Room 104.01
From Drought to Palm Trees

At the beginning of the 1960s in Brazil, artists from different fields took a critical stance amid social and aesthetic problems, putting a strain on old elitist and excluding conceptions of Brazilian culture and reacting to the violence, censorship and repression imposed by the military regime from 1964 to 1985. As they looked to move beyond the traditional art object, many artists occupied public space, directly involving the spectator and communities, and generating ways to collectivise the aesthetic experience.

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Room 104.01
Room 104.01

Room 104.01

At the beginning of the 1960s in Brazil, artists from different fields took a critical stance amid social and aesthetic problems, putting a strain on old elitist and excluding conceptions of Brazilian culture and reacting to the violence, censorship and repression imposed by the military regime from 1964 to 1985. As they looked to move beyond the traditional art object, many artists occupied public space, directly involving the spectator and communities, and generating ways to collectivise the aesthetic experience.

The city would play a pivotal role as art-making broke out of workplaces and art exhibitions and moved into the streets. Public spaces were taken and activated by bodies, used as tools of expression and social transformation, and in many instances it was done with next to nothing. Objecthood and art-market value were disputed through actions and performances, or by using precarious and perishable materials, as different artists also drew from popular culture in Brazil — where African, European and indigenous cultures converge — and its capacity for association and improvisation. Their stance was “anthropophagic”: they devoured, absorbed and fused foreign references with vernacular culture.

In 1967, in the Museu de Arte Moderna in Río de Janeiro, Hélio Oiticica presented Tropicália in the show Nova Objetividade Brasileira. This “environment” invited viewers to experience the architecture of the favelas while criticising the alienation endorsed by the media and the image of Brazil as a tropical paradise. Shortly after, the term coined by the artist would become the title used by singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso for a song and album made collectively, thereby signalling a time of creative explosion customarily called Tropicália. The project blended and blurred the borders between the erudite and the popular, the local and the universal, the highbrow and the kitsch. At times, it looked to converse with the burgeoning culture industry to avoid becoming something elitist and, by the same token, it aspired to dismantle national-populist ideology and its backing of a country-wide homogenous cultural identity.

In this vibrant and transgressive period are emblematic works such as Oswald de Andrade’s drama O Rei da Vela (1933) — put on by the Teatro Oficina company in 1967 with a radical staging — and the film Terra em transe (1967), by Glauber Rocha, one of the leading figures in Brazil’s Cinema Novo. Both were reference points for “Tropicália” musicians Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Gal Costa, in much the same way as architect Lina Bo Bardi, who in the early 1960s lived in Bahía, the hometown of the prominent participants in this movement.

Repression, however, was intensifying and in December 1968 the military enforced AI-5 (Ato Institucional n.º 5), which suspended habeas corpus and freedom of expression and assembly, institutionalising repression, violence and the control of cultural productions. The decree ushered in one of the grimmest and bloodiest periods in Brazil’s history, with countless disappearances, deaths and exiles. Caetano, Gil and Glauber were just a few among many who went into exile.

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