In Paula Damasceno’s series, Offerings, the artist not only photographs the objects being offered —flowers, fruit, seeds —but she also captures parts of the bodies making the offerings: hands, palm up, cradling valued materials; or feet, midmotion or planted firmly on the ground. The pictures, though made through an outmoded or antique process (tintypes), are active. Damasceno is “reclaiming” the tintype, as she puts it; she utilises the process not in nostalgia, but rather in recuperation. As people were violently forced to cross the Atlantic Ocean in enslavement, they brought rituals with them from West Africa. The continuity of such rituals is realised in Damasceno’s series. The act of making an offering today forges links with ancestors and the wider African Diaspora. Damasceno’s works have a special tactility, and the physical materials themselves are of utmost importance in realising the impact of the image. The tintypes exist alongside lush velvet fabric, realised in deep colours, framed in rough wood. Such attention to multiple materialities immediately allowed me to imagine how Damasceno might investigate printing processes with Benrido. Later, I noticed in Damasceno’s biography that she is studying library science, with a specialisation in photographic archives. Such a course of study seems to dovetail perfectly with her explorations in her own artwork of connecting with history and those that came before us, through the potential of photographs.
– Lucy Gallun Juror, Hariban Award 2020
In Offerings I use the wet plate collodion to reclaim and re-appropriate 19th-century photographic process to produce objects where the Western African liturgy, ancestry, and African Diaspora are at the centre. Using 19th-century photographic methods, I reinsert Western African cosmology within contemporary and historical narratives and at the same time disrupt them. Nature, circular shapes, and the presence of an elusive human subject substantiate Offerings aesthetic claims of historical beauty and imperfection. The subtle blemishes on the surface made by the purposeful manipulation of the photographic process depict a complex history of struggle. As a result, Western African cosmology occupies a historical archival gap. Hands and feet denote an act of resistance through spiritual resilience. Nature embraces the fragility of humanity and reconnects us to divine strength through the offerings of foods, flowers, and intention. Offerings from humans to deities, from Africa to the world.
Paula Damasceno is an African Brazilian woman who is based in Greensboro, North Carolina. She uses historical and alternative photographic methods as aesthetic strategies to articulate individual subjectivities and collective histories and cultures. Collapsing techniques and materials, she also collapses ideas and perceptions to create art that invites wonder and critical thinking. Her latest work Offerings was granted the 2019 SPE Student Innovation Award and the First Place Award at the 2018 Light Factory Throwdown Portfolio. Paula has exhibited at the Greensboro Project Space Greensboro, the Weatherspoon Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Southeastern Center for Photography. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Art with a concentration in Photography from the University of North Carolina Greensboro and is a Master of Library Science and Art History Candidate at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a concentration on photographic archives.