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Leonilsons workson canvas, paper, or fabricsummon us to undergo a multi-layered process of understanding that allows us to react first as Sara then as Bruno, to use Trevisans characters as behavioral models.
Through its various stages, Leonilsons art guides us through this process: first, we are drawn into the artists own experience, articulated through the chronological symbology of his works.
In a broader sense, Leonilsons art envelops us within the realm of the creative, guiding us toward recognition of a communal redemption.
In order to trace the artists creative path toward this communal redemption, it is also the purpose of this essay to examine Leonilsons later works in contrast to his earlier ones.
() In a world rigidly (and morally, in the case of AIDS) divided between human beings who are sick and those who are well, the question of survival is no small matter for Leonilson.
And yet, whereas his works of art are imbued with personalized references that consciously emphasize daily drama and personal tragedy, they curiously invite the spectator into a universal space that allows for our contemplation of life and death in a composed and serene manner (one that is strangely depersonalized but not dispassionate).
The Portuguese words guas divididas, in black handmade stitches across the striped upper portion of the piece, summon the spectator to perform this task.
In other words, we are challenged to cross these divided watersthe artificial parting of the currents of life and death, health and sickness, gay and straight sexualityby both the power of Leonilsons words and the simple, palpable appeal of the contrasting materials.
Furthermore, AIDS conditions Leonilsons private sense of loss and deterioration, as well as his inevitably public relationship to society.This serene level of self-understanding is counterbalanced by Saras severe struggles with herself: at first in terms of the incompatibility between her pleasurable memories of youth measured against the dissatisfaction with her current status as an upper-middle class (and middle-aged) wife and mother.Also, in the end, by her profoundly self-absorbed sense of loss: her girlhood attraction to Bruno proves to be beyond her reach, a realization that binds her permanently to the present.Its plot consists of an arranged meeting between a visual artist named Bruno and his former girlfriend Sara, for the purpose of informing her that he has AIDS.Although the story accompanies Saras point of view, the force of the narrative resides in Brunos voice.
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An obvious example of this crossing of borders is Leonilsons Divided Waters of 1993.