Category Archives: Recent Research

To Remember Is To Resist

Ói Nóis Aqui Traveiz , To Remember Is To Resist

Ói Nóis Aqui Traveiz , To Remember Is To Resist

My research experience in Brazil has been very interesting and unique, as Brazilian artists, art critics and curators have opened the doors of their ateliers and houses to talk about the experience of the military regime in their country.
Many of the artists told me that the dictatorship did not influence their way of creating art. Nevertheless, the context in which they where living unavoidably influenced the content of their works.

After interviewing the sculptor Carlos Tenius I met the painter Clara Pechansky, who told me that for her the only way possible to talk at that time was through her art. She never took part in protests, but she inserted elements of interior revolt in her work. In the series of lithographs that she produced during the harshest period of the regime, called “Games of Power”, generals are a recurring subject. They are represented full of ornaments and decorations and they are funny figures. In a lithograph that the artist showed me there is a line of generals. Some of them are holding slings instead of real weapons. Others are represented as wind-up toys with a spring on their back that would serve to activate them and make them play the trumpet. At the bottom there are some women looking up at the line of soldiers. They don’t have mouths: a possible reference to censorship.

I then met the artist Vera Chaves Barcelos, who in 1976 founded with other artists the group “Nervo Optico” (Optical Nerve). Together the artists wrote a manifesto against the power of the marked in the art world and against regional art. The members proposed instead an international and independent movement. The group was a reaction to the art policies, which were a direct consequence of the government of that time.
Vera did some ironic works that could be read as political, such as the work called “Keep Smiling” that is composed by photographs of people who are forcedly smiling at the camera and the viewer. The posture of the people resembles that of the photographs of prisoners. Today the artist thinks of her work as political, as at that time there were few reasons for smiling and being cheerful.

At the time of the dictatorship the artist Carlos Wladimirsky, who I met a few days after, did some urban interventions that were openly against the regime, a denunciation of the crimes committed by the military. For one of his works he cut the head of some mannequins, painted them red and set them on fire in the middle of the street.
He also organized several events and performances that had a ritual character and a direct reference to African religions. With his group of performers called “O sentido do corpo” (The meaning of the body) he collaborated with the theatre group Ói Nóis Aqui Traveiz. They realized two shows in which all the actors were naked. The piece did not have a sexual connotation, but a sensorial one. At the time nakedness was not common and there were very strong reactions from the public.
Carlos’ work was against the dictatorship of the body. He was seeking the liberation not only from the political constrains, but a sexual, religious and social emancipation.

After talking with Carlos I decided to interview Paulo Flores, one of the founders of Ói Nóis Aqui Traveiz. The group always favored performances in the streets, rather than in theatres, in order to be able to reach a larger number of people. But they were able to start playing in the streets only in 1977, during the Geisel government, when also the student demonstrations returned to the streets to demand for democracy.
The theatre group has always been politically and socially engaged. The day after I met Paulo during a rehearsal, they performed a show in memory of the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the dictatorship, asking the Government to investigate the crimes committed during the regime, to identify the people who disappeared and to punish the people responsible for the killings.
Paulo explained me that Ói Nóis Aqui Traveiz was always concerned with integrating aesthetics and politics, and the audience with the actors.
The members have always been both artists and political activists. During the regime their performances used to open the demonstrations in the streets and parks of the city. Their theatre has a mobilizing character; it involves and changes the viewer.

Posted by Camilla Querin – MA Candidate at CLACS / Museum Studies

Subtlety Is Very Heavy

Monument to Castelo Branco seen from below

Monument to Castelo Branco seen from below

I started my field research about Brazilian art during the military dictatorship in Porto Alegre, the capital of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.

Porto Alegre is a symbolic place in the history of the regime.

In 1961, when the then-president Jânio Quadros renounced his charge, the military, sustained by the United States, tried to prevent the vice-president João Goulart (Jango) to take office. At the time, Jango was in China. The military feared a leftist government and, as Jango was visiting a communist country, they asserted that they wanted to prevent a bolshevist dictatorship. The governor of Rio Grande do Sul, Leonel Brizola, organized a civil resistance to maintain the juridical order and assure the respect of the Constitution, called Movement for Legality.

Many artists participated in the resistance and a group of visual artists, musicians, writers, journalists, actors, and newscasters signed the Manifesto de Intelectualidade contra o golpe (Manifesto of the intelligentsia against the coup) that called the Brazilian artists and intellectuals to unite in defense of the constitutional order.

Thanks to the support of the General José Machado Lopes and other politicians, the campaign was successful. Nevertheless, Jango was overthrown three years later, on March 31, 1964 by the military coup that installed the dictatorship.

And it is at the Colegio Militar, the military school of Porto Alegre, that all the five dictators who governed during the regime studied.

I decided to do my first interview to Carlos Tenius, the sculptor who created the Monument to Castelo Branco, one of the organizers of the coup and the first president of the military regime. The monument was commissioned by the businessmen of the area who thought that Castelo Branco had saved the country from communism. The project had to pass the censorship of the military.

Several artists who were asked by the committee refused to do it. Among them the sculptors Vasco Prado, who was a member of the Communist Party and Xico Stockinger, whose name was the first on the list of artists who signed the Manifesto of the intelligentsia in 1961.

Carlos Tenius accepted to create a project for the monument. His statue is 28 meters high and is composed by four standing figures made of iron. They are warriors with over-sized legs, holding shields and standing in circle, as to attack or to protect themselves. The huge statue is located in Parcão, a park in one of the central neighborhoods of the city.

