Q&A | Samuel De Saboia

by Morgan Vickery

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Samuel De Saboia has been dubbed “the next Basquiat” by the Brazilian masses. While the proclamation indicates an exceptional role to follow, it isn’t half of his current media frenzy. The Recife-born, Sao Paulo-based artist, has procured much love this past year; a cover on Harper’s Bazaar Art Brazil, and a two-page editorial for Vogue Brazil’s September issue. However, his acclaim comes to no surprise as his artistic dialogue strikes a new tone—the Afro-Brazilian queer experience.

On September 28th at Los Angeles’ Ghost Gallery, Samuel will reveal his most recent collection of works titled ‘Unamerican Beauty.’ With a mix of 8-10 paintings, poems, and site-specific art, De Saboia challenges traditional narratives surrounding beauty. Fusing nonconformity and his immigrant experience in America, Samuel conveys an emotive experience of immersion. In a recent exchange, De Saboia discussed his childhood, creative influences, immigration experience, and the upcoming exhibition.

When did you recognize your love of the art world?

By the time I was 12, I had already immersed myself in the world of art. Initially, via online commissions and projects, which allowed me to hide my identity and make people believe that I was older than I actually was. My parents have a painting of mine which dates back to when I was 12 years old. I started connecting with art on a deeper level after being abused in my childhood. It was a way for me to say the things I hadn't found the right language for yet. When I was 15, I did my first collective show in New York, under the guidance of Isabella Bustamonte for Teen Art Salon. Since then, I've participated in two solo shows in New York and Brazil, two Brazilian art fairs, one museum individual in Brazil, four collaboratives, and one Installation in Paris.

Would you say you had a lot of creative influences in your childhood?

I have had many visual and creative influences around me throughout my childhood. I used to live in a building surrounded by forest, so there were animals all over. From eagles on my window to snakes on the jogging tracks, and tarantulas on the soap dispenser - I lived it all and still remember it vividly. I also had a very dear aunt, who was a hyper-realistic oil painter with a particular love for flowers. When I was born, she painted an arum lily for my parents, and she'd have me in her studio all the time. She died from a brain tumor caused by paint inhalation. It taught me how far someone could go in the name of art.

Your upcoming exhibit, Unamerican Beauty, discusses the immigrant experience in America — a very topical issue. What was coming like for you?

It was kind of heartbreaking. I'm in love with Los Angeles, the people here, and even ended up living in the backyard of one of my favorite singers by coincidence. Getting here, however, was extremely overwhelming and left me with signs of PTSD. As a black body I'm already terrified of cops, and when I arrived at LAX for the first time, customs officers were weirded out by my "many passport stamps" and the fact that a well-known tech company invited me for a project centered around my art. They asked me a ton of questions while everyone that was on my flight walked past me and probably assumed that the only black kid on the flight was hiding drugs in his bags. I was accompanied to get the rest of my luggage and was subsequently detained in a private room for about one to two hours, while two cops went through all my personal items. In the end, they did a Google search and realized that I was not "the one they were looking for." I felt ashamed and confused and cried the entire way from LAX to my place in Echo Park. At least I had a very sweet talk with this Russian taxi driver – it was the first warm hello after those crazy moments.

"Youth in Danger"    Mixed media on linen.

"Youth in Danger"

Mixed media on linen.

Other than that, how are you enjoying LA so far?

The city is so vibrant and special— there's no sense of time, the sunset is so beautiful, and I actually swam with dolphins while diving at the beach. It reminds me a lot of my hometown, as I can go to the beach every day, which is just marvelous. I love going for long rides while listening to the new Lana del Rey album that kind of sounds like one very long song – which I actually love. LA tastes like corn, iced matcha with soy or coconut milk. There's gentle people with bright smiles and safe queer spaces. I also saw Courtney Love on the Raya dating app, which was one of my trip's highlights.

What do you think the immigrant experience in America should be like?

I think it should be highlighted how much the so-called ‘first world’ countries profit off the developing ones. Many bridges - especially in cultural terms - could be built by more flexible dialogue. I've always looked at our differences as opportunities for enrichment instead of disparagement. Iʼm honestly tired of feeling anxious, breathless, and like Iʼm about to faint or shit myself, for going to another country that I actually paid a lot of money to travel to. Like MIA once said - "Borders, what's up with that?".

In your work, you're also blurring the lines between American beauty ideals and those in Brazil. What are some of the differences and similarities that you've discovered as an immigrant?

We are both flamboyant but in extremely different ways. This indifference in the US could never work in Brazil. In Brazil we cherish, we talk, and we're loud - always in the nicest way possible though. In both places, societal groups are passionate about their chosen ones, their athletes, their artists, their God, their actors, their musicians. There's so much passion, too much passion, and it's reflected in our physical imagery. Living dolls, dinosaur-like bodybuilders. Both countries adore power and understand how to monetize on the power of beauty. I find this both dangerous and interesting.

"Unamerican Beauty"    Mixed media on linen.

"Unamerican Beauty"

Mixed media on linen.

What was the one that surprised you the most?

That corn in the USA is very sweet; it tastes like ripe fruit. Just kidding, the one that makes me happy is how safe spaces works in both countries - you feel loved, secure, and powerful while surrounded by other beings like yourself. Both places have a beautiful and strong community. I have the luck to be friends with Cybelle Corwin, Jheyda McGarrell, Emma Czerwinski, Fii, Sam Casper, Paige MaccReady and so many other beautiful creators that keep creating projects that allow the queer community in the US to control their narrative through magazines, art, parties, and spaces for us and by us. In Brazil, we have me, Igi Ayedun, Juliano Corbetta, Mauricio Sacramento, Gabe Passarelli, Iury Andrews, Milena Cinismo, and many other creatives that do well for our community in a similar fashion. Those who are part of my generation are all connected by an unbreakable fine thread. We've all suffered but also found joy in life and in others.

How and why did you decide to come to LA to do this exhibition?

I was invited by Stephan Alexander, the owner, and curator of Ghost Gallery who invited me to do my first solo in New York last year. It seems like the right time to do it - Amazonia is burning, and I just had my first museum show in Brazil. There's a lot to be said and there's a lot to be made.

"In Chaos There's Harmony"    Mixed media on linen.

"In Chaos There's Harmony"

Mixed media on linen.

If someone asked you to sum up the message behind Unamerican Beauty in a sentence or two, what would you say?

It's a chant to those names, bodies, vessels, and souls who represent the best but are misrepresented as embodiments of the worse. It's a trip towards the Black and Brazilian Imaginarium, a trip into darkness translated into many tones, into the potent creative power of chaos and dreams.

Is there a political message behind your works?

I feel that as a black queer body, I am already the political message. My pieces are instruments that are part of an orchestra. They ask, they talk, they are my way of paving the way for others, in regard to other realities being heard and admired.

What were you thinking about while painting these artworks?

That I didn't have enough to buy a 1$ meal, but it will all be worth it once it's done.

What's next?

Perhaps world domination is too utopian. But I want to reach the masses and convert them to poets. I want to meet my heroines and heroes and transform them into friends; I want to shape my reality more than being shaped by it, stay true to who I am, buy more art and fashion, be able to create the future, and get a visa.


Portrait shot by: Cybelle Corwin