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Her Story

Born on the 4th of July, 1940, in Teresópolis, Rio de Janeiro, my grandmother, Dilmen Marques de Oliveira, had a fairly traditional upbringing. She was born into a conservative family who placed her into an all-girls Catholic school, a fairly common practice in Brazil at the time. Being naturally gifted at painting, she later attended college at EAV Parque Lage to study art. She met my grandfather, a handsome man from a well-known traditional Brazilian family, at Ipanema Beach and went on to marry him at the young age of 20. As her passion for art flourished, she formed close relationships with some of Brazil’s great artists, such as Hélio Oiticica, Roberto Magalhaes, and Rogerio Duarte. Cecilia, her daughter, says that their " was a sort of headquarter for a community of artists, filmmakers, and musicians of all ages and backgrounds." Dilmen was naturally free-spirited and had an impatience brewing inside her, says my father. She valued being true to herself and always had a feeling that she was not living her life to the fullest. The cultural revolution of the late ’60s proved a significant turning point in her life. 


Globally, social tensions were rising like never before, as young people engaged in the civil rights movement and protested the Vietnam War. This, combined with generational issues of women’s rights and a rejection of traditional modes of authority, bred the counter-cultural hippy movement in the US and Europe. Brazil was also at a critical point, having gone under a military dictatorship in 1964 that vowed to censor and prosecute artists who dared to condemn the government. Among these artists were the now-legendary Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, who had just started their careers but were already making an explosive impact. They blended psychedelic rock heavily influenced by growing bands such as The Beatles and Pink Floyd, and typical Brazilian genres such as Bossa Nova and Samba, to create a distinct sound that became a portal for protesting the dictatorship. This mode of artistic expression grew in popularity, eventually leading to one of the largest artistic movements in Brazilian history, known as Tropicalia. Tragically, however, Caetano and Gil were exiled in 1969 and decided to move to London. By now, Dilmen had already given birth to my father, Bruno, and my aunt, Cecilia. Dilmen was undergoing "...her psychedelic phase, fuelled by pop music and LSD. It was also when she developed her style both as an individual and as an artist, giving birth to an adventurous and spirited self, a seeker of meaning for life which would soon lead her on the path of spiritual search" (Cecilia). After divorcing in 1968, she moved to London together with a group of aspiring artists, following in Caetano and Gil's footsteps, whom she grew close to. She spent over a year there, always practicing her art and living among like-minded people.


In 1971, she wanted to move forward in her journey. India was always seen as the gateway to spiritual knowledge, being the birthplace of the oriental philosophy that had guided the cultural revolution, so she was naturally drawn there. She had also become inspired after meeting Ravi Shankar at his concert in 1970 and from having read "A Search In Secret India" by Paul Brunton. She took a bus that travels from London to India down the famous overland hippy trail. It was a dangerous trip at the time. After a month on the road, she arrived in Delhi. She traveled around the country for a year, before coming back to Brazil, studying Hinduism--Ramana Maharshi being her first influence--and practicing her art. She returned to India every year for at least three months, many times with her children. Later on, Dilmen met the Dalai Lama and became incredibly interested in the Religious Tibetan art style: Thangka. These paintings surfaced in the 11th century, when Tibetans embraced Indian Buddhism and then, lacking a developed artistic tradition, became patrons of Indian artists (Philippe, de Montebello, 1998). The art involves rich colors on silk or cotton, commonly depicting deities and other classic Hindu symbols. She decided to blend that with the pop-art style she was already familiar with to create her own identity as an artist. 


In 1979 she sold her house in Brazil and decided to move to India. It was her last trip to the East. Before getting to India, she lived for six months in Katmandu, close to the Kopan Monastery, where she went for daily Thangka painting lessons. She became close to the founders of the monastery, Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. It was one of the happiest moments in her life, and she produced many of her paintings there. In 1980 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and decided to return to her family in Rio de Janeiro, where she remained for the last six years of her life. She passed away on May 4th, 1986 with my father by her side. The moment she passed was a surreal experience, describes my father, in full sincerity. Incredibly, "she lifted herself up seconds before her death (after being immobilized for months) and a pure white light seemed to radiate from her body". This emotional and beautiful moment, he would come to learn, is akin to Puranic accounts of how the Aatma (soul) leaves the body at the moment of death.

This virtual exhibition is the amalgamation of Dilmen's work as an artist and a personal exploration into her extraordinary life. 

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