Lilia Schwarcz talks about the exhibition that survived the terrorist attacks in Brasilia

Get to know the details about the creation process of the exhibition “Brasil Futuro” that composed the inaugural festival of President Lula

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
View of the assembly of the work “Somos Futuro”, 2022, Marlon Amaro. Disclosure.

The exhibition, whose main theme is the resumption of democracy, barely escaped the coup attacks from last Sunday and reopened its doors yesterday, January 11th, with greater access control. 

Brazil Future was inaugurated at the National Museum of the Republic as part of the attractions to mark the change of government. In record time, the collective curation of Lilia Schwarcz, Rogério Carvalho, Paulo Vieira and Márcio Tavares, managed to gather more than 200 significant works that can be visited. 

We invited the historian and anthropologist who headed the curatorship to talk about the show's creation processes and their meanings.

Giovana Nacca – How long has this exhibition been planned? Would it have happened if the election result had been different?

Lilia Schwarcz – When you talk about planning, it's kindness, because the stories are not always as organized as we would like to tell. As I am a historian, I am faithful to the sources, so I will tell the truth. I'm very friendly with Márcio Tavares, who was secretary of the PT, now he's assistant secretary of the Ministry of Culture. So, when Lula won, Márcio was in São Paulo and we got together for coffee. Then, talking to him – those coffee conversations really, nothing to do – we talked about the inauguration rituals and then I said to him “Márcio, I think that every ownership story becomes an ephemeral phenomenon. You should make things that stick. Why don't you do an exhibition on democracy? Something to rally people around this idea. And nothing like artists, who are true lighthouses and are a class that has been greatly harmed during these last four years.” I spoke as someone who doesn't want anything, unpretentiously. He went to Brasilia, and then, I think it was on December 9th, something like that, he writes to me and says “our project came out”. I said “our project?” (laughs).

Imagine the situation, it was an exhibition that had to open on the 1st of January and we were there on the 10th of December. There was nothing, there was no project, there was no text. And then he told me it would be at the National Museum of the Republic. Look at the trouble. A sensational museum, an emblem of Brasilia and the Republic. But like all of Niemeyer's work, it is a work without walls. In addition to everything, we also had to do the expography and lighting because the museum had no lighting. 

The first idea was to use the collections of the museums in Brasília. But how do you open an exhibition on democracy with just one generation of artists, generally white and male? I mean, it didn't. That's when I started contacting my artist friends and galleries. And I have to say that I had a lot of support, everyone embraced the idea, it was sensational. Because I also had to think about transport, insurance, production… But everyone, the whole team really gave themselves. And then it worked. But anyway, the planning is what I'm telling you, so I laugh. It was an exhibition totally different from the ones I've done before.

GN – You spoke about choosing the profile of artists to compose the show. There are a number of names that we saw rise in the last major exhibitions in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, but I believe that many of them may be debuting in Brasília, right? How has it been for the city to receive these artists?

LS – Well, there wasn't much time to do research, but Rogério Carvalho and Márcio brought many artists from Brasília. That was really cool for me, I discovered a lot of people I didn't know. We also found many artists on Instagram, which was also very cool. So there are a lot of new and young artists too.

But for you to have an idea, Brasilia had never received Adriana Varejão. And she didn't debut with just any play, she took a huge play. And people have been telling me that, that they are very excited about the quality of the artists. We have two Cildo Meireles, Daiara [Tukano] who is from Brasília, [Gustavo] Caboco who is there for the first time, we have Baniwa who is with the lambe-lambe together with Tarsila… So I think it was a very nice encounter. People have told me that people are receiving it with a lot of emotion, many cry. So I think it's been an important experience for Brasilia, you know?

GN – Even Daiara made a project especially for the show, right? How was this idea, did it come from you?

LS – She was amazing. In the five days that we were setting it up, she stayed together, not only painting, but giving her opinion as well. I already worked with Daiara when I did, together with Jaime Lauriano and Pedro Meira Monteiro, the exhibition Countermemory at Municipal. And at the time she wanted to do a work, but due to the specificities of the Municipal, they did not accept it. Then, now we said “this is your turn”. And she produced that work, I think in three whole days.

And then people were saying it was a pieta and she got mad at life, because she said “it's a universal image, a perspectivist work and people are again making a colonial reading and I'm at the core of colonizing”. And, at the last minute, she came with her collective, which Jaider was part of, and Baniwa is part of. And she projected the images of those animalized animals and humans onto the ceiling. So Daiara had a very special participation and I am very happy that her name and her work appeared a lot, because she was one of those who really bought the idea. As well as Laís Myrrha and O Bastardo, who each made a work for the exhibition. 

View of the Brasil Futuro exhibition. Disclosure.

GN – Another work that drew attention beyond the exhibition was the orixás, da Djanira, por ter sido sempre exibida no Salão Nobre do Planalto e removida durante o governo do ex-presidente Jair Bolsonaro. Neste ano, ela volta à cena por meio da exposição. Queria que você falasse um pouco sobre o significado desse movimento de retorno e sobre o estado físico da obra.

