The Week of Modern Art, 1922

UNESCO Courier, December 1986 | Go to article overview
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The Week of Modern Art, 1922


The Week of Modern Art, 1922

THE idea of a new, contemporary Brazil waslaunched during the "Week of Modern Art" held in Sao Paulo from 13 to 17 February 1922. The impact of this event on Brazilian literature, art and culture generally was so great that it could be said to have lasted for the next thirty-eight years, beginning with the lecture given by the essayist and thinker Jose Pereira da Graca Aranha in Sao Paulo on 13 February 1922, and ending with the speech delivered by President Juscelino Kubitschek when he proclaimed Brasilia capital of the Republic on 21 April 1960.

The "Week of Modern Art" was organized byBrazilian artists, writers and composers in a bid to instil a new spirit into artistic creation in Brazil on the centenary of the country's independence. Speaking at the Sao Paulo Municipal Theatre on 13 February 1922, Graca Aranha explained the nature of the ideias novas, the new ideas that were in the air: "The works presented here may seem horrifying to many of you, but these outlandish paintings, this bewitching music and this disjointed poetry all herald a marvellous dawn. They represent the birth of art in Brazil."

The "Week of Modern Art" was an attempt tobreak with a colonial past that was alien to the Brazilian situation. While official academic painting and sculpture were bogged down in naturalism and idealism, and continued to deal with historical, mythological and religious themes reflecting the aesthetic values of nineteenth-century Europe, literature was being stifled by the language of the Parnassian movement. Oswald and Mario de Andrade, on their return from Europe, fought a courageous battle against slavish adherence to the literary models of the past, and in painting Anita Malfatti scandalized the conformists who were bithely content with imported forms of dull and pretentious art.

Above all, the break with the past entailed asearch for national identity. The memory of the Amerindian and Afro-American past was revived, and roots that were both Brazilian and American were uncovered. (During this period, the architects Moya and Przyrembel were producing work that was Aztec in inspiration.) Secondly, an attempt was made to bring Brazilian art up to date or rather to "modernize" it by relating it to avant-garde movements in other countries. Combining those apparently conflicting features meant engaging in "cannibalism". The literary movement known as Antropofagia ("Cannibalism") that subsequently emerged was based on the principle that Brazil should "gobble up foreign avant-garde movements and adapt them to Brazilian realities."

The "Week of Modern Art" thus ushered in thenew conception of creativity which is still a distinctive feature of Brazilian art and literatute today. In poetry, Modernism was to put an end to metre and rhyme and introduce free verse, colloquial language and humour. Although it asserted its own indigenous personality, it had no hesitation in adopting all the new literary techniques. Thus, paradoxically, European avant-garde movements began to play a decisive role in the discovery of the New Brazil. In some cases these movements had a direct influence--Oswald de Andrade introduced to Brazil the ideas of the Futurist movement founded by Filippo Marinetti.

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