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This year, Brazil Week had a very particular focus: the cultural impact of the ‘Semana de Arte Moderna’ [Modern Art Week], an arts festival held in São Paulo in February 1922, organised by the most avant-garde thinkers, writers and artists in Brazil at the time. The original week included concerts of music by Villa Lobos, exhibitions of works by Anita Malfatti and Tarsila do Amaral, and lectures by Mário de Andrade and others on modern art and architecture. The event was controversial, but it spurred the participants on to forming artistic and literary movements, magazines and manifestos with the aim of defining and practising truly Brazilian culture. One of the most influential documents to emerge from this watershed moment was Oswald de Andrade’s ‘Cannibalist Manifesto’ of 1928. The Manifesto re-evaluated Brazil’s debt to its indigenous heritage, as well as playfully ‘devouring’ and adapting European culture to a tropical context.

We decided to, in our humble way, recreate the Modern Art Week, with thematic talks which looked at the lasting impact of the ideals and provocations of the 1920s on contemporary culture. The opening lecture, by Professor David Jackson (Yale), gave a comprehensive introduction to the Semana de Arte Moderna, some of its colourful characters and the bold music, words and images they produced. The next lecture, by Professor Lúcia Sá (Manchester), almost functioned as an answer to Professor Jackson’s talk, by presenting the ways in which contemporary indigenous artists have reacted and are reacting to Modernism’s co-opting of their culture without engaging with real indigenous people.

The uncomfortable legacy of modernism was also the topic of talks on architecture (the baroque architecture of Ouro Preto and the modernist architecture of Brasília), by Professor Andreza de Souza Santos (LAC, Oxford) and cinema by Guilherme Carréra.

One staple feature of Brazil Week is the Postgraduate Round Table, this year organised and chaired by Andrzej Stuart-Thompson (Jesus) and Vinícius Brunette (St Cross). Postgraduate students at different stages in their careers and from across the university had five minutes in which to present their research projects. The topics ranged from femicide to affect theory, drilling for oil to evangelical churches, puzzling references in a nineteenth-century novel to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on financial aid to poor families in Brazil, giving a fascinating glimpse of the important work being done in Oxford.

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The first event on Thursday 3 February was a conversation between postgraduate student Jimin Kang and the author Micheliny Verunschk, whose fifth novel, O som do rugido da onça [The Sound of the Roar of the Jaguar] was published last year. Students from the Portuguese Sub-Faculty read passages from different sections the novel to give a taste of the polyphonic narrative. The novel addresses the shocking true story of indigenous children who were transported to Germany by scientists Spix and von Martius in the early nineteenth century and its impact on a twenty-first century protagonist, thereby engaging with postcolonialism, and issues of history and identity – in similar ways to the artists discussed by Lúcia Sá. This was quickly followed by a lively talk by actress, singer and writer Letícia Coura, about the Teatro Oficina group, famous for championing experimental theatre and also plays inspired by Brazilian Modernism and the Modernists. She played her cavaquinho guitar, sang and told stories about the productions with which she’s been involved.

The grand finale was another combination of music and lecture, this time by the legendary singer-songwriter Adriana Calcanhotto, in her third visit to Oxford’s Brazil Week. In her early career, she created a show called ‘A mulher do pau brasil’ [The Brazil Wood Woman], a title referencing the ‘Brazil-Wood Poetry Manifesto’ written by Oswald de Andrade in 1924, itself focusing on the bright-red wood which became Brazil’s first export. Adriana talked about what modernism means to her and how important it is that, one hundred years on, diverse artists and writers are engaging with the experimental, avant-garde spirit of modernism by ‘cannibalising’ and re-writing its texts. She read out Sérgio Vaz’s ‘Manifesto Antropófago Periférico’ [Cannibal Manifesto from the Periphery] as one example, and spoke about indigenous artists and thinkers. Adriana’s show ended Brazil Week on a high note!

The next day, there was an article about it by Mônica Bergamo in the daily newspaper Folha de São Paulo.

The show can still be watched here.

This was the first Brazil week to take place almost entirely online. Although we would much rather have shared the events safely in person, the online format enabled us to invite speakers based in the US and Brazil, and, indeed, for people around the world to join us virtually, which they did, in large numbers. Someone who attended from Oxford was postgraduate student Aggie Fanning (Lincoln):

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“For me, as a Master’s student focusing on Brazilian literature, commemorating the Centenary of the Semana de Arte Moderna in the form of Brazil Week came at the perfect time. The events held throughout the week were a wonderful chance to look back on one hundred years of Modernism in Brazil, while simultaneously addressing its present legacy, and how best to carry it forward into the future.         

I enjoyed the recontextualization of the 1922 week one hundred years on; Lucia Sá’s talk on ‘Cannibalising Cannibalism’ was a good example, illustrating how contemporary indigenous art cannibalises the Anthropophagic Movement (that initially appropriated indigenous cultures). I found it especially interesting to look at current artworks by Jaider Esbell and Denilson Baniwa alongside works that were part of the original 1920s movement, and how the former problematize the latter. The dialogue between past and present was also discussed through fiction, specifically author Micheliny Verunschk’s work, introducing me to a new novel (O som do rugido da onça, 2021) that I look forward to reading.   

In addition to events dedicated to the same subjects that were discussed in 1922, with the aim of reflecting on the legacy of Modernism today, Guilherme Carrera’s talk on ‘Brazilian Cinema and the Aesthetics of Ruins’ brought a twentieth-century arts festival into the twenty-first century through his fascinating discussion of recent documentary films. The events of the original Semana were further brought to life with Letícia Coura’s reflection on the impact Modernism still has on theatre. Listening to her talk, that blended the spoken word with vibrant music and song, felt like being transported to Brazil itself! All in all, this week of brilliantly organised events offered the perfect opportunity to celebrate Modernism and, importantly, reframe the space this legendary movement occupies in Brazil today.”

We are so grateful to all the speakers and performers who took part in Brazil Week 2022, and the postgraduates who assisted us. Georgia Nasseh (Wadham) managed registration and designed a stunning poster, based on Emilio Di Cavalcanti’s artwork for the original Cannibalist magazine.

The Organisers

Claire Williams, Gui Perdigão and Georgia Nasseh

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