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Metamorfose Ambulante

A Multitalentosa Keka Mendes não abandona seu lado Chef, mas embarca nas artes plásticas e mostra o curral de cabras que transformou em loft.


It is difficult to categorize Maria Henriqueta Junqueira Pedras Mendes de Almeida, a.k.a. – because to simplify is never overused – Keka. Currently she is “being” a visual artist and will present in her first exposition, “Interventions”, ten leather canvases and three chairs made out of Jabuticaba wood, next week, at Candido Mendes Gallery, in Ipanema. It is also difficult to know what she has not yet done. It seems like she has a profession for each of her surnames. In fact, if it was ever like that, she would need at least five more names.

An adventurer since her teens, she was one of the first women to fly (and become a champion) on delta wings in the 1980s, travelling throughout Brazil flying a motorized wing, as well as mastering windsurf, skate and snowboard. Aside from that, she delves into landscaping, apiculture, photography… It is virtually impossible to place a final dot on this list.

Keka was successful in becoming the first female sushi chef in Rio, at the former Sushi Up (at People Night Club). She was a Vegan Chef, including chlorophyll juice in the menu when hardly anyone knew what it was (yes, she is the one to blame for the green juice photo that pops up every morning in Instagram) and owned restaurants in Itaipava, Ipanema and in Pipa’s Beach in Rio Grande do Norte, where she resided for almost one year. Between meals she would organize tour outings with her Land Rover – known as Jack – throughout the local beaches. With the profit she would buy several little houses.

While all that was going on, she came up with a new dream – to become a chef on boats. And she ended up doing just that! “A friend of mine from Spain challenged me to pursue that dream, so I decided to give out flyers in Palma de Mallorca, an island in Spain. I ended up working as contact for boats’ rentals and sailing through the Mediterranean and the Caribbean”, she says. To this day she still ventures into kitesurf and goes around Rio on a Vespa.

But there is still another side to the young lady (see why one cannot number them all?): she builds and renovates the houses she owns around the country. “In Pipa, I built a house on stills with no doors. In Galinhos, a thatched cottage to enjoy the sunset”, she declares, saying she loves the sensation of freedom.

Currently, her refuge is an old goats’ pen which she turned into a house and a studio in Rio Bonito de Cima, in the mountains outside Rio de Janeiro. The rustic building of 250 square meters became a comfortable loft, with a bare log structure and roofed with clay tiles and a few glass ones, so natural light may enter. In the house, nothing is just right; there you will find beauty in imperfection. “I made almost everything here, even the fireplace, which I built in two stages. One side looks different from the other because I decided to finish it after a few drinks, so it ended up a bit crooked. I kept the wooden floor and brought down all walls. Both bedrooms, instead of doors, are enclosed by recycled and customized truck canvases. There I work and renew my energies”, she explains, this time around, talking as an architect.

Around the house, which is half suspended, Keka lets her horses graze freely and enjoys when they stroll under the floor. Through the cracks on the wood one may follow the beasts’ steps and listen to their neighing. “Spiders and scorpions also visit. They come in through the cracks on the floor”, she laughs about it.

The work on raw leather, much used in her art, she got to know while travelling on a 16 thousand kilometer trip throughout South America driving Jack. Half way through it, she bumped into a Guasqueiro (leather craftsman) in southern Brazil, who makes saddles and bridles. Mesmerized by it, she soon learned the technique and started to produce framed canvases, including those she will exhibit. These are pieces with different textures, with a variation of colors she made with pigments, and the natural brightness found in leather.

This is just one of the several things that Keka does concomitantly. The next one is already being thought of: She will form groups for birdwatching, taking advantage of the vast variety of species found in her property. Meanwhile, she will not leave behind her production of breads, cookies and chutneys. Her clients love it, and so does she.