Tag Archives: Brazil

Rebelling and Resisting

Posted by Michelle Hurtubise, MA Candidate at NYU’s Center for Experimental Humanities. This post was written in the summer of 2017, based on research funded by the Tinker Grant. 

When I said I wanted to go to a protest against Michel Temer this summer a mentor gently said, well just stay on the fringe.  Or in other words, this is Latin America young white one, you have no idea what you’re getting into.  I cared, I wanted to witness, what did it mean to protest in Rio de Janeiro?  There had been many a protest in New York in my recent past and I was curious.  Let’s just say that while I may be skittish, good thing I’m not a cat. 

I was surprised by a few things June 30, 2017.  One, what a great idea to sell drinks and snacks at a protest! Everyone gets hungry and needs a beer once in a while.  Two, seasoned journalists knew how to wear their riot gear as well as the police, only the press were the ones wearing blue helmets.  Three, you are never too old for more stickers. Four, fireworks thrown at police is a very effective scattering method. Five, do not be an undercover policeman discovered in a protest, ever. Six, tear gas does in fact make you cry.  But it wears off pretty quick. Seven, trash cans are usually removed from the path of the protest so as to decrease the amount of readily available material to set on fire. Eight, the sound of glass being shattered repeatedly can be oddly soothing in contrast to things exploding. Nine, I am definitely afraid and way out of my small sphere of limited existence.  Scaredy cat, check! Ten, I have never had something at stake in the same way these courageous Brazilians have.

 

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Strength at Posto 9

Posted by Michelle Hurtubise, MA Candidate at NYU’s Center for Experimental Humanities. This post was written in the summer of 2017, based on research funded by the Tinker Grant. 

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Photo by Michelle Hurtubise

I was sitting on Rio de Janeiro’s rightly famed and beautiful Ipanema Beach, crafting lofty academic thoughts while humming Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “The Girl from Ipanema” when I heard clapping.  I looked around, thinking someone was performing and could not find the source.  As more and more people began to stand up clapping, I too kept my energy focused on an unknown event.  Something was happening.  I stood up.  And then I saw where everyone was looking, a tiny happy boy was perched on someone’s shoulder, raising his toy word high in the air.  His skinny arm was straight and strong, raised in a triumphant gesture of confidence. The clapping got louder and louder until a man trailing a few other kids in tow calming walked up and the tiny boy climbed down for a hug.  A family was reunited.  The clapping turned into a few happy cheers and then everyone went back to their beach chairs, beer, and high academic musings.  I stood stunned, tears stinging my eyes as I witnessed something normal to the people of Posto 9 at Ipanema.  

As I sniffled I thought how easily the community here could transcend language and class, culture and borders and help a lost child out with a simple clap.  And why not? Posto 9 has a history of being a gathering place for liberals and countercultural movements, but a friend also said this kind of clapping happens all over Latin America. After all, it is the most logical, easy, and cost effective solution.  Forget fear and shaming, isn’t it more productive to NOT instill fear in a lost child or shame the parent when these things happen all the time and with no ill intent?  When everyone gathered together, the solution was simple and clear.  Just clap, people will look, and everyone gets to share in the joy of reunion.  Never before have I seen such a instinctual, genuine, and collective responsibility for the young.  No one tried to pass the responsibility off to another, no one had any fear of being held responsible for someone else’s problem.  Higher authorities were not turned to for a solution, the little boy was not handed off to the Police.  And a child learned that he had neighbors, he had people he could turn to who would actually help him.  He belonged.  He knew the land was his, the people were on his side, and while things new seem as simple when we are grown, for a moment he was the center of a movement.  Where the state often instills a culture of fear and shame, the community overcame and the people stood in joy.  In five minutes my whole notion of what is possible was turned on its head, and I was so grateful to be in Latin America where people graciously showed me more truly is possible.

