Cybèle Varela followed a five year course at the Museum of Modern Art (MAM) of Rio and her education was complemented by studies of art history at the Ecole du Louvre and at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes-Sorbonne, thanks to two scholarships awarded by the French government, in 1968 and in 1971. Nevertheless, her career started as an autodidact, and she received her first award at the age of 16 from the National Museum of Fine Arts of Rio de Janeiro.
She began her career in Brazil in the 60s with paintings and objects, later on including photography and video in her activities. In her earliest paintings and objects, she developed a critical and often ironical appreciation of urban life, which was much influenced by American Pop Art and was part of a local movement called Tropicalism.
Her research awakens general interest and raises support from active and well-known art critics, including Jayme Mauricio, Walmir Ayala, Frederico Morais, José Roberto Teixeira Leite and Francisco Bittencourt. Following the scholarships granted by the French Government, she moved to Paris and was artist in residence at the Cité Internationale des Arts. In Paris she began focusing on the self-reflective representation of Nature, in a series of paintings, photographs and videos she entitled “Images”. This research, through which she questioned the ambiguous representation of appearance, fitted in the Figuration narrative wave, and was appraised by major French critics such as Pierre Restany, Jean Luc Chalumeau, Gérald Gassiot-Talabot. Jean-Jacques Lévêque and Jean-Marie Dunoyer.
Her work progressively evolved into a geometrical construction of space, a research she maintained after having moved to Switzerland in 1978. In these works, the ambiguity of the real is transcribed through the interposition of fragmentary elements, such as the image of a tree or clouds, shown through photography or video. Reality, over-manipulated, becomes unreality, as described by Sylvio Acatos and Monique Priscille.
In the 90s, she develops a series of works staging public benches and tropical gardens. After a sojourn in Ireland and Brittany, she starts integrating themes from Celtic culture and natural elements.
As from 2000, her interest shifts towards self-representation, in a series of paintings, photographs and videos, where she appears with her face painted in red or wearing masks, through which she questions the image of the artist.
Varela has exhibited widely in galleries and museums around the world, in Europe, USA, and South America, and in major festivals such as the São Paolo Biennial. Her work is part of several international private and public collections, such as Centre George Pompidou in Paris and Museum of Art Assis Chateaubriand (MASP) in São Paulo.