Varejão’s newest body of work, Polvo, expands her exploration of miscegenation—the mixture of races—with a series of self-portraits that highlights the spectrum of interracial identity in Brazil, where historically race has assumed a social and cultural function. Varejão often uses the term mestizaje, as it embodies the concept of miscegenation, though indiscriminate of the combination of ethnicities.
Varejão’s influences include the baroque, history and ceramics, as well as art history; she weaves these together to show the impact of the Euro-centric worldview on the New World. Colonial Spanish casta paintings and a 1976 racial census issued by the Brazilian government served as inspiration for the Polvo series. The government survey asked Brazilian citizens to describe their own skin color, resulting in 136 different metaphorical descriptions. From these Varejão selected the most linguistically poetic descriptions, varying from Sapecada (Flirting with Freckles), Café com Leite (Milky Coffee), Burro quando Foge (Faded Fawn) and Queimada de Sol (Sun Kissed), and depicts herself as she envisions with each of these skin tones.
Varejão’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States will take place at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston in November 2014. Her work is currently included in the permanent collections of the Tate Modern, London; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Hara Museum, Tokyo; and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, among others.