Perhaps some of the most profound, memorable and haunting works of art emerge when an artist directly confronts his or her own fears, and pushes himself or herself to move way outside the “comfort zone” in an effort to experience heightened feelings, increased awareness and new insights. Brazilian artist Edu Monteiro often puts himself into his own work, using his own body as part of the final work. In this series, he created masks that enveloped his entire head (often with organic materials, including animal body parts and tissues) to completely alter his personal sensorial experience of the world — sight, sound, smell, touch, taste. When you interrupt the normal flow of impulses and information to your senses, very strange experiences arise to create strong, disturbing feelings.

Edu Monteiro writes:

My sensorial self-portraits are personal fictions. The impulse emerged from a sensory mask made by a Brazilian plastic artist Lygia Clark. With this impulse came the desire to try to manipulate and to wear an object that forced a change of sensations and self-analysis.

So I started to create my own masks, not only inspired by the poetics used by Lygia, but also by different artists throughout the history of art who had marked my memory, such as Hélio Oiticica. Carrying forward their ideas, I have created self-transformations, rather than creating artwork requiring the participation of others, as Clark and Oiticica did. I offer my own body and mind to similar experiences as the ones Lygia worked in the “file memory” of her patients: their fears and weaknesses, through the senses.

When asked how it felt to be wrapped in things he feared, Monteiro’s eyes get wide. “The worst was being buried in sand,” he says. “Even with a breathing tube (which you cannot see in the photograph), I felt certain that I was going to die.”

— Jim Casper

We first met Edu Monteiro at Encuentros Abiertos, the photography festival in Buenos Aires, Argentina. There we discovered his highly conceptual earlier series, Saturno, which is currently exhibited in Brazil, as part of FestFoto, the 8th international festival of photography in Porto Alegre. It was a joy to talk with him in person about this new work.