Arthur Bispo do Rosario.

Arthur Bispo do Rosario wearing his work Untitled [Manto da apresentação (Annunciation garment)]. (Photo by Jean Manzon)


LatAm in Focus: The Story of Unlikely Art Genius Bispo do Rosario

By Luisa Leme

The Afro-Brazilian master never aspired to show his work, yet became a huge influence on Latin American art. Catch his work at Americas Society by May 20.

Arthur Bispo do Rosario never considered himself an artist. Nor did he aspire to have his work shown in a museum. And yet, Bispo is considered one of the greatest influencers of Latin American art in the twentieth century. An Afro-Brazilian artist from the northern state of Sergipe, Bispo—as he is often called—spent the majority of his life in a psychiatric hospital. He believed that the 1,000 pieces he produced were a mandate of God that fulfilled a mission to recreate the universe.

“Bispo do Rosario's story is that he presented himself at a young age of 29 years old to a church, claiming that he thought he was the new messiah. That is when he is taken by the police into the mental health institution, where he lived on and off for the rest of his life. He felt that [voices] were telling him to recreate all the existing materials on Earth,” says Americas Society’s Director and Chief Curator of Art Aimé Iglesias Lukin, one of the four curators of the exhibition Bispo do Rosario: All Existing Materials on Earth

In this episode, AS/COA Online’s Luisa Leme speaks with Lukin, Ricardo Resende, Javier Téllez, and Tie Jojima—the four curators of the exhibition, which is the first solo show of Bispo do Rosario’s work in the United States.

“I describe Bispo’s oeuvre as one single work, made of a thousand pieces. We recently finished cataloging it,” says Resende, who is also the chief curator of the Bispo do Rosario Museum in Rio de Janeiro. He explains Bispo’s cloak—his most famous work—embroidered with drawings of boats, vehicles, animals, and words. “The cloak is sort of a catalog raisonné of his oeuvre, a comprehensive guide of his body of work.”

Bispo do Rosario is often considered an “outsider artist,” a term used to refer to people who are either self-taught or who created their art in a special context. But Jojima considers the “outsider” label harmful. “Why do we need to put an adjective before his name? He was an artist,” Jojima says. “And what is the role of institutions in creating those labels?”

Venezuelan curator and artist Téllez explained that Bispo was not the only one producing art as an archive of the world at that time. “A lot of the ideas of Bispo relate to contemporary and modern art. You could see the idea of cataloging or of creating an archive—the archival impulse—as very common practice in the 1960s,” he says. Beyond creating his own art, Bispo influenced others as well. Although he was visited by established artists, he never wanted to participate in workshops. When Frederico Morais, one of the main curators and art historians in Brazil, encountered his work, the art amazed critics. Yet, Morais was only able to present a solo show of Bispo do Rosario after the artist’s death, in 1989.

Bispo do Rosario: All Existing Materials on Earth is open in New York City at Americas Society through May 20, 2023. Learn more:

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This episode was produced by our executive producer, Luisa Leme. 

The music in this podcast is "Sexteto Místico" by Heitor Villa-Lobos, performed at Americas Society. Find out about upcoming concerts at: The voice of Bispo do Rosario you hear in this episode comes from the documentary O Prisioneiro da Passagem, by Hugo Denizart. You can watch the film here.

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