Art in the Sumaré Metro Station
I have always considered São Paulo my home away from home when in Brazil, though most of the time I’ve spent here has been for personal enjoyment or work purposes. I had never experienced the city as a researcher. Though after short exploratory research trip to “Sampa” in June, and now a week’s worth of recent study, I can safely say that when it comes to conducting archival research in Brazil, my goodness what a difference a city makes.
Ironically, I had never considered São Paulo (city) as a location for my research. On the other hand, Campinas, a city just a short drive from Sampa, had always been on my list. It’s known for UNICAMP, one of the highest ranked universities in Brazil and home to one of the best historical research facilities in the region: Arquivo Edgard Leuenroth. My initial plan to work exclusively in Rio and then Campinas. However, during one of my first weeks in Rio, I visited the Arquivo Nacional, where one of the librarians pointed out that the best source for documents related to my research were housed at the State Arquive of São Paulo. Though a point of frustration at the time, I’m glad that she suggested that I visit Sampa for research purposes. If it hadn’t been for that moment, I most likely may not have ended up here having the best research experience in Brazil to date. Continue reading
fica de olho, literalmente, nas feiras de antiguidades!
In the past decade, Brazil has undergone drastic economic transformations that have led to an increase in the size of its middle class. This segment of Brazil’s population has used its buying power as a means of self-definition, with mass consumerism as evidence of not only their existence, but also their success. Though new name-brand electronics, homewares, and clothing are high on the wish lists of Brazil’s nouveaux riches, old items have emerged as the signs of true taste.
Labels remain a marker of one’s class status, as many imported goods and clothing brands such as Zara, Tommy Hilfiger, LG, and Apple remain inaccessible to a large majority of Brazilians. The Brazilian government insists on high import taxes to keep demand for foreign goods relatively low and protect its domestic market, though in recent years it has steadily encouraged its population to experience the world with both their eyes and their wallets. Subsequently, foreign marcas (labels) have lost a degree of their exclusivity among the pre-existing middle to upper classes. Additionally, the emergent avante-garde of college-educated, city-dwelling young people have contributed greatly to this process as they have sought to challenge the style status quo by establishing their own alternative.
the booth for Godoy Arte e Antiguidades
Style, in today’s terms, does not lie in an item’s newness, label, or location of origin. Instead, in large cities like Rio and São Paulo, alternative youth subcultures and the “old” middle class have come to valorize vintage wares and antique furnishings over the often cheaply made newer options. This taste, however, has a high price-tag of its own, with many of the items costing well above their foreign counterparts, a reality that antiques specialist André notes is only somewhat eased by the internet. “You can go on the internet now and find an item sold somewhere else for less,” he noted. “Sometimes when we do pricing, we have to keep this in mind.” I met Andre at São Paulo’s famous Feira de Antiguidades (Antiques Fair) in Praça Benedito Calixto. His booth stood out among many of the others as it contained countless collectibles connected to one of my favorite subjects: music. He had record players and grammaphones in excellent condition for their age, all of which he restored himself. Continue reading
Opening of an exhibition of street art at Museu de Arte de São Paolo
In the course of my research on engaged art practices, which often operate outside of the traditional institutional frameworks and commercial circuits of contemporary art, I have become increasingly interested in how artists and art groups sustain their work over time, i.e. how they find ways (or don’t) to sustain their production economically, if they move towards increased institutionalization or professionalization; if they develop long-term plans or if they work on a project-by-project basis; and what material, organizational and interpersonal conditions motivate them to continue working and working together. In my interviews with artists in São Paulo I found that members of collectives that had worked together for upwards of a decade also had given a great deal of thought to these questions. Many discussed the public grants made available under Lula’s administration and the leadership of Gilberto Gil in the Ministry of Culture, as well as the evident and probable changes taking place under the new Ministry of Culture, as led by Ana de Holanda. Most of the artists acknowledged that this public funding had been a major source of support for their work, as evidenced in the books (published for free distribution), DVDs, documentary videos, original research, and large-scale community-based projects they had produced with funding from state agencies (and Petrobras). However, some also pointed to the negative effects the cycle of grant competitions and the specified interests of funding agencies had on artists’ abilities to develop and maintain long-term initiatives and a unified line of investigation, the fact that members of collectives often internalize costs of their work when the public money falls short (as it often does), and the possibility that the critical potential of some work is compromised by its reliance on state funding. Continue reading
