Emanuel de Carvalho redresses the lack of representation of queer bodies in the art canon

Based in London, the Portuguese-Canadian artist hopes to challenge societal constructs around gender and identity.

8 November 2021

Emanuel de Carvalho gained more than his creative spirit from his parents. Born in Portugal, Emanuel was raised by his mother, an artist, and father, who founded his own ceramics company after he moved to the country from Canada. “They are both extremely driven and the most hard-working people I have ever met,” he tells It’s Nice That. “I have inherited my mother’s visual language and my father’s determination to pursue new challenges.”

This, coupled with the fact that he’s always been a keen drawer and storyteller, made art a viable option for Emanuel. But first, he started working as a model from the age of 16, which positively challenged him to open up in new, performative and “invaluable” ways. He also received an MA in medicine and completed a doctorate in visual sciences at the University of Amsterdam. So when did it all fall into place for the budding artist? “It was during my time in the Netherlands that I began writing a series of micro-fiction works, entitled Upper Middle Under Land,” he says. He was then invited to join a collective of artists, which is where he devised a series of texts and accompanying collection of small charcoal drawings, “which over time assumed a relevance and significance on their own.”

After moving to London, Emanuel enrolled in a painting course at Slade School of Fine Arts, and then, the rest is basically history. “I was introduced to painting, realising only then how its syntax enabled me to create narratives that went beyond drawing and print,” he continues. And now he’s currently completing the Turps Banana Art School Studio Painting Programme, which he deems as “life-changing” thanks to his mentor Anne Ryan, who helped develop an artistic language that is “representative of myself, our time and generation.” He’s also recently been added to the roster of impeccable artists championed by Guts Gallery, which empowers underrepresented artists and therefore celebrates new voices in the industry – next year, he’ll hold his first solo show with the gallery.


Emanuel de Carvalho: Nothing Goes With This Body (Copyright © Emanuel de Carvalho, 2021

Emanuel’s work is utterly transfixing, both in terms of the iridescent tones and in the subject matter he explores. Right now, he’s most interested in documenting political changes, especially acknowledging the shift towards non-categorisation of gender identities. “Many of my paintings reflect on mortality and the passing of time, while drawing associations between queer and mental states of being,” he notes. “I feel that I have an obligation to redress the scarcity of representation of queer bodies and scenes from art historical canons.” In this regard, Emanuel’s paintings represent otherness, “works where objects and bodies carry an intensity that aims to gaze back at the view and trigger their own constructs about gender and identity.”

An all-encompassing and necessary study, Emanuel voices these topics by deconstructing the notion of perception, which is associated with the bodies, objects and the creation of imagery. This is why his figures are frozen in gestural postures, often depicted in performative stances – like those splaying backwards on a stool or pulling off a pair of trousers in a car. These figures are conclusively juxtaposed with static objects such as linens, plants and furniture, which gives the work a profound sense of dynamism as it responds to the scarce representation of queer bodies in the historical art canon. “I want to capture the attention of the beholder to initiate a dialogue about their perception towards these images, to understand whether negative associations come to light and if so, whether we can address these ideological constraints,” he adds.

In one painting named Nothing goes with this body, Emanuel has reflected on the concept of opposition – or what he describes as the “antithetical states” of “everything versus nothing, life versus death, euphoria versus depression, positive versus negative.” Transferring this into visual art, he’s devised a luminous depiction of a subject – which is himself – in mid-motion as he undresses, plants consuming the frame at the edges with their earthy greens hues. “I place myself in the middle of a lush rainforest and a series of empty plastic bags, both in unequivocal and direct opposition with one another,” he explains. “At the same time, the figure is an enclosed, rather claustrophobic space (the backseat of a car). They are either getting dressed or undressing, there is an ambiguity and sadness in their actions.” The most autobiographical work he’s made to date, it speaks on a personal level as well as on a universal one.

Emanuel hopes that his audience will dwell on the topics explored in this piece, as well as in his broader portfolio of works. Above all, he hopes to raise awareness of the fact that peoples’ perceptions and responses are a reflection of societal constructs and norms. “Ideological views are permeable and acknowledging them is the first step towards change,” he says. “At the same time, I hope to bridge the gap between painting and today’s digital world, while humbly acting as an artist that is attentive to the changes being brought to light by a new generation of thinkers.”


Emanuel de Carvalho: All That Crash Stuff (Copyright © Emanuel de Carvalho, 2021


Emanuel de Carvalho: Someone Is Crawling On My Wall (Copyright © Emanuel de Carvalho, 2021


Emanuel de Carvalho: They Want to Eat Something That is Not Liquid RN (Copyright © Emanuel de Carvalho, 2021


Emanuel de Carvalho: To The New State, They Said (Copyright © Emanuel de Carvalho, 2021


Emanuel de Carvalho: Untitled (Copyright © Emanuel de Carvalho, 2021


Emanuel de Carvalho: They've Been Together Ever Since (Copyright © Emanuel de Carvalho, 2021

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Emanuel de Carvalho: Tap To Chat Raise Your Debt(Copyright © Emanuel de Carvalho, 2021

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima. 

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