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Museu de Imagens do Inconsciente, Rio de Janeiro, BR

Venue: Gropius Bau

Museu de Imagens do Inconsciente, Rio de Janeiro, BR

Founded 1952 in Rio de Janeiro, BR
With works by Adelina Gomes, Carlos Pertuis (and Leon Hirszman)

Adelina Gomes born 1916 in Campos dos Goytacazes, BR – died 1984 in Rio de Janeiro
Carlos Pertuis born 1910 in Rio de Janeiro – died 1977 in Rio de Janeiro
Leon Hirszman born 1937 in Rio de Janeiro – died 1987 in Rio de Janeiro

Although in the modern era the creative expression of psychiatric patients became the object of intense aesthetic scrutiny, the work produced inside the psychiatric ward did not erode the divide between “sane” and “insane.” Psychosurgeries as well as electroshock and insulin shock therapy were the norm in international psychiatry in 1946, when the Brazilian physician Dr. Nise da Silveira, who was strongly opposed to lobotomy, set up a study group in “Centro Psiquiátrico Nacional do Engenho de Dentro” (The National Psychiatric Center) in Rio de Janeiro. Influenced by Carl G. Jung, with whom she corresponded closely, da Silveira held that mental illness opened a direct channel to the collective unconscious, whose archetypes would manifest via the patients’ artistic output. In order to develop an individuated understanding and diagnose the psychotic processes experienced by those in her care, while privileging affect as a therapeutic form, da Silveira organized painting and sculpture workshops. The Museu de Imagens do Inconsciente (Museum of Unconscious Images) emerged from her Occupational Therapy and Rehabilitation Division, which one patient renamed “the emotions coping room.”

On view are the works by two clinical patients who took part in the occupational therapy project, Adelina Gomes and Carlos Pertuis. Pertuis’s psychosis was triggered by his father’s dying command that he become the head of the family. Struck by a refraction of light in a mirror, he screamed that he could glimpse “God’s planetarium,” a psychotic episode that led to his institutionalization at the age of twenty-nine. In the hospital ward Pertuis drew on paper towels until the painter Almir Mavignier brought him to da Silveira’s center where he produced some 21,500 engravings and drawings. Adelina Gomes, a Black working-class patient developed psychosis when her mother forced her to reject a suitor. She made over 17,500 works, including paintings and sculptures that represent her, her body transmogrifying into a flower. Nise da Silveira’s Eurocentric interpretation, following Jung, saw the work as a reference to the nymph Daphne, who turns into a laurel to escape Apollo’s pursuit and becomes one with Gaea, the mother at once nurturing and oppressive.

Ana Teixeira Pinto


Additional material: Interview with Nise da Silveira from April 15 and 19, 1986 (by Leon Hirszman for a documentary, 1986–2014)

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