For those who regularly cross São Paulo’s iconic Avenida Paulista, there’s nothing new about seeing a crowd of people outside the city’s Museum of Art, or MASP, as it is commonly known. Besides the normal influx of tourists, art lovers and students, MASP is also a meeting point for protesters, not to mention independent artists who try to make a living on the building’s free span. However, since April 5, queues have been bigger than normal, even for this landmark museum.  

This influx has a reason: after 11 years, O Abaporu, a painting that symbolizes Brazilian modernism, has been loaned to São Paulo from its permanent home in Buenos Aires. It is the centerpiece of an exhibition of more than 100 artworks by Tarsila do Amaral, one of Brazil’s most famous painters. The exhibition is part of MASP’s new cycle of projects dedicated to paying homage to female legacy in art.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Today, Tarsila do Amaral is a household name in Brazil. But that wasn&#8217;t always the case. In the 1950s, she was busy making one of what could be described as the worst deals ever: in exchange for a home in the São Paulo neighborhood of Perdizes, she traded an original Picasso. In financial dire straits after the 1929 crash, Amaral was, bit by bit, selling off her vast art collection—while her own paintings were worth little. Fast-forward to 2019, and you have the New York Museum of Modern Art purchasing </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;A Lua&#8221;</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> (&#8216;The Moon&#8217;) for USD 20 million.</span></p> <h2>Celebrating Brazilian female artists</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Besides Amaral&#8217;s works, MASP is also exhibiting a collection of pieces from Lina Bo Bardi, the Italian-Brazilian architect responsible for building the museum itself, as well as leaving her modernist stamp all over São Paulo. Alongside them, Djanira da Motta e Silva, famous for her simple portrayals of Brazilian life, is also featured, in the very first exhibition of the artist’s works since her death in 1979.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">These events will pave the way for two other exhibitions, “Women’s Histories: Artists Before 1900” and “Feminist Histories: artists after 2000,” a dialogue that wishes to shed new light on women’s participation in art history and their legacy. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The idea comes at a moment when gender issues are gaining momentum in Brazil, a country where femicides are on the rise </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">despite tougher laws</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, and the </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">gender-based pay gap</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> and </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">sexual harassment</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> remain part of women&#8217;s everyday life. To understand how MASP is contributing to this debate, </span><b>The Brazilian Report </b><span style="font-weight: 400;">talked to Mariana Leme and Isabella Rjeille, who are part of MASP team of curators and helped put together this new cycle.</span></p> <p><img class="alignnone size-full wp-image-16566" src="" alt="masp female artists" width="2000" height="902" srcset=" 2000w, 300w, 768w, 1024w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 2000px) 100vw, 2000px" /></p> <h4>Why is MASP dedicating a year to talk about women?</h4> <blockquote><p><b><i>Mariana:</i></b> <span style="font-weight: 400;">MASP usually works with cycles. In 2016 we had stories from childhood, in 2017 stories about sexuality, in 2018, there were ones on Afro-Atlantic [history]. Now we have feminist narratives. The idea is to talk about these topics through collective and individual exhibitions. </span></p> <p><b><i>Isabella:</i></b> <span style="font-weight: 400;">The desire to talk about women rose even before the Stories of Sexuality exhibition. It’s been here since</span> <span style="font-weight: 400;">an exhibit by Carla Zaccagnini, talking about feminist stories. In 2017, we talked about gender issues, including artists from 1960s and 70s. The new exhibition complements what has come before it. MASP’s artistic management doesn’t want these stories to be over when their cycle comes to an end. </span></p></blockquote> <h4>So, how are you building these narratives?</h4> <blockquote><p><b><i>Mariana:</i></b> <span style="font-weight: 400;">The idea is to have many polyphonic narratives. I’m curating an exhibition alongside Lilia Schwarcz (MASP’s deputy narrative curator) in which we will include artists from up to 1900.</span> <span style="font-weight: 400;">I think this will be an interesting contrast with the museum’s second floor, in which the vast majority of works are made by men. In fact, the MASP collection up to 1900 only has three female artists. </span></p> <p><b><i>Isabella:</i></b> <span style="font-weight: 400;">On the other hand, Feminist Histories [the exhibition she is curating] features only 21st-century artists.</span> <span style="font-weight: 400;">Approaching this century is not about saying that everything that came before it is over, on the contrary, it is an attempt to update the debate with issues that are rising nowadays. It’s about how feminism was changed by theoretical thinking and movements that arose. We are willing to leave behind the bias from the feminism of 1960s, 70s and 80s, because the past exhibitions that we’ve seen focused a lot on that.  In 2018 we had Pinacoteca’s exhibition, “Radical Women: Latin American Art,” that focused on this time frame. We thought it would be interesting to stretch the debate further by bringing up the 21st century.</span></p> <p><b><i>Mariana:</i></b> <span style="font-weight: 400;">Looking at these artists from the past, while looking at the artists from the 21st century, makes us question the very value criteria of art history, which aims to be objective, like what is “good”, “beautiful,” “genune,” “genius,” and “good paintings.” It is nice to rethink not only the women artists shape the way we look at the images and attribute the quality of the work. You know,</span> <span style="font-weight: 400;">there is a narrative dispute. At the same time we have very critical reviews of </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">A Negra</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, by Tarsila do Amaral, nowadays we still have critics that believe Tarsila </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">owes </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">her work to her husbands. So there’s a power struggle. I wonder if we found out that Velázquez, for instance, was a woman. Would we see his work differently? </span></p></blockquote> <h4>And what challenges have you faced so far?