Rural Culture

Leandro Júnior (born 1984) is a figurative painter and sculptor whose artistic themes are drawn from the humble rural life in the Jequitinhonha valley of Brazil’s Minas Gerais. Known as the sertão (meaning, roughly, “back country”), it is a place of raw beauty — a land of a proud and diverse people with complex history.

Born in Cachoeira, Chapada do Norte's county, in the Jequitinhonha valley, Leandro Júnior draws inspiration from the culture and camaraderie fostered within this mountainous rural area, where the largest town contains only 7,000 inhabitants. While living in this region for 35 years, Júnior has developed his artistic method using the native clay he mines himself from the region’s steep valleys, which leads to works that echo the nature of his territorial and cultural roots (sertanejo). Whether sculpted in solid clay or painted in homemade liquefied clay on canvas, Júnior’s works explore life in the Jequitinhonha valley and its historical ancestry, which includes numerous descendants of escaped African slaves who are still living in the region’s many quilombos — communities founded by fugitive slaves.

Human Hands & the Substance of Earth

Clay is the core material in Leandro Júnior’s paintings and sculptures. The artist mines clay personally from the hills of Jequitinhonha and refines it, so it can be turned into paint to be applied to canvases, or modeled and fired in an earthen kiln, to become sculptures that also incorporate layers of collaged book book pages taken from noted poems and novels. These sculptures resonate with the visual artworks in which, for decades, artists have incorporated words from poems, novels, and other literary forms into both painting and collage, to create objects meant to be both seen and read. This is a practice that found its first important flowering in Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century, and continues to the present day in the work of Júnior and others, largely because of its poetic power. In Júnior’s paintings and sculptures, the practice helps shape an engaging elegy to the rural sertanejo lifestyle of Jequitinhonha, where the lands once mined for gold by the first generations of African slaves are now dotted with small farms and fazendas for local cachaça. Formally, many of Júnior’s canvas paintings involve a layering of book pages taken from old encyclopedias of Brazilian history, as well as pages from famous works of Brazilian literature such as that of João Guimaraes Rosa’s landmark 1956 novel Grande Sertão: Veredas, which centers on the poor, inland region of the sertão where Júnior grew up.

History & Heritage

Leandro Júnior’s paintings — created with liquid clay dug from the region’s earth, gold leaf that references its mining, and charred pages from historic books — are a visual tribute to the Jequitinhonha region, its people, and its mountainous terrain. Taken as a whole, the paintings bear elegant witness to the historical pathways that have shaped humankind’s history over the centuries, through struggle and survival.


Place & Process: Community

A video interview focusing on Leandro’s artistic process