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Installation – Cildo Meireles – How to Build Cathedrals

600,000 coins, 800 communion wafers, 2,000 cattle bones, 80 paving stones, and black cloth

Cildo Meireles -How to Build Cathedrals

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1948 –
Missão/Missões [Mission/Missions] (How to Build Cathedrals), 1987
600,000 coins, 800 communion wafers, 2,000 cattle bones, 80 paving stones, and black cloth

Cildo Meireles’s installation was first commissioned for an exhibition about the history of the Jesuits in southern Brazil. The artist created a contemplative space that functions as a critique of Jesuit missions established during colonial times to contain the indigenous Tupi-Guaraní people and convert them to Catholicism. The work’s symbolic elements reveal the complicit relationship between material power (coins), spiritual power (communion wafers), and tragedy (bones), while the black shroud and overhead lighting evoke ideas of life and death. Meireles’ use of cattle bones references the importance of ranching within the region’s colonial economy. Yet the bones’ physical resemblance to the human femur also alludes to the human losses associated with forced acculturation.

Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX

I took this photo April 2nd, 2017, and processed it in my digital darkroom on January 15, 2020.

I tried a few different versions of this photo (in my darkroom), one version brought up the mom’s visibility from the shadows, but I liked this one the best. The green of the background window added some additional color contrasts.

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