</h4> <blockquote><p><b><i>Mariana:</i></b><span style="font-weight: 400;"> It is hard to speak about feminism before 1900, although feminist initiatives already existed in the 19th century. It is also so hard to find the works. Many are not in catalogs, sometimes they are in storage. And you have other issues, such as a lack of black, indigenous or Latin American women in the 18th century. But redeeming these works is a feminist attitude. </span></p> <p><b><i>Isabella:</i></b><span style="font-weight: 400;"> It is important when you hold an exhibition about female artists before the 1900s to show that there’s been a narrative that only men can make art. This narrative was built. It is important to show that female artists existed and they were put aside. </span></p></blockquote> <h4>With such a large universe to cover and many obstacles to tackle, how did you choose the art exhibitions for 2019?</h4> <blockquote><p><b><i>Isabella: </i></b><span style="font-weight: 400;">The 20th century is not included in the collective exhibitions, so we decided to show it in the individual ones. Djanira, Tarsila and Lina were chosen to be featured at the same time because they worked with popular sources, but in very different ways. Tarsila’s exhibition brings different perspectives on her. We published a large catalog about her work, with many different views about the painting </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">A Negra</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, very critical and innovative views about it. Djanira had not had an individual exhibition in a museum for the past 40 years. It is a moment to revisit the narratives written about her because they oppose the way she always spoke about herself. She never considered herself as primitive or naïve, but critics attributed these categories to her, almost isolating her from the art history narrative from the period and from her generation. So our exhibition tries to put her work under a new light, more connected to what she proposed. </span></p> <p><b><i>Mariana:</i></b> <span style="font-weight: 400;">The theme of &#8220;the popular&#8221; shows itself in very different ways in the three exhibitions. Lina’s production is deeply marked by her Brazilian experience, by her research to find solutions for furniture and objects that are amazingly clever. She tried to “unlearn” the European tradition. This is very different than Tarsila, who was a rich farmer’s daughter and studied in Paris.</span></p> <p><b><i>Isabella:</i></b><span style="font-weight: 400;"> And it is different than Djanira’s. She used to say that we eat barbecue and </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">vatapá </span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">{a creamy shrimp paste traditional in Bahia], but insist on painting French still lifes. Her references are from the many trips she took around Brazil. Her influences are from the popular universe that she was looking for, not from an elite built up with European references. </span></p></blockquote> <h4><img class="alignnone size-full wp-image-16567" src="" alt="masp female artists" width="2000" height="762" srcset=" 2000w, 300w, 768w, 1024w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 2000px) 100vw, 2000px" /></h4> <h4>MASP decided to talk about women in a moment of social tension and fierce debate among feminists in Brazil. Do you think that bringing this topic to the center of São Paulo is helping to make it a more plural debate?</h4> <blockquote><p><b><i>Isabella:</i></b><span style="font-weight: 400;"> Tensions may be more poignant these days, but it has always been hard to talk about these issues. People even think it has no relevance, that feminism is the same as sexism. I see the museum as a space for debate, to argue about this narrative. To propose these exhibitions is to think about it in the cultural stage, which affects people in a more sensitive way.</span></p></blockquote> <h4>When you break a narrative, there’s always a shock. There was a backlash about the sexuality cycle, as well as other exhibitions which talked about sex and gender in the country, such as <a href=""><i>Queermuseum</i></a>.  Is this happening this year?</h4> <blockquote><p><b><i>Mariana:</i></b> <span style="font-weight: 400;">I have not noticed a backlash this year, but there is a kind of disdain because some people think that this is not an important topic. But I honestly think that controversy is good because it calls attention and people come to visit the museum, because they’re curious. The debate may be very interesting. </span></p></blockquote> <h4>In this context, you were able to bring <i>O Abaporu</i>, an icon of Brazilian art, back home. Do you think that this helps break the notion that Brazilians do not care for culture?</h4> <blockquote><p><b><i>Isabella:</i></b><span style="font-weight: 400;"> The lines are massive, it&#8217;s as if the Rolling Stones are going to play here! (Laughing) It’s so rewarding to see people talking about it, to see that the museum is alive, creating a debate. It shows that people come to the museum, that they consider it a relevant space in the city. It has value. </span></p></blockquote> <h4>How symbolic is it to have “Rolling Stone lines” for a women&#8217;s paintings?</h4> <blockquote><p><b><i>Isabella: </i></b><span style="font-weight: 400;">In a museum designed by a woman! (Laughs)</span></p> <p><b><i>Mariana: </i></b><span style="font-weight: 400;">It is curious because she wasn’t that famous when she painted it. It is awesome that the picture is here, but it is important to remember that the story is not that apotheotic. We have to remember that Brazil wasn’t interested in buying it when </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">O</span></i> <i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Abaporu</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> was sold. So, it shows us that if we do not value our institutions, our patrimony will be scattered.</span></p></blockquote> <p>

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SocietyMay 01, 2019

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BY Natália Tomé Scalzaretto

Natália Scalzaretto has worked for companies such as Santander Brasil and Reuters, where she covered news ranging from commodities to technology. Most recently, worked as an Editor for Trading News, the information division from TradersClub investor community.