Brasil – ordem e progresso?

My first trip as curator of the Daros Latinamerica collection-to-be took me to Brazil in the very beginning of the new millennium. I landed in Rio de Janeiro in the morning of January 3, and I vividly remember the moment when I saw the Copacabana for the first time in my life. I was virtually blinded by the overwhelming blaze of the sun as I looked out of the window from the former Meridien Hotel and tried to grasp where I was. On the street, I was swept away by an ever-present eroticism; again, I was blinded, this time by the sultry, fecund, tropical, literally HOT atmosphere, and by countless permissive glances that met my eye wherever I looked…

Promiscuous melting pot? I think not

Despite all ostensible promiscuity, deep down Brazilians are rather prudish. Topless women at the beach are taken into police custody. As soon as the nipples are covered—and I mean only the nipples—all is fine again…

In fact, it took a few years before it dawned on me that the Brazilian image, both in terms of stereotypes imposed from outside and projections all too willingly reproduced inside, had purely nothing in common with actual reality. The famous Christ statue atop Corcovado may spread his arms all right, but he will never embrace you!

Brazil is not of the homogeneous fabric as the average Brazilian citizen would like to convey: that of a unified, peaceful collective of diverse social classes, races, and people, who all find their place in this great nation… 

The differences between Rio and São Paulo alone are immense: 

Rio de Janeiro vs. São Paulo

In the beginning of the 19th century, Rio de Janeiro was the capital of the kingdom of Portugal and Brazil for a few years, and then of independent republican Brazil until 1960, when the seat of the capital shifted to newly founded Brasília. The residents of Rio de Janeiro, the cariocas (in Tupí-Guaraní, this means “white man’s hut”…) until this day draw on the glory of a kingdom gone. They vacillate between royal arrogance and an inferiority complex due to the loss of it. It is still common in Rio de Janeiro to go bow and scrape—why take the straight road when the winding one is so much more promising? This attitude coincides with a relentless deference to authority that is deeply rooted in 19th century attitudes—and that does not contribute to make life easier. 

Whereas Rio de Janeiro may correlate with a weekend mood for Paulistanos, São Paulo is the it-place. This is where business happens, where money is made, where professionalism lives! Rio de Janeiro, by comparison, is deeply provincial. And the concurring lack of art institutions was precisely our reason for establishing Casa Daros there: we wanted to stimulate the artistic and cultural microclimate in Rio de Janeiro!

The other regions

Then there is the state of Rio Grande do Sul, predominantly inhabited by white people. Culture here tends toward Pampas and Uruguay/Argentina. The economic heartland of Brazil lies in the region of Curitiba. The spiritual center, by contrast, is in Nordeste, the African-influenced Northeast Region of the country, with cities such as Salvador, Recife, Fortaleza, São Luis, and Belém on the lower end of the Amazon delta. The state Minas Gerais with its capital Belo Horizonte is also noteworthy. Last but not least, there is Brasília, the capital that always was and still is in the middle of nowhere: a fascinating, democratic, urbanist, and peerless utopia that is simply beyond comparison. 

Art & class

Being involved in the fine arts quickly leads to the upper class in Brazil. This is where the so-called art collectors can be found, patrons who like to present themselves with the plumes of art. Illustrious, super cool parties, of generous dimensions like everything else in this country, of unattainable elegance like the Bossa Nova with a Caipirinha in hand: this perfectly describes the hipness of it all. Politically correct, socio-critical photos by Claudia Andújar are hanging above the obligatory sofa landscape—not to mention a drawing by Baselitz purchased at Galerie Ropac while last visiting the Salzburg Festival, which is supposed to convey an internationality that is otherwise more or less absent. It is a Brazilian custom to plaster your walls with art, and the Brazilian art community has benefited from this to a not insubstantial extent.

But all this glamour can hardly conceal that Brazil has remained a classist and racist society with only very few non-whites making it to the top. The fiction of equality is repeated like a mantra without ever having become reality. And the idea of “Brazilianity” has turned out to be just as fragile as the “American Dream”. As the meanwhile deceased artist Tunga once rightly confided to me in an intimate conversation: Not the lower classes, but rather the ruling, upper classes are the ones who are really in desperate need of educational programs.

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