During our meeting, Tenius told that the artists of the left harshly criticized him for designing a statue in honor of a dictator. “Nobody understood what was the message. Art has the fundamental chance of revealing an era. And I was aware of it. I wanted to represent in a subtle way the period of time in which we were living. Instead of participating in demonstrations, being taken by the police, being tortured or killed, I decided to do something symbolic. Subtleness is very heavy.” According to the artist, the monument marked an era. “People need perspective to judge events (and works of art) that only time can give. History needs distance to be comprehended.”

The monument was inaugurated in 1979 at the presence of the last dictator, Figueiredo, after the harshest time of the regime had passed, and the statue is still standing.

Monument to Castelo Branco, 1979

Monument to Castelo Branco, 1979

With its huge dimensions it transmits a feeling of subjection to the people walking under it. It can perfectly be the representation of the brutality of the dictatorship, of the atmosphere of tension and the sensation of being constantly under control that reigned at that time.

Most of the people who I talked with in the Parcao did not know that the sculpture was a monument to a dictator. However, this year on the night of March 31, the 50th anniversary of the coup, a banner with written “Ditadura nunca mais” (Dictatorship never again) appeared on the statue. Interpretations of the meaning of the statue and the intentions of the artist can be diverse. For sure the monument remains a symbol of an era of violence and limitation of freedom that needs to be remembered in order to be avoid.

 Posted by Camilla Querin – MA Candidate at CLACS / Museum Studies

Becoming a Paulista… for now

A memorial to the trailblazers of Brazil in the Parque Ibirapuera in São Paulo.  For an excellent analysis of this sculpture and the bandeirantes more generally, look forward to Barbara Weinstein's forthcoming work, the Color of Modernity.

A memorial to the trailblazers of Brazil in the Parque Ibirapuera in São Paulo. For an excellent analysis of this sculpture and the bandeirantes more generally, look forward to Barbara Weinstein’s forthcoming work, the Color of Modernity.

I’ve been in São Paulo for only about a week, but it’s been enough time to get a feel for a Brazilian city that is much more like New York or Los Angeles than it is to anything I’ve experienced until now.  Until this research trip—in which I am not only delineating my thesis but also researching various archives at the Universidade de São Paulo (USP) and across the city—my entire perspective of Brazil was that of the nordeste and the Amazon, indeed the poorest regions of the country.  Now I’m in the land of skyscrapers, more intense social segregation, and chic hamburger joints like one in which everything on the menu is named after a Tarantino character or movie.

My project, which deals with the foundational period of the social sciences in Brazil (roughly 1930-1960) lies at a critical moment for understanding the tensions between nationalism and internationalism that colored the ways in which elite Brazilians—and Paulistas in particular—imagined themselves and the broader national polity.  Continue reading

The National Seminar on Copyright in the Carnival Industry

Unfortunately I was not allowed to take photos inside the seminar room, but here is a photo of the programme

Unfortunately I was not allowed to take photos inside the seminar room, but here is a photo of the programme

Yesterday I attended the National Seminar on Copyright in the Carnival Industry in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Honestly I didn’t know what to expect considering that the government of Trinidad and Tobago has not made any headway in negotiations with the World Intellectual Property Organization to recognize the terminology works of mas, which encompasses carnival arts, performances and song, as Traditional Cultural Expressions. However, yesterday’s seminar not only demonstrated how important the protection of works of mas is to Trinidadians, regardless of the lack of international support, but also conveying the ritualization of bureaucracy.
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Are Peace Treaties Enough?

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This summer, I have embarked on a journey of archival research. Looking at peace agreements from the last 20 years, I have read the endless processes of peace and transition. Aside from guarantees for equal participation, freedom expression, and a process of “truth seeking,” peace agreements suffer from what I have categorized  as the “paper syndrome.” The “paper syndrome” is a phenomenon which I characterized as the following: The vision  of a Peace Treaty failing to accomplish its vision, since once it is put on paper, it does not translate into immediate action. Rather, it becomes faded as soon as  its recommendations are put into practice. Governments and Commissions prepare endless amounts of reports with hundreds of recommendations of possibilities and resolutions to which few take effect. The endless agreements for participatory politics and the reign of human rights within the country become once again forgotten when power is obtained. I will say that in over the ten peace agreements I have read, the proposal for policies account for about 130 pages at their largest; yet, the results account for about 5% of these policies being adopted.

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Imminent Displacement: the Shipibo in Lima

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About 1000 Shipibos live in Cantagallo, a shanty-town in the Rimac district of Lima, Peru.  The Shipibo-Conibo are an indigenous group that live near the Ucayali river in the Amazon region of Peru. They make up about 10-15% of Cantagallo, the rest being populations that migrated from other areas in Peru, particularly the Andean regions.  Although Cantagallo began being populated in the 1970s, the Shipibos began arriving there in the year 2000.

I started my first week of living with a family in Cantagallo on June 14.  I arrived close to 5:00 and tecnocumbia music was already blaring.  A male voice announced father’s day celebrations on a loudspeaker that the whole community could hear.  He spoke in Shipibo, with only a few words of Spanish seeping through.

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Multiple Forms of Remembering the AMIA

Escobar - Argentina - AMIA

On July 18th, 1994, the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) was struck by a van loaded with explosives, resulting in 85 casualties and over 300 injuries. July 18th marks the 20th anniversary of this attack, a date made all the more resonant due to the fact that no one has ever been convicted for the crime.

This date was planted firmly in my mind when I planned my research trip. I knew I wanted to be in Buenos Aires to attend the commemoration, but I had not anticipated that multiple remembrances that would take place. This change of events serves to reiterate what CLACS has informed us throughout the planning process for our research trips; things change once you’re on the ground. Continue reading