LS – This is really nice of you to ask me because from the first conversation with Márcio – when I didn’t even know there was going to be an exhibition and I thought I was giving him an idea and not me (laughs) – I suggested picking up some emblematic works that were removed by the then First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro. And I quoted the orixás. Then this was a work that we wanted all along and it was a huge effort by Rogério Carvalho and Sara Seilert to bring it about. 

Only when the work arrived did we see the hole, an intentional hole right in Oxum's kilt. It will have to undergo a restoration, a careful restoration, but it is protected in the exhibition.

I even think it's a political act, it's not a scoop. I think it took on a very large political dimension, even with the last episodes of last Sunday. After we saw what happened to Di Cavalcanti, who was actually stoned – unbelievable –, this savage operation towards works like these became more evident. 

“Orixás”, 1960, Djanira da Motta e Silva. Photos of the Planalto Palace. Photo: Roberto Stuckert Filho.

GN – As you said, there were other works that were removed from the Palace in the last government, was there any more that you managed to bring to the exhibition?

LS – 
No, there was no time. That was the one. But the exhibition was very good, because Rogério Carvalho had already been the curator of the Palace and now he is again. So, the motto of the exhibition was very important for him now to evaluate all the works that were withdrawn and bring them back to the palace.

And it was very beautiful, because at the inauguration of Minister Margareth Menezes, I was invited to speak on behalf of the exhibition and everything else, and I mentioned the case of Djanira. And when Janja went to speak, she said “Look, Lilia, I can guarantee that Djanira will return to the Palace and that we will implement a collection policy”. Because we said a lot that they could not only bring the works back, but they could also expand the works in the collection, in the sense of making it more plural, more inclusive and bringing in contemporary artists that did not exist there until then. Bring more women artists, indigenous, black, LGBTQIA+. And she answered from the pulpit that she will do it. So I think that if the exhibition gives that impetus, it will have already done a lot.

GN – That would be great. And since you mentioned last Sunday's barbarity, I wanted to talk about a video that circulated a lot of a woman, a member of these coup groups, at the National Museum criticizing the fact that she couldn't touch the works, complaining a lot about the exhibition itself and the artists in general. A representative of the Museum said in an interview that it is common for people to sometimes be curious to touch the works, but since the exhibition Brazil Future came out, this type of situation was accentuated. We know that art infuriates anyone brutalized by fascist thinking, but do you believe that this specific exhibition could have sent a more uncomfortable message? How has the repercussion of the show been in this regard? 

LS – I think an art exhibition never sends a single message. The beauty of an art exhibition is that it makes sense in so many ways. So, while I was there, I didn't notice any display of anger, on the contrary.

And on the day that this video was filmed, the museum and production people saw what I perhaps wouldn't have seen, because they realized something was going on. Four Bolsonarist groups entered – because they were dressed as such – and each group with four or five people. And it was these groups that started to provoke and say that they wanted to move, to challenge the monitors and the security guards. Then Sara sent me a message saying that they were deciding to close the museum. I might have made the wrong decision, but they made the right decision, because imagine the damage that could have been done. And then they were asked to leave and I have to say they left peacefully.

So I believe that the invasions were carried out by a sector of the radical extreme right that does not even speak for the entire right. I think these people are a minority in Brazil, because the experience we've had so far has been one of great joy. Even the museum was packed at the opening. I was even scared and nothing happened, you know? We know who those people are, they are people who have no respect for democracy, who want to assert their will through vandalism.

GN – For them, any exposure is an affront, right? And what is it like to hold an exhibition that makes up the festive schedule for the new president's inauguration without making it partisan?

LS – I think that the symbolic scene of President Lula going up the ramp and declaring diversity is very expressed in this exhibition, because its big issue is diversity. The exhibition does not have a party. There's Lannes' work, but it's an old work, it wasn't made now. There's Bastardo, which isn't even that obvious, and the photographs by Mauro Restiffe. They are the only ones most directly linked to Lula's image. But the exposure was done without any interference, this is very important. If there had been interference, maybe I wouldn't have mentioned democracy as an incomplete project in the [curatorial] text. Maybe I would say things like “now democracy has arrived”. He doesn't say any of that. In fact, he demands from the government, he demands more inclusion. So, that was important for us, because I think that work done in the service of a government can never be a good work.

GN – About the name of the exhibition… The word “Future” in the title conveys a connotation of something a little further away from us, as if the Brazil presented in the exhibition was prophesied, but not experienced immediately. 

LS – I found your question very beautiful, because I claimed the same thing. “Brasil do Futuro” is the name of the festival. I said “people, when we say 'Brazil of the future', we are saying that it doesn't exist now and this exhibition is being held now and with works from now”. So you are absolutely right in your question and we changed it a little and we removed the “do”, it became “Brasil Futuro”. And I think it's very beautiful, it's more airy. It remains in that time without time, a present future, because we know that the future is torn with the present. So I think we both agree that artists are a lot of visionaries, they are actually designing that future.

“The Most Important Is To Invent the Brazil We Want”, 2021, Elian Almeida


Future Brazil: Forms of Democracy

Location: National Museum of the Republic

Address: Setor Cultural Sul, Lote 2 – Brasília – DF

Date: Until February 26, 2023

Opening hours: From Tuesday to Sunday, from 9 am to 6:30 pm.

Ticket: Free

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