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Antonio Henrique Amaral - Banana Man

Words:

Edd Norval
October 17, 2020

With Brazil under the stranglehold of a dictatorship, opponents and dissidents being captured and tortured, the sense of oppression was palpable in the 1960s. Besides this social and political upheaval, the country was also in an economic bind, with its status as the major banana republic being a double-edged sword - the country needed it, but were tired of the imperialistic overtones that came with their famous export. In this export was Antonio Henrique Amaral able to find a subject for his interpretation of the country’s zeitgeist.

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Like the socioeconomic climate, his paintings were suffocating and foreboding. The banana didn’t hold the typically tropical appeal associated with it, rather the fruit was often depicted as bruised and abused, set onto a darkly diminishing background. To Amaral, it was a symbol not of freedom, wealth and opportunity, but a typecast false ideal.


Often mutilated by ropes and knives, the bananas seem to speak of squandered opportunity. Coming to represent Brazil’s dependency on richer nations, a characteristic common to other banana republics. The banana as an individual figure is a very literal interpretation of the state of the nation, something Amarail documented in a series of paintings over a period of many years, as if tracing the exact story of Brazil’s health through that of a fruit.


Mixing a more expressive backdrop with a photorealistic banana shows a bowed sense of pride in the symbol as an extension of his Brazilian homeland. We could interpret the perfectionism he dedicates as being dialogue between man and nation, a kinship that is impossible to divorce oneself from. Ultimately, no matter what happens, there is always respect.

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As Brazil’s fate seemed more closely tied with oil money and an oppressive regime, his paintings became darker, the bananas dying and turning soft, ugly and useless. The fruit that once bore the possibility of salvation was now the source of his nation’s slavery.

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