Formosa Cabana

Thomas Nölle, Völlisch freie Kunschtakademie Thomas Beüsch Formosa/Brasil,
Thomas Beuys Totally Free Art Academy Formosa/Brazil
Formosa (Goiás), Brasilien/Brazil, 1980.
Photoperformance © Thomas Nölle


A Journey  | 1979–1981

Casa de América (Madrid) – 6.02 – 28.03.2020

On 3 July 1979, at the age of thirty, the artist Thomas Nölle left Germany via Brussels on his way to Lima, Peru, setting off on a journey through South America without a firm date of return. He was accompanied solely by his camera, notebook and drawing pad, with hardly any baggage and little money.

With very few organised destinations in mind and innumerable chance paths eventually taken, the journey lasted until November 1981, covering close to 27,000 kilometres, mostly by road, through four countries: Peru, Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay.

Thomas did not explore the urban life of the metropolis; nor did he position himself as a typical European observer of engrossing exotic images. He did not travel to take pictures; rather, his photographs were the result of his intense contact with societies, languages, customs and lifestyles that were completely new to him, with anonymous people, as well as sites that barely appeared on maps, especially in the rural areas of the interior of Brazil, where Nölle lived for weeks or even months.

The subjects set out in the photographs from this period between 1979 and 1981 reveal his focus on social issues, but also on environmental questions and the relations between human beings and nature, which are portrayed in his series of photoperformances.

The selection of photographs gathered in this exhibition offers a synthesis of the different series and thematic families of this production: food and eating, shelter and personal relationships; life in the rural world; social and class disparities; and political tensions as revealed in the public domain. Furthermore, these perspectives and visual mosaics enable us to get a closer grasp of a period of socio-political transition in the South American countries he visited. For example, he was in Bolivia a few months before the military coup of 1980, and in the streets of Santa Cruz and Cochabamba the social tension was palpable.

His stay in Brasilia coincided with the first visit of the Pope to the country, to which he dedicated another series. Carnaval no Rio [Rio Carnival] is his largest series, where we perceive his sense of humour. Far from the luxurious official parades, Nölle blended in with the authentic crowd celebration in the streets, alongside ordinary people with their improvised fantasies, the figures of the picaresque rogues known as “malandros” and transvestites.

Thomas’ photographic practice does not involve a priori planning of each image. His commitment to spontaneity goes hand in hand with his capacity for anticipation, his sharp perception of relevant moments and situations of heightened expressivity. His gift for connecting with people is evident in the naturalness of the portraits and the subjects’ affinity with the photographer.

Taken as a whole, the artistic-photographic production by Thomas Nölle took the form of travel notes, a palpable vestige of his personal and intellectual experiences in South America.