by Fred Coelho

Arrows are universal shapes. Their use in road signs – with geometric and chromatic simplicity – has also become a symbol of a world under construction. When we see them, we know there is an urban intervention in progress. In a way, Raul Mourão’s artwork using arrows generates a profound symbiosis with this broader and more universal sense of the subject.

By appropriating the icon, Mourão suggests a range of possible gazes. The first and foremost is the organic place that this series of works occupies along its trajectory. From the outset of his career, Mourão has been articulating urban forms in his own way. From a certain perspective, the arrows fit between the bars of fences and provide us with a snapshot of his work. Within them, the image and the icon oscillate in multiple ways, turning the banal into art. By multiplying them, the artist creates mosaics that redesign their set functions and senses within our imaginations. By venturing into the expansion, distortion and detailed exploration of the apparently banal shape of road arrows, Mourão renews the way we look at the city.

In a series of photos exhibited for a period of time on social media, the tag #roadarrows (#SETASDERUA) caught on among Mourão’s friends and admirers who embraced it as a visual mission. The cities of Rio de Janeiro, New York and São Paulo, amongst many others in permanent state of urban transformation, became the setting for digital photographers, whilst Mourão accumulated a database that substantiated his artwork. On the streets, in their daily use, the arrows gained visual force through Mourão’s decisive intervention. His simple gesture of dislocation expanded an almost tainted space within our habitual gaze.

To display the arrows in an exhibition is to ultimately show a piece of us. The urban object is part of our lives, a visual metaphor when we want to say we are under construction, closed to the violent and chaotic flow of the contemporary world. As well as endlessly suggesting a direction (a future?), the arrows surround us, protecting us more poetically than the urban paranoia of fences, as the disturbance announced ahead by road signs are also an indication of work, progress and ruin. With his arrows, Mourão continues to look critically at his and our surroundings, extracting visual perplexity from a situation of which we only complain. His variations on the same theme leave the road and enter the gallery, at the same time crossing and delineating new spaces – both actual and imaginary – in his oeuvre and in our time.

Fred Coelho
Fred Coelho

Researcher, essayist and professor of literature at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio)