Fayga Perla Ostrower was a painter, designer, art theorist, and pedagogue who also illustrated and authored many books. She was born on September 14th 1920 in Łódź and died on September 13th 2001 in Rio de Janeiro.
Painter, designer, illustrator and author of many books, art theorist, and pedagogue.
She came from a Jewish family, and her maiden name was Krakowska. When she was four years old she moved with her family to Wuppertal in Germany. In 1932 the Krakowski family: the father, Froim and the mother, Frimeta, along with their children, Rachela, Elieser, Dawid and Fayga, the eldest, were forced to leave Germany. They fled to Belgium, and two years later they reached Brazil.
Fayga liked to draw from her early youth. During her trip by boat to Brazil she drew portraits of the passengers and crew which have survived to this day. Thanks to those drawings she acquired chocolate, which she then shared with her younger siblings. Upon their arrival to Brazil, the family settled near Rio de Janeiro in a city called Nilópolis. Fayga took on many different jobs, including as a secretary, as she spoke five foreign languages: German, French, English, Spanish and Portuguese. In 1939, she signed up for a free drawing course at the Brazilian Association of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro, which she attended every day after work. Two years later she got married to Heinz Ostrower, a German historian and philosopher with whom she had two children, Carl Robert (1949) and Anna Leonora (1952).
In the mid-1940s, she created a series of illustrations and book covers for a few famous Brazilian authors: Aluísio Azevedo, Graciliano Ramos and Joracy Camargo. In 1946, she completed a six-month course in graphic arts at a private institution, Getúlio Vargas Foundation, where she honed her skills in such fields of art as engraving and woodcuts. One of her lecturers was Thomas Santa Rosa, a famous scenographer, who became known for his stage design for the play The Wedding Dress by Nelson Rodriguez that was directed by a Polish director – Zbigniew Ziembiński (this show set a new direction in contemporary Brazilian theatre, which was mainly due to the Polish director). Two years later, she had her first solo exhibition at Itapetininga Gallery in São Paulo. Her style was comparable to that of German expressionism, although the subject matter of her work expressed social involvement. Often her woodcut pieces presented women washing clothes, children from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and other scenes portraying the life of the poor. Käthe Kollwitz, a German graphic designer and sculptor, greatly influenced Ostrower’s initial stage of artistic activity.
In 1951, Fayga Ostrower acquired Brazilian citizenship and her art was exhibited in museums in Brazil and abroad more and more often. In 1955, she received a yearly scholarship from the Fullbright Foundation in New York, where she visited multiple museums and worked at the Brooklyn Museum Art School. Fayga’s works have been exhibited at The Contemporaries Gallery and she was often invited to give lectures.
Paul Cézanne’s works had a great influence on Ostrower, as due to him she took on an abstract style. Inspired by Cubism and abstract art she began to move away from figurative and socially engaged art. She said:
Between 1950 and 1954, I slowly began to change my style – perhaps I was searching for something different. At the time I received two books about Cézanne as a gift (…) Discovering Cézanne took me four years, I tried to understand him, until thanks to him I understood Cubism. I never tried to be a Cubist. My journey led me directly to abstract art.
Her pieces can be found in Brazil’s biggest museums, as well as countries in Europe and both of the Americas. She received many awards, the most important of which were the National Grand Prize for Engraving during the Biennale in São Paulo (1957), the International Prize at the 29th Biennale in Venice (1958) and awards at the Biennale in Florence, Buenos Aires and Mexico. Fayga also designed jewellery and tapestries. In 1964 she was invited by the US government to give a series of lectures at the Spellman University in Atlanta, where she stayed for seven months as a resident and visiting professor. In 1975, her exhibitions were displayed in the United States (Washington) and many cities in Europe: Rome, Geneva, Brussels, and Stockholm. In between 1954 and 1970 she gave classes in composition and critical analysis at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro. During the 60s she also taught at the Slade School of Fine Art at the University College in London, as well as at numerous other universities in Brazil. She was the president of the Brazilian Association of Arts between 1963-1966, director of the Brazilian committee of Unesco’s International Society of Education Through Art (INSEA) between 1978-1982, an honorary member of the Academy of Art and Design in Florence.
Fayga Ostrower is also known as the author of numerous books about art, among others: Craitividade e Processo de Criação, Universos da Arte, Acasos e Criação Artística, and A sensibilidae do Intelecto (awarded the prestige literary award Jabuti in 1999). Carlos Drummond de Andrade, a famous Brazilian poet and writer, wrote about her artistry in one of his poems. In 1989, two of her exhibitions took place in Poland: in the Test Gallery in Warsaw and in the Museum of Art in Łódź, her hometown. In 1997, she was honoured by the Brazilian government with the Order of Cultural Merits.
She passed away on September 13th 2001 in Rio de Janeiro, with many artistic projects unfinished and with preparations for another book under way. A year after her death, the Fayga Ostrower Institute was founded in Rio de Janeiro.
Edited by: Aleksandra Pluta, September 2015, Translated by: Zuzanna Wisniewska, September 2015