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Photo by Michelle Hurtubise

Maré at Night

Posted by Michelle Hurtubise, MA Candidate at NYU’s Center for Experimental Humanities. This post was written in the summer of 2017, based on research funded by the Tinker Grant. 

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Photo by Michelle Hurtubise

My day started sleepily, having fended off an annoying mosquito all night.  I was gathering my strength, ready to encounter an unknown world, putting on first world makeup on to cover the bites when I heard the twerp again.  Oh I was ready.  Slap, blood, and thank goodness the mirror I hit with all my morning force didn’t shatter.  As I wiped up the mess I had the odd thought that I was cleaning up my own blood.  Forget about the mosquito, poor me.  I just spilled my own blood.

Recently I had seen BOPE (Special Police Operation Battalion) roll their tanks through the Maré Favela in Rio de Janeiro.  A school had closed because when a fire had started in a wastebasket, the firemen refused to come put it out.  They feared the favela.  So they called the police.  When BOPE rolled in, the community knew there would be trouble.  And then the shooting started.  So a school closed for the day because someone was scared to put out a fire in a wastebasket.  The tanks rolled by, and fanned the flames higher and higher and then bullets flew.

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The Racialized Rhetoric of Brazilian Museum Exhibitions at Midcentury and Contemporary Developments in Critical Pedagogy

Posted by Pilar Garrett, Joint MA Candidate at CLACS / Museums Studies, NYU

After three weeks in Brazil, to say my mind is over-saturated would be an understatement. This place, its social configurations, infrastructure, and patterns of behavior, are not simple- or, as Tom Jobim once noted, Brazil is not for beginners.

But I’ve known this my entire life; the degree of complexity is not news to me. However, armed with a deeper investigative purpose this time around, and a perspective made all the more sharp by the past year of critical academic reflection, Brazil’s peculiarities and blatant inequalities have presented themselves loudly and with more clarity. Such is the advantage of the field. Such is the curse and blessing of a social science education, the irremovable and ever-present analytical lens. Exhausting and oft-times emotional, I nevertheless know that these far-from-censored glances will  provide the foundation for sensitive, representative, and engaged work- and for that I am very grateful.

By way of explanation, I am here trying to sort out the racial implications of Brazil’s modernist project, specifically as represented and standardized through midcentury museum exhibitions. To this end, my work combines Brazilian social and political history, race theory, and museum theory, and while I’ve long had the conceptual framework of my thesis ready, it took being here in the field to narrow down the specific spaces of analysis for my project. My first week, following my landing in São Paulo, therefore consisted of peddling myself and my research proposal from one leading Paulista museum to another, as well as the Museu Afro Brasil which unfortunately- and tellingly- has been relegated to the lesser known of São Paulo’s cultural institutions. Of course, I had selected the museums that I felt fit my project beforehand so these rounds behaved mainly as a means to introduce myself, schedule appointments, and solidify connections in person. Continue reading

Aquarius by Kleber Mendonça Filho, or what should have been Brazil’s Oscar nominee

ladjaneBy Ian Merkel, PhD Candidate, History and French Studies, New York University

The Brazilian film Aquarius, released internationally last October, has been celebrated  by critics worldwide after its standing ovation at Cannes. On the front cover of the September edition of the French magazine Cahiers du Cinema, Aquarius was applauded as “a marvelous and surprising act of portraiture”[1] and considered “triumphant, a one-woman show of strength, sensuality and indomitable staying power”[2]. This very Brazilian film managed to do something that Brazilian film historically has often failed to do: to present stories, characters, scenarios, and aesthetics that a more global audience can identify with. In the United States, Aquarius deserves our special attention after having been deprived, by the Brazilian government, of the possibility of competing for an Oscar.[3] But while almost all critics, Brazilian and international, mention the presence of the protagonist Clara (Sônia Braga)’s maid Ladjane (Zoraide Coleto), few[4] analyze the relationship between them. In this article, we propose to demonstrate the very centrality of this question, as well as a broader critique of upper middle class privilege[5], within Mendonça Filho’s film.

