A Conversation with Maria Nepomuceno

Vases (Vaso Vida), 2021 necklace and ring (necklace vase 5.5 x 7 cm; ring 3 x 3 cm) Edition of 10. Signed and numbered


The Brazilian artist Maria Nepomuceno creates imaginative and playful contemplations of the world around us. Through her original technique of sewing coloured ropes into vivacious spiral shapes, Nepomuceno’s work explores the regenerative powers of human bodies, human societies and human interactions with nature. The Financial Times magazine called the artist’s bright, biomorphic forms ‘an alternative to wasteful consumerism’, and across the globe world-renown art institutions such as the Barbican Centre in London, The Norval Foundation in Cape Town, Museu de Arte Moderna in Rio de Janeiro have commissioned her to brighten their spaces with her colourful, thought-provoking sculptures. Nepomuceno has worked with the indigenous braiders of Brazil’s north eastern Acre region, and she brought together a group of artisans in Margate, England to create her Turner Contemporary installation – her practice is continuously enriched and inspired by the partnerships she creates. Elisabetta Cipriani Gallery is proud to become part of her collaborative artistic process, and we are thrilled to present to you the artist’s first wearable art project.

E.C: Your wearable art project Vases (Vaso Vida) is rich in aesthetic and metaphoric detail. The central visual element in this work is the vase, out of which flows a surrealist narrative of colourful precious materials. We can see pearls of unexpected shapes and colours, Klein’s deep blue in the lapis lazuli beads, and the important for Brazilian crafts cabaça fruit which has been gloriously recreated in gold. The more attention I give to the artwork, the more exquisite details I discover: golden beads adorn one of the silver vase’s shoulders creating a jewel within a jewel. Could you please tell us why have you chosen the shape of a vessel to be central in this project? And what informed your choices of the other shapes and symbols present in the necklace and the ring?

M.N: The vase as a central object was chosen both for its symbolism of abundance and fertility in various cultures and for affective memory. I spent my childhood surrounded by many pots because my mother was a landscaper and designed her own clay pots where she planted the seedlings. In this project I wanted to immortalize in jewellery this object that means so much to me.


Detail: Vases (Vaso Vida) necklace; silver, 18kt yellow gold, lapis lazuli, baroque and oriental pearls

E.C: The biological story of regeneration and growth is an important source of inspiration in your artistic practice. When describing the choice of materials in your acclaimed Tempo para Respirar (Breathing Time) (2012) exhibition at Turner Contemporary you said that there are four important materials which you employ as metaphors: ceramic as flesh, straw as skin, ropes as umbilical cords and beads as cells. Has your biology-inspired metaphor been extended to the precious materials you chose in the wearable art project Vases (Vaso Vida)?

M.P: The materials I normally use in my sculptures have a shorter life span than the stones and metals used in this project. Jewels are made to last forever, and this is certainly one of the reasons why humanity has been so fascinated with them since the origin of civilisations. This idea of infinity is one of the subjects of my work and here in the jewels it gets stronger. The necklace brought the intensity of the blue that reminds me of Yves Klein and the idea of infinity through the Lapis Lazuli. Also this blue stone amplifies our energy as the ancient Egyptians believed. The pearls are here representing femininity and the mistery of life.


Maria Nepomuceno – Tempo para Respirar (Breathing Time), 2012. Ropes, beads, fabric, ceramic, braided straw, resin, fibreglass, wood. 11 x 7 x 10 meters. Turner Contemporary, Margate. Photography © Dan Bass. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro gallery

Vases (Vaso Vida), 2021 – 18kt yellow satin gold, 18kt white gold baroque pearl, 3 x 3 cm. Edition of 10. Signed and numbered

EC: When I look at the necklace and ring you created, they immediately remind me of your sculptural work but also very strongly of your home country Brazil. Your apartment in Rio is right on the border of the Tijica rainforest so nature is literally part of your every day. What role does specifically Brazilian nature play in your art?

M.N: The city where I live and work has one of the largest urban forests in the world. This coexistence and overlap of city and nature inspires me a lot, especially because in my studio I’m surrounded by fruit trees. The shapes found in my work reflect nature as a whole in a subjective but decisive way.

Maria Nepomuceno in her studio in Rio de Janeiro sketching Vases (Vaso Vida)

E.C: Collaboration often becomes an artistic tool integral to your creation process. To use a biological metaphor, many of your art projects are an osmosis of skills, feelings and thoughts shared between each other by yourself and your collaborators. An important project you organised was with the indigenous people of Caerá in the north east of Brazil. Have some of your learnings from the collaboration you organised in a remote Brazilian village by osmosis become part of your collaboration with our London-based gallery?

