If you go to an art fair in Fortaleza, or in all of Ceara, northeastern Brazil, you will soon notice that everything about it seems to shout.
I’m not just referring to the loud music that very likely will spruce the evening up further, but especially to the impressive range of colors improbably combined with each other up to the very subjects that shape this imagination extravaganza.
I met Ceara artistic expression in many different occasions. Once I was exploring the Museum of Art and Culture of Ceara with a super Catholic friend of mine, so super that he assumes this contrite, repentant expression every time he sees a church (strictly Catholic please, no Protestant heresy allowed here). Unlike me, he was all proud of indigenous not-so-spontaneous conversions to Christianity but, at some point he paused with a look of horror in his eyes: he was standing right in front of a face of the Christ surrounded by human figures climbing up and clinging onto him. “I don’t like this iconography”, says Andrea with dismay. “It looks more like Dante’s Hell rather than Heaven.” “Well,” I retort only in my thoughts, “They invaded their lands imposing a religion alien to their own traditions and spirituality, so now let them adapt it to their taste and suck it up.” I always avoid this kind of debate with one-sided Catholic traditionalists as it’s a sure dead-end conversation.
Lately, I’ve been developing a real obsession for any kind of local art and handicraft, or for anything local, that is. Not only do I enjoy watching, photographing and buying pieces of handicraft, but I also, and especially, like observing the artists at work.
Ceara’s artwork is very representative of its lifestyle, loud, colorful and bizarre. Using strictly local raw material, Brazilians have a fantastic imagination and creativity.
In Morro Branco there is a wide range of colored sands, and with them they make beautiful bottles in which those sands form typical local sceneries as if they were painted. Moreover, in Fortaleza I bought two lovely necklaces made with watermelon seeds and a tablecloth made with coconut fiber. Actually, every part of the coconut is used: from the fruit they obtain water, milk, the fruit itself and the wonderful oil, miracle food that helps in weight loss, fight viruses and bacteria and strengthen hair and skin, and from the nut they make sculptures, lamps and even small coin purses.
I love this eco-friendly style, and products are very beautiful to see, use, wear and put as display at home. I’ve been even filling a cabinet in my own room with all this local artwork.
In my “artistic expeditions” I wandered about the famed Mercado Central, where I met the women who weave the fabrics used to make the adored hammocks, I visited the Feirart, a three-day fair organized in Praça Luiza Távora in front of the Ceart, center for art and handicraft, where I saw how the bottles filled with colored sands are made, and strolled along the popular feirinha of Beira Mar, an open market where sellers and artisans set up their stalls every evening as soon as the sun goes down. It’s here, and at the Mercado Central, that I’ve made the largest part of my purchases, from dresses to skirts, from hairclips to the tribal masks to be hanged on my wall.
The most diverse objects, from soap holders and ash trays made with colorful stones, to miniatures of jangadas (traditional fishing boats) made with wood and fish scale, to colorful wooden artwork carved in relief, with characters, either people, animals, trees or boats that almost come out of the whole picture.
One thing Fortaleza is not, it’s dull. Fortaleza is ever-changing, diverse and, most of all, vivid.
Colors are combined in the most improbable ways, anywhere else you would find this style kitsch or excessive at least, but not in Fortaleza, not in the city of light, where the sun rays permeate daily life for twelve to thirteen hours every day and allow the state to be one of the most productive in the whole Brazil fruit- and veggie-wise.
Ceara’s artistic creativity clearly stems from the need to make do with whatever Nature provides them with, that kind of creativity many countries have lost and replaced with shopping malls. Before the modern world got there they were coloring their lives with the substances and materials Mother Earth had blessed them with. Ceara carries some flavors of indigenous lost wisdom, and now that shopping malls have made their way in Fortaleza too, there’s still is a part of the population that fully recognizes that their real treasures come from their ancestors, those who knew about the wonders of coconut oil before modern science told us.
Now, please, enjoy a stroll around Fortaleza art and handicraft.
Mercado Central is in 199, Avenida Nemopuceno and opens every day from about 8am to about 6pm. Around 5-5,30pm shops start shutting down. On Sunday it’s open only in the morning and shuts at 12pm.
Feirinha de Beira Mar starts every evening around 5-6pm as soon as the sun sets and is located along Beira Mar beach.
Ceart (Centro de Artesanato do Ceará) is open every day 9am-8pm and has two entrances: 1589, Avenida Santos Dumont and Praça Luiza Távora.