— December 01, 2022

In the early 1920s, intellectuals and artists were eager for cultural renewal, elaborating distinct proposals to think about the polyvalent phenomenon of modernity in Brazil. Without a doubt, at first, the Northeastern region stood out as a protagonist, under the leadership of Gilberto Freyre, in Recife. READ MORE

The first person to present the idea of Tropical Modernity is Pernambuco native Gilberto Freyre, who, in 1924, founded the “Regionalist Center” and who, in 1926, organized the regionalist and traditionalist congress, where he presented the “Regionalist Manifesto”. This Manifesto put forth criticisms of the avant-garde trends from the São Paulo modernist scene, which, in his opinion, proposed processes of reworking traditional (popular) culture from a modern point of view.

Freyre defended a modernity based on tradition, that is, on a permanent adaptation of all that was new to its origins. Gilberto also created the concept of tropicology, for the anthropological study of people from the tropics, which served as a reference for the creation of the famous “Tropicology Seminars”, hosted in Recife and organized to this day by the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, in the capital of Pernambuco.

It is important to emphasize that if we conduct a research of the main magazines from Brazil’s different states in the early 1920s, we will observe how intellectuals and artists were eager for cultural renewal, elaborating distinct proposals to think about the polyvalent phenomenon of modernity in Brazil. Without a doubt, at first, the Northeastern region stood out as a protagonist, under the leadership of Gilberto Freyre, in Recife.

Subsequently, in a congruence of different factors, Salvador became an important pole in this debate. The creation of the Bahia University and the role of its emblematic Dean and founder, Edgard Santos, between the years of 1946 and 1952, fostered the organization of a new artistic and intellectual scene, boosted with the creation of the first Dance, Music and Theater colleges in Brazil, in addition to the installation of important museums.

In this context, in 1958, Lima Bo Bardi was compelled to work in Bahia, initially to teach in the Fine Arts School for one semester along with architect Diógenes Rebouças. In 1959, she was invited by governor Juracy Magalhães to found Bahia’s Modern Art Museum (1960).  The invitation to set up the first museum of modern art in Northeast Brazil stimulated the architect to think in an institution model focused on the social aspect, through pedagogical conceptions directed towards an idea of “national-popular”, formulated by Antonio Gramsci, her greatest ideological reference.

In the second semester of 1958, Bo Bardi became close to theater school director Martim Gonçalves and befriended young students such as Glauber Rocha, Paulo Gil Soares and Fernando da Rocha Peres, some of her greatest admirers during this formative moment and, subsequently, during the implantation of her future museum projects. Martim introduced her to the Solar do Unhão space, where Lina would later set up the historic Popular Art Museum. In 1959, they carried out the revolutionary Bahia exhibition in Ibirapuera, invited by the organization of São Paulo’s V Biennale. This exhibition demonstrated the profound exchanges and conceptual convergences between the playwright and the architect. It was an expositive project that is based on a scenic-theatrical context in which the popular roots of Bahia culture are contrasted with the internationalist trends of the São Paulo modernist project.

The artistic project and its social conception of MAM-Bahia is built, thus, in a time of more direct and intense encounters, a time of great agitation and expectations from the Southeast metropolises. The Museum’s strategic location in the Castro Alves Theater’s foyer invited a large popular participation in the formation of a public rarely before recorded in events of this nature within the state, in addition to forming a generation of young creators, artists and collectors who would have an impact on the new directions of national art and culture. 

However, despite making such a great contribution to MAM-Bahia, the architect had even greater ambitions starting from the implantation of the Popular Art Museum in Solar do Unhão, a new occupation model in architectural spaces, integrating buildings with different uses and shapes to a bold conception of intervention in a historic heritage site.

In November of 1963, Lina inaugurated the MAP (Popular Art Museum), presenting two simultaneous exhibitions: one of popular objects from the Northeast, known as Civilization Northeast, and another of artists from the Northeast in general. Moved by an anthropological sensibility and international political and aesthetic experience, she implanted an advance museum project in which the objects in its collections did not function as semiophores. That is, the objects in the collection would not be still, distanced from their original utilities, sacralized by the institution. They would function as a living library, documents of references, of arts and of the popular activities of the Northeast.

The collection of objects was designed with reference sources, to be used by the students of her planned School of Masters and Designers, where popular knowledge would converse with academic knowledge, placing university students and master craftsmen side by side, with exchanges of shared, plurilateral experiences. The first step of implanting the project would be gathering a vast collection of popular objects from the Northeast, for instance. Such an undertaking was only made possible thanks to the collaboration with other states from the Northeast. In Ceará, Bo Bardi counted on Lívio Xavier’s efforts, and in Pernambuco, with the assistance of Francisco Brennand, the research subject of this publication.

These objects, according to Lina, were to be acquired from fairs or spaces in which they were produced. Thus, the collected objects, inserted in their original contexts, would preserve their utilitarian relevance. The displacement to the context of the museum would not transform them into objects or exhibition fetishes. They would be presented as contemporary documents of their existence, making their uses visible en their constructive solutions. The objects of the past were not to be a part of the collection as they did not represent living solutions to their craftsmanship and their social context. The formation of this triad between collaborators from Bahia, Ceará and Pernambuco provided a wide panorama of production of popular objects from the Northeast at the time, distancing it from traditional museum collection concepts, in which objects of the past comprised the collections.

Radically original, Lina’s conception regarding the cultural collection was elaborated from the revision of concepts regarding what is popular: the ideas of people, folklore, craftwork and more. Initially, she defined the idea of nation from a conceptualization and a characterization of a people: recognizing the dynamic character of popular traditions, its living character unbound to a static past, thus proposing a new approach that resulted in the conception of a people-nation that would come to define the famous Northeast Civilization. The new culture would then gather the popular masses and, thus, dissolve old separations between the ideas of a modern culture and a popular culture.