Once upon a time the Kop van Zuid, a peninsula in the centre of Rotterdam, was the place where the steamers of the Holland America Line moored when they arrived from New York. This summer the other America takes centre stage here: the Rotterdam Fotomuseum being one of the venues of Brazil Contemporary, an event spanning three cultural institutions –the Fotomuseum, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen and the Dutch Architectural Institute (NAi) – and a series of Brazil inspired festivals around town.
Brazil Contemporary aims to investigate Brazilian culture beyond the everyday clichés of the country: the tropics, the carnival and the favelas. As Ole Bouman, director of the NAi put it: ‘We want to see if we [as Europeans] can learn from Brazil’. The reasoning behind this that Brazil is in fact one of the BRIC countries, the economic superpowers of tomorrow (the others being Russia, India and China, hence BRIC), and has a lot more to offer than it’s own clichés.
The Fotomuseum has therefore taken an expanded take on the role of photography and incorporates the entire vista of visual culture in its exhibition: ranging from photography to video, design and fashion.
Projects on show include favela projects like Viva Rio / Viva Favela, which let children from the favelas photograph their own neighboorhoods, or TV Morinhho, which started out as a miniature favela made of Lego and bricks in which 14 year old Vila Pereira da Silva re-enacted the game of cops and robbers, shaped after real life examples in the favela around him (those who visited Venice in ’07 might remember the incredible mount of bricks posing as a favela in the middle of the Giardini).
Several photographers/artists visualise the Brazilian city life: the Rolé project with its groups of night photographers (the only way to be safe in Sao Paulo at night is to travel in groups). Fotomuseum curator Frits Gierstberg: We are also going to organise several Rotterdam Rolés, with a mix of Saõ Paulo and Rotterdam photographers."
Commercial photographer Helmut Batista’s Rio and Sao Paulo 180 and 360 degree panoramas,
or Daniele Dacorso’s Totoma series about the illegal Baile Funk parties held in favelas. Gierstberg: "Baila Funk is the only form of escape for young people, also the only event they have a form of control over.'
Gabriela de Gusmaõ Pereira collects functional objects handcrafted by locals. De Gusmaõ: 'Sometimes I myself don't even know what the function of the object is. I regularly have to ask the maker. Take this tube of cans: it's a sign showing the wares of the street vendors!'
The NAi puts its focus on Sao Paulo, trying to investigate the workings of the urban jungle of twenty million inhabitants. Not – as usual - through statistics and models – but through seven video screens mixing five visual story lines that try to recapture the feel of the city.
Added to this are fifteen interviews with Paulistani of different backgrounds and a plethora of visual aids:
a favela (in use for the children’s program),
a soccer wall,
Hernandez drinks, empty advertising frames (a result of the anti-advertisement campaign of Sao Paulo mayor).
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and the traditional Saõ Paulo pavement has also been flown in.
Across the street the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen focuses on the High Arts from Brazil: its white halls playing host to a selection of Bólides by Helio Oiticica (hailed as Brazil’s most influential twentieth century artist),
Rivane Neuenschwander has installed her cloud ceiling made of styrofoam being blown around by ceiling fans.
and shows a video made with Cao Guimarães about ants lugging around confetti left by the Rio Caraval.
The centre piece of the show is Celula Nave (It happens in the body of time, where thuth dances), an enormous tule contraption, which swallows visitors whole...
And thus a word of caution: Brazil Contemporary might not only get you hooked on this complex and intrigueing Latin American nation, the exhibition might actually eat you.