Favela at the Signal Gallery

Attending Jonathan Darby’s solo show at the Signal gallery last week reminded me of the Movie City of God. This clichéd perspective of the living conditions of a Brazilian slum was fuelled by how the gallery was set up to resemble your “typical” Rio favela by decorating the environment as such. As a result, some of the things you will notice in the gallery are items of clothing held up on a washing line as if to dry; rooms are set up as wooden shacks and in the corner at the far end, a tyre, a rusting barrel and other rubbish are strategically placed to look like general waste.

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Walking into one of the rooms, Jonathan’s installation has been set up as a favella home. A desk, a mirror and other inanimate objects and children’s toys are scattered around untidily. A child’s drawing is ironically hung up on the decaying wall; showing sunshine and a blue sky, whilst a battered radio broadcasts a deejay incessantly speaking in Portuguese.

‘Favela’ is Jonathan’s second solo show at the Signal gallery and he has adapted his chosen theme forcibly. Using the socio-political subject matter as a springboard to convey suffering, he achieves this through his terracotta painted portraits of children. In conjunction with the Children At Risk Foundation (CARF), which runs shelter for Sao Palo’s street children, John’s show concentrates on the kids orphaned and abandoned by their parents.

The problem with socio political subject matter in art is that, although sometimes well intentioned it can be accused of being a bit too preachy and self righteous. The source material for the paintings is based on Jonathan’s own photographs where he uses a variety of mixed media, such as acrylic, rubbish and newspaper on found pieces of wood. Some of the portraits are encapsulated in found metallic blocks (see images above), showing the children imprisoned by their own circumstances. This magpie method makes the works more organic than at first imagined, and rescues the pieces from being more emotionally manipulative than a Live Aid concert for Africa.

Jonathan’s technical ability as an artist is unquestionable. With painstaking detail he is able to convey the needed pathos, skilfully cohering the texture and fibre of garbage into the skin tones of his child portraits. ‘Favela’ is flawed in the message it is trying to achieve but is nonetheless a brilliant exhibition of dexterity and compassion.

‘Favela’ Jonathan Darby’s show at the Signal Gallery

Open to the public: 11th March – 2nd April 2011, Tuesday – Saturday 12 – 6pm

Jonathan Darby’s website


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