by the brook
The new director of MAM-BA, Pola Ribeiro. Photo: Shirley Stolze/ Publicity

UOne of the most important cultural institutions in Salvador and Bahia, both for its history and collection and for the architectural heritage of its headquarters, the Museum of Modern Art of Bahia (MAMBA) spent almost a year without a director. After this period - in which many accused the government of negligence with the museum (MAM is linked to the State Department of Culture) - and still closed doors due to the pandemic, the institution now gains a new director, the filmmaker, communicator and public manager Pola Ribeiro.

“I'm aware that I'm joining a short-distance project, as it's the last two years of an eight-year government,” says Ribeiro, referring to the administration of Rui Costa (PT). “So I don't have very fancy projects, but I have a plan to restructure the museum and give it muscle.” In addition to the administrative adjustments, Ribeiro – who has already headed the Bahia State Broadcasting Institute (Irdeb) and the Audiovisual Secretariat of the Ministry of Culture - states that he intends to bring “a thought” to the institution again, which would have been lacking in this period without direction.

For this, it wants to count on the presence of a chief curator (the name has not yet been disclosed), reinforce the educational work, strengthen dialogues with other artistic languages ​​such as music and dance and reconnect with the local population and other institutions in Salvador. . It also intends to reconnect MAM with the Recôncavo, a region located around the Baía de Todos-os-Santos with an intense influence of African culture and religions. “Because in the last 20 years Salvador has given the Recôncavo a certain snub, as if it were the North Coast”, he says, referring to the most touristy and richest region in the state.

In this sense, as it reinforces the connection with the sea, Pola does not take a bad look at the controversial renovation of the Solar do Unhão pier, which adds a berth for small boats and motorboats. In recent times, several architects and urban planners, including people who have worked at MAM, have expressed their views stating that the renovation (which includes the return of a restaurant to the lower floor of the museum) distorts the project of Lina Bo Bardi – who renovated the Solar in the 1960s – and it means an elitization and touristification of the institution.

The new director, who takes over the museum with the work already in the final phase, emphasizes that the project was carried out by Iphan (Institute of National Historic and Artistic Heritage) and says he will work so that the restaurant is at the service of the museum “and not be something folkloric, explicitly tourist”. Read the full interview below:

Pola Ribeiro
Solar do Unhão seen from the sea. Photo: Disclosure

ARTE! – You assume the directorship of MAM-BA after the institution has gone almost a year without a director. I would like you to start by telling us a little about the state of the museum today. That is, what did you find ahead?

Pola Ribeiro – MAM is within an umbrella of the Institute of Artistic and Cultural Heritage of Bahia (IPAC), like ten other museums. So he was without a director, but he wasn't completely without a management. Because it's not just a museum, it's also the architectural ensemble, the heritage, and that can't be left unattended. Now, what happened has a certain gravity, because the same period when the museum was left without direction was the time of the Covid-19 pandemic. So there's an expression here in Bahia that says: “Yes, but it's missing”. And that's a little bit. MAM is there, but with a lot of things needing readjustments, from the maintenance of the air conditioning, the elevator, the security camera, etc. And we are bringing all this up in this period when the museum is still closed, so that we can start work. There is also a renovation in the area of ​​the restaurant and the pier at the wharf, which is a project by Iphan (Institute of National Historic and Artistic Heritage), run by the Department of Tourism, and which will now be delivered on March 19th. But beyond all that, the administrative tweaks and getting the thing running, MAM was left without a thought. The museum has already had several administrations, with thoughts that change with each new director, everyone contributing in some way, but in those ten months without a director, it got a little improvised.    

ARTE! – In that sense, what then are your plans? That is, what is the thought that you bring to your management?

