Between Handrails: Mirela Cabral

21 January - 11 February 2023
Please access the viewing room here.

This winter, Kupfer has the absolute pleasure to host Between Handrails, Mirela Cabral’s (b. 1992, Salvador, Brazil) first solo show in the UK, which brings together a large group of new paintings and embroideries. The exhibition is the culmination of a three-month residency period in which the artist produced a prolific collection of layered abstractions with sparing but powerful figurative elements. 

Mirela creates fast, expressive oil paintings that evoke the lavish floral qualities of Lucia Laguna and the sensual viscous aesthetic of Cecily Brown. As a departure point, the artist uses the canvas to write and scribble with graphite or charcoal. The spontaneous pouring of words and sentences, gestures and emotions, arrows and lines onto the support has become her way of “emptying the mind” before moving on to paint. These initial written marks typically come from a difficult place – home to unsettling sentiments: from guilt to self-doubt and shame.

Having started her career as a filmmaker and screenwriter, Mirela has always been drawn to narratives, particularly those surrounding our relentless search for meaningful connections. Her work communicates a fascination for the fluid entanglement of affective links that we are constantly – and unpredictably – experiencing throughout our lives. The Ceramicist (2022) and The Actress (2022) pay homage to two recently-met women whose stories of abuse survival reverberate with her own, whilst The Painter (2022) is a raw, secretive double-sided self-portrait. 

The female condition is at the heart of Mirela’s practice. She is interested in how women navigate the troubled waters that flow between agency and victimhood. Her painting has been a journey of exploring behaviours and emotions inflicted by gender oppression, including the often ensuing impulse to self-suppress. Her artistic practice may at times provide relief; however, she is all too aware that having the key to understanding pain does not give one the power to erase it.¹ Underneath the heavy oil surface, her most intimate and painful gestures remain buried, like a pentimento of woundedness that drives the painting on. 

Mirela Cabral’s works come out of the canvas, revealing a sense of continual flux that is amplified by the absence of stretcher bars. They are suspended, reaching out to the wall, the floor and each other. In place of wooden frames, the artist uses pictorial lines that offer containment and support. Recurring horizontal lines suggest flowerbeds – designated grids that become props for the overflow of frenzied foliage; bars on a balcony that prevent us from falling; and a collection of banisters, designed for hands in need of stability. The artist believes that this figurative architecture of handrails has emerged from “a place where I didn’t feel supported, or received support from people I didn’t expect”. Her practice is the materialization of an ambition to turn painting into her own private handrail whilst offering those around her something to hold on to. After all, there is a sense of safety that can only come from solidarity.


¹  “[...] to have received the key to understanding shame does not give one the power to erase it” in A Girl’s Story by Annie Ernaux (London: Fitzcarraldo Editions) pg.105.