The last couple of weeks were spent doing research in two different locations: one week at the Universidade de Sao Paulo’s School of Architecture and Urbanism (FAU) and the other week at the Biblioteca Mario de Andrade. In both places I looked at specialized journals and magazines published in the late 1940s and early 1950s. These magazines and journals – all of them dedicated to modern architecture and urbanism – included titles such as Acropole, Pilotis, Habitat, Modulo, Enhenharia e Decoracao and Arquitetura e Engenharia. Most of these magazines were unknown to me, making them that much more important to my work. I was able to find a number of very good articles written by prominent architects and engineers – most of them Brazil – about the challenges that Sao Paulo was facing in the 1940s and 1950s. Interestingly, direct references to Robert Moses and his Program of Improvements for Sao Paulo were very scarce. However, there is no doubt that interest in urban planning – particularly the desire to produce a master plan for the city of Sao Paulo – grew exponentially after Moses’ 1950 Program. Luckily both library’s have extremely generous policies when it comes to photographing the material – basically a researcher is able to photograph everything and anything she or he needs. Needless to say I have been able to collect a vast amount of photos. The only draw back is that thanks to this policy I have given the materials a cursory look. The idea is that I will be able to get back to the photos I have taken in the near future and read the material more carefully.
One other item of interest that I was able to locate is another urban plan for the city of Sao Paulo, this one published in 1969. Although Robert Moses did not participate in this later plan, many other Americans, including the U.S. Government. The 1969 plan was partially financed by USAID. I need to find out if Nelson Rockefeller was also associated with the 1969 plan.
Posted by Marcio Siwi — PhD Candidate in Latin American History at NYU
I have been interviewing artists in São Paulo who approach their art making as a form of action research, others whose art tends at times towards social communication and/or activism, and others whose work combines methodologies drawn from radical pedagogy with methodologies and strategies more familiar to visual and performance art.
BijaRi studio in São Paulo with one of their 'green' interventions parked in front. Photo by Jennifer Flores Sternad
Some of my most interesting conversations with these artists have been related to their experience with the Prestes Maia occupation in downtown São Paulo between the years of 2003 and 2007. At the time, the Prestes Maia building housed the largest vertical favela in Latin America. It was one of the occupations in the historic city center of São Paulo organized by the Movimento Sem Teto do Centro (MSTC). Speaking with the artists who worked with the residents in the building has helped me to understand the complexity of this collaboration — from the difficulties of building cross-class alliances and that competing demands and desires related to the artists’ labor to the encounter of a highly organized social movement with a spirit of social and artistic experimentation. Added to this are the complexities of social movement, their relationship to NGOs and state institutions.
One of the most interesting recent projects I’ve learned about is a park that was recently built in a favela in one of São Paulo’s outlying neighborhoods through the efforts of an art collective (with federal arts funding), the local art center, local organizers and other neighborhood residents. Spending a day at the park and speaking to the persons involved in creating and maintaining impressed upon me how great an undertaking it really was — and how deeply it depended on the social tissue in that community and an ongoing collective investment in the space and the in activities that keep it viable. One of the things I saw with this project is its wholly status as fine art. This is something I’ve noted in several of my interviews — as in artists who would just as soon describe some of their projects as ‘communication’ or otherwise. What I’ve found most interesting is that this definitional flexibility is at work when it comes to institutional relations and funding of these projects, such that an art collective’s project that starts out with federal arts funding is then continued with funding from a federal housing authority, for example. Or in another case: a green energy generator made from re-purposed garbage that started out as a ‘functional sculpture’ in an art exhibition (an exhibition-cum-squat in an abandoned mansion), then became an important part of a collective initiative undertaken in an urban quilombo, undertaken by artists and local communities, and finally (or most recently) the artist who developed this technology was tapped by the federal office for indigenous peoples to coordinate the implementation of similar technologies in government posts that border isolated indigenous communities in the Amazon.
Posted by Jennifer Flores Sternad — PhD candidate in American Studies at NYU