First of all, I'm negotiating to bring in a curator, with the idea that the museum has a director and also a chief curator, so we can think about a museum project. And I'm aware that I'm getting a short-term job, as it's the last two years of an eight-year government. So I don't have very fancy projects, but I have a plan to restructure the museum and give it muscle. So we have a project for the centenary of the Week of Modern Art, another for the bicentennial of the Independence of Brazil - and the museum has this historical vocation, linked to the past of Salvador and Bahia, linked, for example, to the Revolta dos Alfaiates -, and we will also have the Salão de Arte da Bahia, which is an event that has been going on for some years and should finish our program in 2022. So we have to do this drawing, and we also intend to dialogue with other institutions and art events, such as São Paulo Biennial and the country's modern art museums.

But when I talk about this two-year program, I'm not saying that it's a closed thing, because what I'm trying to do, put it to the city, is that the management of that space goes beyond IPAC, the Department of Culture, because there it is a city platform. I see it as a space for dialogue. MAM is between Cidade Alta and Cidade Baixa; it is also on the side of both one of the richest parts of the city, which is Bahia Marina, and a poor community; and he reconnects Salvador with the Recôncavo. Because Salvador, in the last 20 years, has given the Recôncavo a certain snub, as if it were on the North coast, Praia do Forte, which is bad for the city. So we seek to reconnect with the Recôncavo, remembering that MAM is right there by the sea, with a beach almost inside it.

ARTE! – In an interview with the newspaper A Tarde, you said that you will need to have a very accurate listening, even for not being a “native of the visual arts”. You've already talked about bringing in a curator, but could you say a little more about that? Does this listening refer to people inside and outside the museum?

Thinking about the city, I have a very good relationship with several people from the cultural sector, with theater, cinema and television managers. I haven't started talking to gallerists yet, but I've talked a lot with artists. And we are building this, knowing that listening is also with musicians (Jam at MAM is a reference), dancers, etc. Because MAM has this characteristic, which has been the characteristic of contemporary museums, of putting different languages ​​in dialogue, thinking about a resignification of the arts. So we are listening a lot, to also manage with the community, which is often not recognized in the museum. We also need to bring back many people who disconnected from the museum, in addition to people from the trade circuit, from the Gregório de Matos Foundation (a body linked to the city hall), among others. So to deal with MAM and Solar do Unhão there is no partisan, sectarian conversation. You have to count on everyone who can contribute, because that place has a lot to give.     

And on the matter of bringing in a curator, there is the fact that if you mention my name at MASP, at the Bienal, at art museums in Recife or Rio, people do not recognize it, as they would in the audiovisual circuit. And I don't have much time. I don't have time to gradually gain credibility in the sector, in order to put the museum on the circuit. So we need a name that people see and already recognize and reconnect immediately. 

by the brook
External area of ​​the museum during the Jam at MAM, in a photo before the pandemic. Photo: Disclosure

ARTE! – In the same interview you also spoke of the importance of focusing on educational work. This idea that a museum is a space for participation, not just contemplation, seems to gain more and more space on the agenda of cultural institutions. Does the focus on education go in this direction? What are the plans right now?

Exactly. I visited the Secretary of Labor this week and I have an appointment with the Secretary of Education and Science and Technology after Carnival, so that we can look for programs for MAM. As I said, we are in the last two years of government, so I need to work with programs that already exist, so that I can channel them to that place. So I'm going to do this signaling with the higher authorities, from secretariats, to show the importance of the museum. For example, we have an approved project with Sherwin-Williams, where they provide, in addition to official, the paints to paint the facades of the Unhão community. So I want to do that, but I don't need to do it just as a manager of Unhão, but together with the Secretary of Labor, which has a work of community action that can grow.

And MAM's workshops have always been a reference, 40 years ago, because they are in Lina's initial design. It was a folk art museum, then a modern art museum, with craft or industrial design workshops. And we want to resume that, but taking away their seasonal character. What I want most is that whoever takes over the museum two years from now doesn't think that I made a personalist management, and doesn't want to put what was done under the rug to start something totally different. I want us to have a management that we know that it will continue in the hands of someone else, to work with this perspective. 

