Mario Cravo Neto was born on April 20, 1947 in the city of Salvador, Bahia, where he lived and worked. In 1964, at the age of 17, he moved to Germany, where his father, the sculptor Mario Cravo Jr., was participating in the Artist in Residence program, in Berlin. It was during this period that Cravo Neto began his first experiences with sculpture and photography. In 1965, he returned to Brazil where he won an award at the first Art Biennial of Bahia and also mounted his first solo exhibition. Between 1968 and 1970, he lived in New York, where he studied at the Art Students League, under the direction of artist Jack Krueger, one of the pioneers of conceptual art. In 1970, he published his first photographic work outside of Brazil, in the catalog for the exhibition Information at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. In New York, Cravo Neto also produced a series of color photographs entitled On the Subway, which were published in the magazine Camara 35, and a black and white series that explored the theme of human solitude against the backdrop of a large city. In addition to his photographic work, in his SoHo studio, he developed a series of plexglass sculptures based on the process of the “terrarium,” which involved the growing of live plants in closed environments. In 1971, at the 11th International São Paulo Biennial of Art, in a special room, he showed his installation of live sculptures produced in New York, for which he was awarded the São Paulo State Governor’s Sculpture Prize. Between 1971 and 1974, Cravo Neto devoted himself to the creation of in situ land art projects: with direct interventions in the natural landscapes of the desert-like Bahian sertão and the outlying of Salvador. His systematic documentation of these works fostered an intimacy with cinematographic language. In this filmic context, he made various short features, which led him to win the prestigious Embrafilme National Award for cinematography (1976), for his work on the feature-length film, Ubirajara, directed by André Luis Oliveira. In March of 1975, a near-fatal car accident left Cravo Neto with both legs immobilized for an entire year. This difficult setback, however, didn’t at all curtail the artist’s activities. During this period he initiated a series of small-scale models of his three-dimensional works and focused his energies on studio portraits and the appropriation of objects for use in his installations and photographic compositions. From this period emerged a unique authorial work, which Cravo Neto created out of the integration he choreographed between characters and objects: the results of which could be called as black and white photo-sculptures. During this phases he produced emblematic works such as Ninho de Fiberglass (Fiberglass Nest, 1977) and Câmaras Queimadas (Burnt Cameras, 1977), which were exhibited, respectively, at the 14th and 15th editions of the São Paulo Biennial. These works were both commented upon by Edward Leffingwell in the preface to his book The Ethernal Now (2002), the most comprehensive study of Mario Cravo Neto to date, featuring 136 black and white studio photographs. In the words of Leffingwell: the first link between these sited projects, the installations that followed, and the photographs for which he is known today consisted of the presentation of a nest made out of translucent fiberglass filaments gathered by some unknown avian architect from the neighborhood of his studio in Bahia. Prior to the publication of The Eternal Now, these black and white photographs had appeared in various books and catalogs and had been exhibited internationally in leading museums, galleries, and photographic festivals, among them: the Palazzo Fortuny, Venice (1988); the Witkin Gallery, New York (1992), Houston FotoFest, Houston (1992); the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), São Paulo (1995); the Fahey Klein Gallery, Los Angeles (1998); and Photo España, Madrid (1998), where the artist displayed his large-scale photographic impressions in the open-air exhibition throughout Madrid’s Royal Botanic Garden. In 1994, the publication of Mario Cravo Neto (Stemmle, Zurich) accompanied a solo exhibition at Frankfurt’s Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt. Curated and edited by Peter Weiermair, this was Cravo Neto’s first book of black and white photographs edited outside of Brazil. In 2000, Cravo Neto traveled to Denmark at the invitation of Tove Thage, director of the Nationalhistoriske Museum på Frederiksborg, in Hillerød, to photograph the principal choreographers and dancers of the Danish Royal