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