ARTE! – MAM, in addition to its performance, its collection, is also an architectural heritage of Salvador, both in terms of the colonial historical complex and the project by Lina Bo Bardi. In this sense, there is a controversy surrounding the current project to install the restaurant on the lower floor of the museum and the wharf. Many say this distorts Lina's project and the idea of ​​a democratic museum, not just for elites and tourism. Anyway, I wanted to know how you see this issue?

I arrived with this project already in the finalization phase. And it's an IPHAN project, because any change in the museum has to be authorized by IPHAN. Looking through the eyes of someone who is passionate about that place, but doesn't have the technical knowledge about urban interference in historic heritage, I don't see a problem. It is a concrete pier, it does not leave the sea line, that is, it does not  it gets in the way of the building's view, and I think it's going to be beautiful. And the space will also be a berth, but only for small boats. And when I say that Salvador disconnected from the Recôncavo, it is because it disconnected from Bahia de Todos os Santos. And I feel that this is also a connecting channel, from where you can leave and go to Forte de São Marcelo, to Ilha de Itaparica or to the Wanderley de Pinho Museum, in Candeias, which is being recovered. So I don't think this mooring itself will signify elitism or not.

by the brook
Famous staircase designed by Lina Bo Bardi in the museum. Photo: Disclosure

ARTE! - But when it comes to these small vessels, what are they? The publicity image that was published on the networks is that of a luxury speedboat, for example. I mean, who's going to use this wharf? 

You see, MAM is on the side of Bahia Marina and most people who have a boat in Salvador have their nautical garage there. So I don't see much out there. And the question of the restaurant… We had a Bahian food restaurant at MAM, with folkloric shows, which was very expensive, and we thought that the museum was very much at the service of the restaurant. And I will work so that, this time, in this bidding process, the restaurant is also at the service of the museum, and not something folkloric, explicitly tourist. And let it be more of a light food space, for those who visited the museum and want to sit for a while, watch the sunset. Also because next door, in Bahia Marina, there are already several great restaurants.   

ARTE! – Because even the architects say that there is no structure there to house a large restaurant kitchen…

Yes, that's right.

ARTE! – Returning a little to the question of the museum's thinking and curatorial directions, a series of agendas related to racial and gender issues and the idea of ​​decoloniality have gained space in the debate held by the country's cultural institutions. Do you intend to bring these themes to work at MAM?

Certainly. Of course I'm short on time, as I said, and I can't set the bar too high. But we want to recover the soul of the museum. In the contact I've had with the team, with the employees, I feel that people are very passionate about the institution, and I think this is essential to be able to change things. And reconnecting with the community, bringing together people who were once museum employees. And I think this also comes with this strategy that we are doing to involve institutions, to de-partisan, to dialogue with everyone, with divergences, with differences, with complexities...    

ARTE! – Speaking of the current political context, even though MAM is a museum linked to the State Department of Culture, today we have a federal government in the country that seems to see the cultural area, the arts, almost as enemies. How to work in this troubled moment for the cultural sector?

When I was invited to the position I had to weigh this question. Because, for example, when I was a manager at IRDEB, or even at the Audiovisual Secretariat, on my phone I had the number of the minister, the governor, the secretaries… and I would call the minister directly to say that I had an idea. This possibility of national articulation was a fantastic thing. So I thought of it as a negative thing in the new context, but on the other hand, it increased my responsibility to assume the position. At this moment when we have so many managers who are working against the structures that were created, against the public policies that were designed on the basis of endless discussions, with people boycotting and destroying point by point, I thought I had no way to say no. I have to go and make lemonade out of this lemon, do whatever I can with the motivation I still have to fall in love with it.

And if you look at MAM as a problem, you stay there for ten years and it doesn't solve it. The administrator told me that the painting team starts painting from the chapel and goes to the end of the sculpture park, and that when it's all over, they have to start painting the chapel again. Because we are by the sea. So there's no shortage of problems. But we have to think as a platform that actually echoes what is produced here, to be heard outside, and also with a great listening to what exists outside and can be presented here. In other words, that it is also a window for the Bahians, so that they can share this experience that is a museum, which is transformed, but it is still something strong. 

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