Ballet, and to have a one-man exhibition at the museum. While involved in his studio work, Cravo Neto was living in and photographing in colors his birthplace, Salvador, a historic city of mixed ancestry, where Catholic saints commingle with African gods, This rich and unique territory that is Salvador is a constant source of inspiration to the artist and constitutes a recurring theme in seven of his books, published between 1980 and 2000. Of these books, the most significant are: CRAVO (Áries Editora, Salvador, 1983) – “Mario Cravo Júnior portrayed by Mario Cravo Neto represents an extremely sensitive artistic and interpretative achievement as a book that fuses photography and sculpture.” (MCJ); EXVOTO (Áries Editora, Salvador, 1986), a book that features the ex-votos – objects offered to saints as thanks for their miraculous intervention – of Bahia’s arid sertão region; SALVADOR, (Áries Editora, Salvador, 1999), an intimate portrait of his birth city; and LAROYÉ (Áries Editora, Salvador, 2000), which pays hommage to Esú, the controversial mythical character of African culture, conjured up via images of bodies in motion.“Esú, the body as a bay, a solitary ship, that is moored inside each one of us.” (MCN). Several journeys proved to be major influences upon Cravo Neto’s work, both in a direct manner, by furnishing material for books and exhibitions, and more subjectively, by creating connections between internal and external worlds, a frontier that Cravo Neto transcends in his work. The experience of a month that the artist spent aboard a Brazilian Navy hospital ship in the Amazon region’s Solimões River, in 1990. Or his trip to Luanda, Angola, to take pictures for the book Angola e a Expressão da sua Cultura Material (FEO, Salvador, 1991), which brought him into contact with the collection of Angola’s Museu Nacional de Antropologia. Both experiences were precursors to his exploration of the universe of candomblé terreiros (sacred sites of worship), with which Cravo Neto began forging a relationship in 1998. Over the next seven years, he devoted himself to registering, on camera and video, candomblé religious life and rituals, with particular emphasis on the traditional terreiro of Ilé Àse Ópó Aganju. From this period, the artist published three books, all of which featured mixed compositions blending color and black and white images to evoke the dense textures of Afro-Bahian religious life from the privileged viewpoint of a candomblé initiate. In 2003, in Rio de Janeiro, he produced an installation and a book, both entitled Na Terra Sob Meus Pés (Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil) and curated by Ligia Canongia. In 2004, he followed up with another installation and accompanying book, Trance-Territories (Verlag Das Wunderhorn, Heidelberg). Curated by Michael Toos, Trance-Territories was exhibited alongside Black Gods in Exile, an exhibition by Pierre Verger, at the Dahlen Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin. Cravo Neto’s most recent publication O Tigre do Dahomey – A Serpente de Whydah, (Salvador: Áries Editora, 2004) was launched along with the inauguration of the new Paulo Darzé Art Gallery, in Salvador. The works featured in this book were subsequently the subject of an exhibition at São Paulo’s Museu Afro-Brasil, in 2005. “To live is to feel oneself lost,” in the words of Soren Kierkegaard. This was certainly the feeling of those who experienced the video installation Somewhere Over The Rainbow – La Mer (2005), curated by Solange Farkas. This monumental and moving work consisted of images of the ocean projected onto the walls of the 400-m2 main gallery of Bahia’s Museu de Arte Moderna, a museum housed in a former 16th-century sugar plantation constructed by African slaves and with a privileged location overlooking the Bay of All Saints. Indeed, nourished by his maritime surroundings, Mario Cravo Neto has been journeying through the deep waters of the unconscious and his own creative world, producing an oeuvre that expresses the culture of Bahia. This brief article is merely an attempt to sum up an impressive output which, to date, has led to the publication of 14 books in numerous countries, countless articles in periodicals and magazines, individual and collective exhibitions in Brazil and around the world, nine distinguished awards, and the inclusion of his work in various museum collections. Such renown has led to Cravo Neto to be considered an important figure in the world of photography.
Mario Cravo Neto died on August 9th, 2009.
His work and rights are administered by the Estate which bears his name.