M.N: The exchange of knowledge and experiences is the basis of collaborations. All the collaborations in which I participated makes me review my concepts and ideas about my work. The collaboration with Elisabetta was no different in this aspect. The huge difference in this work was the pandemic. The fear and uncertainty about the future of humanity permeated the project. The impossibility of moving around the planet made these mini sculptures gain a taste of freedom to me. Different from my large sculptures that had to be kept in my studio last year, the jewels’ small scale give the mobility to travel everywhere.

Braiders from Ceará

E.C: Your work with indigenous communities is also meaningful because part of your heritage is from the indigenous people of Brazil’s north eastern region. In the 21st century there has been a lot of academic work done to ensure a respectful and safe exchange of knowledge between cultures. In 2013 Decoloniality Europe published its Charter of Decolonial Research Ethics and in 2018 Catherine E. Walsh write her seminal essay The Decolonial For – both papers stress the importance of thinking with not simply about people of other cultures. How does your artistic and collaborative practice take into account ideas of decolonialism and the protection of indigenous cultures?

M.N: According to a line of thoughts initiated by a group of scientists in the 80’s, we have been ushered into an anthropogenic era where humans drastically interfere with nature by changing the planet’s development. Because of that, more and more humanity is realising that the original indigenous cultures have much to teach us. Today we have important indigenous thinkers like Ailton Krenak and Davi Kopenawa who provide a true indigenous perspective on the world in which we live.

E.C: Some art critics root your artistic practice in the Brazilian concrete and neo-concrete Art movements of the later 20th century, in which artists were primarily concerned with an intellectual exploration of shape and colour. Your work, however, is very organic, exploring natural patterns and processes in a beautifully playful yet deeply meaningful way. You show a desire to discuss feelings, sensations and visceral relationships. Could you tell us who are the important influences in your work?

M.N: I think that in the beginning of my artistic practice I was more influenced by certain artists rather than artistic movements: Calder, Magritte, Ligia Clark , Louise Bourgeois,… are some of those. Also cultural collaborations like Carnival and other Brazilian parties are an influence for me. My memories are also an infinite source of (re) discoveries and increasingly influence my work.

Maria Nepomuceno, Xamã – Photography © Jason Wyche

E.C: Thinking about your influences, you noted that your wearable art project is connected to the ideas you have been exploring in sculpture. Theories of Non-Euclidian geometry prominently feature in writings about your work. If I understood correctly, this geometrical theory is a mathematical pursuit to explain and present the infinite possibilities of growth for a geometrical shape. You are part of a rich line of artists, Man Ray, Roberto Matta, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, and many more, whose work is informed by this transformative understanding of form. You explore this geometrical theory through the complex dynamics of surfaces that occur in spiral forms. What is the significance of Non-Euclidian geometry in your wearable art project? Has working in the medium of jewellery enriched your understanding of this geometrical theory?

M.N: Part of my practice is the process of transformation and recreation. It is as if, in essence, each work has infinite possibilities of existence in itself. I really like to start from an existing work as a source for a new work. It’s like taking a branch to plant it and growing a new plant.

Vases (Vaso Vida), 2021 (worn) 18 kt yellow satin gold, 18 kt white gold, baroque pearl, ring. 3 x 3 cm. Edition of 10.  Signed and numbered

E.C: Creating installations is an important part of your artistic practice. In an interview you mentioned that if you want to take control of a space you have to understand the space. Even if it’s a very small artwork, it has to have the presence to communicate with and take control of its setting. In the case of your wearable art project Vases (Vaso Vida), the space is the body; what were the most enjoyable and the most difficult aspects of working with the body as the setting for your art?

M.N: In my sculptures there is always a game of scales. This property of growing and decreasing of forms and everyday objects I encounter in Magritte’s work and also in Alice in Wonderland. In the universe we also see the replication of nature’s forms in different elements and scales, bringing the feeling that whole nature is one. In this jewellery experience I was able to create microcosms using the aesthetic vocabulary of large installations. It is as if my artistic universe is complete.


Vases (Vaso Vida), 2021 (worn), silver, 18 kt yellow gold, lapis lazuli, baroque pearl, oriental pears necklace. 5.5 x 7 cm. Edition of 10. Signed and numbered



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