre graduated from PUC-RJ (The Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro) in 2016. He organized his artistic baptism in 2018 with his first exhibition, which blended painting with performance and featured the rapper BK as priest and master of ceremonies. He also founded the “Church of the Kingdom of Art” (also known as “A Noiva” [“The Bride”]), which supports alternative Brazilian art practices. His work features in the collections of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, the MASP (São Paulo Museum of Art) and the MAR (the Rio Art Museum). He has undertaken residencies at the Delfina Foundation (London, 2018) and the Mac Lyon (Lyon, 2019). He has also collaborated with A gentil Carioca (Rio de Janeiro) and David Zwirner.


Curator: Hugo Vitrani


From 26/11/2021 to 20/03/2022

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