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From Berlin With Love And Artistic Healing — Rafaella Braga

By Olisa Jr

“Yeah, it’s next weekend on the 18th and 19th, and I’m really excited because it’s going to be my first time in London ever,” painter Rafaella Braga tells me, as she cuts in and out of frame, describing her preparation for her upcoming art show. “I had just started doing the paintings for London because I was caught up with another set of paintings that I’m producing in Brazil now. Almost 20 paintings to get done and it’s taking longer than I thought.”

In the new age of art, many artists are drawn towards increasingly abstract forms, minimalist expressionism, and less-regimented avenues of creativity and self-expression. While some minds might refer to it as lazy artwork or a lack of expertise, it does give for a broader outlet on ways to capture an era’s narrative. Amongst many artists elegantly adopting a more free-form take in their work, Rafaella Braga is one figure that is boldly articulating her stance on the scene.

Born in Goiânia, Brazil, Rafaella’s journey to finding her haven within art paints a gripping story of earnest struggle in search of purpose. Her work embodies similarities to figures like Futura, in its graffiti-like nature, and Basquiat, through its chaotic but crystal-clear bold imagery. And well, it’s frankly amazing in its own right. “The genderless figures inhabiting my world are a survey of the self and its relation to the outside, while the space surrounding the figures represents the expansive sky.” Rafaella’s paintings seemingly exist as images laden with puzzles and hidden messages, revealing themselves with each glance. In our delightful encounter, Rafaella is also earnest about her relationship with art being a form of healing, giving her a sense of comfort and release, through phases of her life, from her time in Brazil to halfway across the globe, chasing her dreams in Berlin.

Who is Rafaella Braga?

Rafaella: [laughs] Well, I’m a painter who started at 14 years old, working mostly with large scale canvas. Usually, they’re all cut in different sizes and then I tie it up with different fabrics. For me, It’s almost like me trying to build this big body because my work is centred around the body, and it’s representing that flow of energy which is also about helping me understand myself. I think that’s what my work has always been about, self-investigation, and a way of addressing my physical, mental, and spiritual presence, which gives me peace of mind. It’s become almost like a big diary of secrets, and communication between me and the world.

How long does each painting usually take to complete?

Rafaella: Bro, actually it’s really fast. It’s like two days or three days max. I take more time to finish the larger paintings than the smaller ones. My work is a lot about movement and a performative experience, so I just go for it. The body takes like ten minutes and then the other details come after, but with the smaller paintings there isn’t much space to move around, and then I just start overthinking.

It seems your work takes on a very intimate approach to its focus, when creating the shapes and figures in each painting, especially as you mention it serves as a diary for you. Do you ever think about the similarities or differences your audience might have in interpreting that?

Rafaella: I started to think about it when I had my show in Zurich, and my curator, who was on a studio visit, explained to me how other people might have a completely different way of seeing it. And that’s true because sometimes I’ve encountered people that are a little bit afraid of my work ...of the big creators and the strangeness of it. Though, I understand each person is going to connect with it in a different way and I can’t really control that. I always see paintings as mirrors, so what you see in the paintings says more about you than it does of the painting itself.

And as you paint, are there things from your past that you’re rediscovering in the body of your work?

Rafaella: In the beginning, I didn’t like painting at all. I looked at it as something I couldn’t really do, because in Brazil we looked at it as something for the elites. So I started with graffiti in the streets with the wall painting brushes, because the spray cans in Brazil were really fucking expensive, and I started to really like it. Then I began searching in the street for materials I could use to paint, and I began loving it, and it’s always been big canvas things. I think I also just wanted to move, and I began seeing circles, forms, and faces. From the faces, I began building bodies and that was the best way for me to think.

You’ve also mentioned the emotions and feelings of depression that were existent at that time — Talk me through how the art was able to help you overcome or work through those feelings?

Rafaella: I mean art itself has always been a way of healing for many people, and for me, it wasn’t really different. I think it’s a much lighter way to be able to tell your feelings or thoughts without actually telling them, you know? I remember I was in my room, and I had this big piece of paper that I had in the street. And I told myself that one day I was gonna paint that shit, and every day that I was in my room suffering and going through things and crying, and one day I just painted. Since then I never stopped painting, never ever ever ever. I feel like it still helps me keep my mind at peace and chill with everything. At the time too, I also had a lot of influences from Blue The Artist. Beyond that, it was mostly myself since I wasn’t able to do much research, and I was really just trying to heal myself and not think about anything else. I just wanted to paint and be good.

On the performative nature of your work — do you think that approach would urge you to branch out into other outlets of creative or self-expression?

Rafaella: For sure, because when I actually first started with graffiti, it pushed me to think about other ways to make art. I was painting in the street, but I wanted to see how I can do it at home and at school, so I started doing research. At school, I took up dance, sculpture, drawing, and theatre up until I was 17. Then I went to university, but I did only a year and a half...I think, and then I quit. It was way too much and I didn’t fit in.