International critics, to a large extent, have failed to address this question as they did for Mendonça Filho’s previous film, Neighboring Sounds (O Som Ao Redor), where themes of labor relations and the legacy of slavery were much more central.[6]  This may be because Brazil’s institution of domestic labor is unfamiliar to them and the film, unlike Domésticas (2001), and the more recent Casa Grande (2014) and Que Horas Ela Volta (2015), does not deal with it directly.  For most Brazilians critics, the institution of domestic labor is perhaps so banal, so omnipresent not simply in the film but in their daily lives, that it fails to garner special attention. These critics have reason to focus their energies on the larger politics of the film, particularly in the aftermath of the recent impeachment, considered by many to be a coup d’état.[7] But critics should also remember that Clara, the very protagonist of the film, is not without her own ambiguities. Although she resisted the military dictatorship[8]— and we imagine her to be a music critic and writer critical of inequalities on so many fronts– Clara proves incapable of criticizing the very institution of domestic labor that she depends upon in her daily life.

Identifying Clara as “good” and the real estate speculators as “evil” misses one of the essential takeaways of the film: namely, that all of us, to varying degrees, are caught up in a social and economic system that is exploitative, segregationist, and, although not overtly, racist.  This exploitation most often takes place at a distance. We know that the clothes on our backs are made by slave labor in Asia; the cellphones in our hands, with materials mined in precarious conditions in Africa and the Middle East; the produce we consume, cultivated either by poorly paid and mistreated labor, by multinationals that are destroying our planet (Brazil being a poignant example), or by both. We choose, however, not to remember these things—in psychology, to repress them— so that we can live our daily lives.

In the case of the Brazilian upper-middle classes, such daily exploitation is often much more intimate. In Aquarius, without cheap domestic labor, who would wash Clara’s clothes, cook her meals, clean her home, and allow her, as a woman, to have been able to pursue her aspirations as a writer? Clara, by most standards, is not only a good, but an excellent employer. Nonetheless, she is still the beneficiary of extreme inequality that makes it feasible (and in her mind necessary) to have someone working at her personal service, day in and day out.

Clara, like her friends, is conscious of this. Mid-way through the film, in the midst of growing tensions with her landlord, Clara dreams of an employee (a black woman) rummaging through and stealing her jewelry before her own eyes. The real thief throughout the film is the real estate company that owns her building. The company pressures Clara to leave her apartment and, when persuasion fails, make her life there a living hell. But in Clara’s dreams, her feelings of vulnerability are symbolized by a much more petty form of theft by an employee in her own home. Her friend Fátima (Paula de Renor), when looking over a family album of photographs in which she comes across an old employee, says quite nonchalantly, “we exploit them, they sometimes steal from us”. The naturality with which Fátima expresses this fact assumes a series of unspeakable truths: the recognition of employee underpayment, the expectation that employees will periodically steal, and the assumption of a given’s employee’s ability to be replaced when this inevitably happens.

Clara’s confrontation with Diego (Humberto Carrão), the grandson of the real estate mogul who is actively working to disappropriate Clara from her apartment, reveals director Kleber Mendonça’s not-so-stereotypical exploration of the upper-middle class existence of people like Clara. While certain critics regret Kleber Mendonça’s stereotyping of the young Brazilian businessman as a typical coxinha[9], Diego’s response to Clara’s provocations are indeed quite profound. Clara’s invective against Diego as an inheritor of family fortune, disguised in the language of “business” that his training in the U.S. allows him to use, certainly finds echo among the Brazilian left. But Diego’s bitingly sarcastic response to Clara, “you obviously had it tough,” gesturing toward Clara’s maid Ladjane who accompanied their argument, is equally powerful. Clara’s monopoly on morality against the exploitative capitalist crumbles in the face of her own reality.

