Djanira da Motta e Silva was born in São Paulo, in 1914. She was an acclaimed Brazilian Art Naïf artist, whose work is known for its fresh, original and instinctive style, and the use of strong primary colors.
Of Austrian and Guarani descent, she possessed the unusual combination of Caucasian and Indian blood. Shortly after she was born the family moved to Santa Catarina, where she had a tough childhood working in the fields. She returned to São Paulo as a teenager, living in a boarding house and working ten to twelve hours a day. She developed a serious case of tuberculosis and had to be hospitalized. It was in the hospital where she made her first drawing.
When she was cured she moved to Rio de Janeiro and restarted her life renting a small house in Santa Teresa. She rented out some rooms and worked as a seamstress. Over the years she received many artists as guests and from some she began to learn something about painting.
At the end of the 1930s, she took an evening art class at the Liceu de Artes e Ofícios. She met many artists and, in 1942, exhibited her work at the 48th National Fine Arts Salon. The following year she held her first solo exhibit at the Brazilian Press Association.
She lived in New York from 1945 to 1947, where she was influenced by paintings of famous artists. Upon her return to Brazil, she painted the mural Candomblé, for the Salvador home of writer Jorge Amado, and a panel for the Liceu Municipal de Petrópolis, in Rio de Janeiro.
Having made a name for herself, she held several individual and collective art exhibits. In 1952, she was awarded a trip throughout Brazil, which gave her to opportunity to learn more about the daily lives of Brazilians and portray these in her paintings. This was her most expressive period when she painted fishermen, laborers in the field, city workers, the people who make up the fabric of this country. She also brought elements of Catholicism and Afro-Brazilian beliefs to her work.
Deeply religious, Djanira joined the Third Carmelite Order, where she became Sister Teresa of the Divine Love. In 1972, she received the Medal and Diploma of the Cross from the Vatican, granted by Pope John 6th. She was the first Latin-American artist to display her work at the Vatican Museum, exhibiting the piece Santana de Pé, painted with her left hand when she had broken her collarbone.
One of the most important 20th century Brazilian artists, Djanira was a true Brazilian who portrayed the country’s landscape, people and traditions in a unique and poetic way. The artist died in May of 1979 in Rio de Janeiro, at the age of 65.
Djanira in the words of her friend and writer Jorge Amado:
“Djanira carries Brazil in her hands, her knowledge is that of the people, her wisdom is that of an open heart that welcomes the landscape, the color, the aroma, the joys, the sadness and hopes of all Brazilians.”
“One of our most important painters, she is more than that, she is the land, the soil from which plants sprout, the macumba terrain, the weaving looms, man resisting misery. Each of her paintings is a piece of Brazil.”