In regards to the focus of your work, will you ever explore other forms, bodies, or even whole new aspects of your life in your work?

Rafaella: Sometimes when I look at my work, I really feel that one day, maybe not now, but one day it will dive deep into the abstraction. I started with forms, and then I came to the figures, and right now I feel that I need some rest to start to think about new things. I really like to make the lines really dirty, and every time I do another painting, I feel like I’m making it dirtier and dirtier and dirtier, and one day it’s just gonna be so crazy because I love the movement of it all.

Born in Goiânia, Brazil and now based in Berlin. What sparked your decision to move and what has the experience been like for yourself and work?

Rafaella: I moved to Berlin after I quit university. I was in Brazil and I was really desperate because I wasn’t sure what I was gonna do, and at the time I was working as a waitress. So I’m telling myself, how the hell are you gonna be an artist in Brazil with experience or a degree, because in Brazil it’s hard. And at the time, I was living in an area where people were very closed mind, and the art scene didn’t have enough places to portray work. Broo for me, between staying in Brazil and going to Europe, I am going to Europe of course. I’d search up the best places for artists, and it was always Berlin, Berlin, Berlin, and I told myself that’s where I’m going. Eight months later, I took all the money I had which was like €200 at the time, and I just came. No plan, no contacts, nothing.

That takes a lot of determination and confidence in yourself, and I think it’s certainly wild as much as it is amazing to see, especially given the fact that you had nothing planned. So, what happened next?

Rafaella: I mean I didn’t plan anything at all, and I remember, even my brothers were like bro, you really think you’re going to Europe? In Brazil, we really have this mindset that everything that comes from outside is better than us, and that impacted my decision to come to Berlin, because of Brazil’s validation given to the international experience. The country is still having this colonized mindset in some senses. I started getting contacts by Instagram and Facebook, working as a babysitter, cleaning, going out with dogs and all that until the painting started picking up. I think it’s been almost a year and a half now since then.

Since being in Berlin, would you say the differences in culture and lifestyle have affected yourself and work in any way?

Rafaella: When I first arrived in Berlin, I felt like I could finally have some peace. Coming from back home to hear, it really feels like you’re in Disney World. I mean it’s Disney you know? Like bro, I can walk with my cellphone in the street. Here I had more time to figure out my work, to create, and to chill. I didn’t have to bother about very simple things like the violence in the streets for example — and that’s not to say Berlin doesn’t also have its issues. Berlin gave me more confidence in my work. I felt like I could be myself, crazier and all.

What about in relation to your approach or aesthetic of painting. Like the research, inspiration, or even the portrayal of new subjects?

Rafaella: In the beginning, I feel as though my work was much more colourful. Maybe because Brazil is really colourful. Here in Europe, even the way people dress, it’s always like Beige or Black and White colours. And here, of course, we don’t have a really blue sky, it’s always grey. So nowadays, I feel like my work is not as colourful as before. However, here my studio is bigger which gives me more space to create larger paintings.

I want to talk about your last exhibition earlier this year in Zurich, Pour The Sun On My Tongue — what was the creative focus and process behind that project?

Rafaella: Actually all the paintings from my exhibition in Zurich, were the first big paintings I did when I got to Berlin, and we decided to exhibit them because it was part of the gallery owner’s collection. So there, they had the first two paintings from when I came to Berlin, and some from my open studio last September that was a gallery exhibition. The title idea, Pour The Sun On My Tongue, actually came because at the time I was looking for a feeling of light inside myself, and being able to portray that was great. It was me trying to find that leap of faith within myself. In the beginning, I really felt that I needed colour to give some life, but nowadays I feel like the bodies have life by themselves. It was also the beginning of my writing, so it’s all over the paintings.

Was there any added meaning for you, those being the first works in Berlin, and then having them in an exhibition? It’s almost like things coming full circle...

Rafaella: It’s really special for me, I mean it’s crazy. When I created these works, I was really struggling with everything, and most of them are made with materials I found on the street and cheap wall paint. There’s also a lot of truth in these works because of this.

Are there any upcoming projects or exhibitions we should keep an eye out for this year?

Rafaella: I’m really excited actually because now I’m going to London, and it’s my first time in London. I come back to Berlin in October and have another exhibition, and I’m really excited about this one. This time, I’m trying to do something big, maybe a sculpture. I also want to put together like a big diary, maybe 100 pages like a big fucking book, because like I said, that’s what my work is to me. And then, next year I’m going to exhibit in Brazil because it would be the first exhibition in my country and my first time going back in four years. I also really want to come to New York sometime next year.

Rafaella Braga will be hosting her new solo show “Protegida”, this Friday on November 5th at Studio Beta.

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