After watching Aquarius, we obviously gain sympathy for certain characters and kinds of personalities more than others. Clearly, Mendonça Filho’s film is situated to the left of the political spectrum. But the film’s strength is to nuance our preconceived notions of good and evil. Clara, even as a woman on the left, a cultivated feminist who represents, to a large degree, progressive forces within Brazil, is still dependent on the exploitation of labor. In the United States, we have our own systems of exploitation laborer that that prop up middle class existence. In Brazil, however, such exploitation is often much more intimate, occurring within the confines of ones own home.

In recent years, the Worker’s Party government has brought domestic laborers out of the shadows and officially into the Brazilian workforce. Now, these workers are ensured, at least on paper, basic standards such as paid overtime, vacation, and employer contributions to social security. Many middle class people complain of the rising costs of having full time maids, and it may be the case that the current economic crisis forces even more of them to go from having someone work for them everyday to only once or twice a week. Nonetheless, domestic labor, as so many other employer-employee relationships in condominiums, houses, and businesses, remain the norm in Brazil. It is so utterly banal that even the left-wing critics of Aquarius are blind to it.

Mendonça Filho’s film is incredibly nostalgic for Brazilian cities in the 1980s and 1990s. His memory of a much safer, more humane Recife, less affected by real estate speculation and violence, may be accurate. However, it must not be forgotten that in those years, employees like Ladjane were considered as much appliances as they were as people. This, of course, is inseparable from the long history of slavery. According to architect, Lúcio Costa, “The Brazilian machine of housing, from the time of colony to Empire, depended on this mixture of beast and person that was a slave… he is what made the house function: there was a Negro for everything—from the little Negros always at hand for messages to the Old Negro nanny. The Negro was plumbing; he was running water in the bedroom, warm and cold; he was the light-switch and the doorbell; he sealed leaks and lifted heavy windowpanes; he was the washing machine and fanned better than a fan itself. Even after the abolition of slavery, the bonds of dependence and the comforts of patriarchal life […] persisted. During the first Republican period, the low cost of domestic labor continued to allow the bourgeoisie the maintain, without officially having slaves, the easy life of the previous period.”[10]

Aquarius, surely, may have its plot centered on Clara’s disappropriation. But it is much more than about the plight of the middle classes caused by real estate speculation. It is, in many ways, about the necessarily exploitative lifestyle of the middle classes, and the Brazilian middle classes in particular—even when they think of themselves as leftists. Aquarius will surely go down as a Brazilian and international classic. Aesthetically, its value is already recognized, as are Sônia Braga’s performance and the excellent soundtrack. But if Aquarius is to have a more profound impact politically, critics and viewers alike would do well to consider the exploitative nature not only of the real estate industry[11], but of people like me, you, and Clara.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/14/movies/aquarius-review.html

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/goingoutguide/movies/sonia-braga-makes-a-triumphant-return-to-the-screen-in-aquarius/2016/10/20/0966195e-948d-11e6-bb29-bf2701dbe0a3_story.html

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/28/world/americas/brazilian-politics-smother-a-films-oscar-ambitions.html

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/may/17/aquarius-review-rich-and-mysterious-brazilian-story-of-societal-disintegration

[5] revistacinetica.com.br/nova/o-pais-do-cinismo/

[6] http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/neighboring-sounds-2013

[7]http://www.democracynow.org/2016/3/24/glenn_greenwald_brazils_democracy_is_under
http://nacla.org/news/2016/09/07/brazil-impeachment-president-and-future-country
https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/03/dilma-rousseff-pt-coup-golpe-petrobras-lavajato/

[8] http://www.cartacapital.com.br/cultura/aquarius-e-o-dever-da-resistencia

[9] http://g1.globo.com/pop-arte/cinema/noticia/2016/09/aquarius-faz-reflexao-poderosa-mas-tem-vilao-simplista-g1-ja-viu.html

http://cultura.estadao.com.br/blogs/estado-da-arte/aquarius-e-a-regressao-do-cinema-politico/

