Werllayne Nunes is a self-taught painter from Anapolis, GO, Brazil. Currently based in the United States, he began painting at 8 years old when his father gave him his first box of oil paints and brushes. When he left Brazil to study medicine, he continued to paint and eventually decided to devote himself full-time to his art. Influenced by extensive travel, his artwork provides counter-narratives to the media’s depiction of the impoverished. His paintings have been shown in galleries, museums, and public spaces in Brazil, Spain, and the United States.

Artist Statement

Faces, colors, and cultural and religious traditions from my native Brazil and other African diasporic countries are the subjects of my current series of paintings and installations. My work challenges the ways in which the media typically portray people who are marginalized because of their race and socioeconomic status. Photos and other visual images often offer a one-dimensional perspective of such people as powerless because of their social and economic conditions. Although it is critical to recognize such structural disadvantages, the recurrence of these images stereotypes people from these regions and fails to recognize their personal agency and power.

As a way to counter representations of disenfranchised people as primitive or helpless, I create portraits of empowerment in which I lift figures out of their depicted contexts and place them in colorful backgrounds that recall patterns of contemporary design. I juxtapose these portraits with images that represent cultural or religious symbols in order to create a visual magical realism characterized by the simultaneous existence of two conflicting perspectives—reality and imagination.

This fusion of styles expresses the resilience, creativity, and positive spiritual elements that can emerge from harsh physical and social realities such as poverty and oppression. I use this visual strategy not to romanticize poverty or other social ills, but rather to provide a bigger picture of the complex lives and multifaceted identities of the people who live these realities.