[10] “A máquina brasileira de morar, ao tempo da colônia e do império, dependia dessa mistura de coisas, de bicho e de gente, que era o escravo. Se os casarões remanescentes do tempo antigo parecem inabitáveis devido ao desconforto, é porque o negro está ausente. Era ele que fazia a casa funcionar: havia negro para tudo – desde negrinhos sempre à mão para recados, até negra velha, babá. O negro era esgoto; era água corrente no quarto, quente e fria; era interruptor de luz e botão de campainha; o negro tapava goteira e subia vidraça pesada; era lavador automático, abanava que nem ventilador. Mesmo depois de abolida a escravidão, os vínculos de dependência e os hábitos cômodos da vida patriarcal de tão vil fundamento, perduraram, e, durante a primeira fase republicana, o custo baixo da mão de obra doméstica ainda permitiu à burguesia manter, mesmo sem escravos oficiais, o trem fácil da vida do período anterior.”

COSTA, Lúcio. “Depoimento de um arquiteto carioca”. In: Centro dos Estudantes Universitários de Arquitetura. Lúcio Costa: sobre arquitetura. Porto Alegre: UFRGS, 1962

[11] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/25/world/americas/brazil-president-temer-corruption.html?_r=0

Defense Research in a Shifting Security Environment

Posted July 26 by Colette Perold — PhD Student in NYU’s Media, Culture, and Communication

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AMA_ACE_6928_87_0001; Arquivo Nacional

On May 18, Brazil’s interim Foreign Relations Minister José Serra used his inaugural address to lay out Brazil’s new foreign policy plan, a ten-point schema that resisted an easy close, to the surprise of many: “But if I had to add one more,” he said, “I would name one that we have to act on…the protection of our borders.” He argued that Brazil’s landed borders are where Brazil’s organized criminal networks develop, where arms and goods smuggling meet drug trafficking, harming the Brazilian people and Brazil’s economy.

A week later, on May 25, the interim government announced the creation of an Executive Committee of Border Coordination and Control, composed of the ministries of defense, justice, and international relations, with support from at least twenty agencies, including the federal police, the federal reserve, the intelligence agency (ABIN), and the armed forces. Interim Defense Minister Raul Jungmann announced the committee would bring an additional 15,000 troops to the border, with additional arms and resources, at a total projected cost of R$9 billion.

On July 8, interim Minister of Justice Alexandre de Moraes announced in an interview with news outlet Istoé that the ministry would be augmenting the size of Brazil’s National Force from 1,500 troops to 15,000, and—once the Olympics are over—focusing their work also on Brazil’s landed borders.

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Chronicle of an Omission Foretold: The Place of Concrete Poetry in the History of Digital Literature

Visual Poetry pieces by Augusto de Campos

Video Poetry works by Augusto de Campos exhibited during July in São Paulo

Milton Laufer, PhD Student at the Spanish and Portuguese Department.

As a PhD Student in the Spanish and Portuguese Department, my research focuses on the development in Latin America of what is known as digital literature. By this I mean a particular way of thinking about texts which is not constrained by the bounds of the device called “book”, which lays in between many other disciplines, like the visual arts, video art, and computer games. This involves not only a new paradigm, or at least a broader paradigm, in our way of conceptualizing literature, but also a meaningful political dimension, a democratization, in the sense of how cultural goods circulate—including but not limited to the Internet—and, most importantly, how they are produced: in the same fashion espoused by the avant-garde movements, in digital literature the boundaries between the producer and the consumer are blurred, calling into question not only ontological concepts like creator, art-work, and reader, but also legal ideas that have traveled a long and undisputed path, like intellectual property. Though the first two works of digital literature date back to the 1950s (Strachey, 1952 and Lutz, 1959), it was only during the past decade that a field of scholarship focused on this literary form began to emerge. In this time, digital literature has become a vital object of inquiry, not only because its trajectory is difficult to anticipate, but also—and more importantly—because it sheds light on our understanding of literary production in a broader sense.

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