Dzi Croquettes: Benê Lacerda, 1974
Dzi Croquettes: Benê Lacerda, 1974. Photo: Madalena Schwartz, IMS collection.

“I've always had a family, I grew up protected by my grandmothers”, told on the Roda Vida program the trans councilor for São Paulo, Erika Hilton, last February. “I never had problems with my identity, with being a fag child”, she emphasized in her speech full of accurate criticism of the so-called “gender ideology”. This notion of an extended and welcoming family was thematized by photographer Madalena Schwartz, in a series that advances the transgressive images of Nan Goldin from the 1980s, which made her an icon of the underworld. tranny.

Putting these three women together in one paragraph wouldn't be so obvious before the show Madalena Schwartz: the Metamorphoses – Transvestites and transvestites in SP in the 1970s, on display until September at Moreira Salles Institute, but it is impossible not to notice how they all defend a humanization of the trans universe. The surprise here is that while Goldin, an openly bisexual, became world famous by basically portraying her circle of friends at night, Schwartz (1921–1993) was a lady marked by a demure profile.

Born in Hungary, she migrated to Argentina at age 12. In the 1960s, with her husband and two children, she moved to São Paulo, where the family ran a laundry in the center of the city. At almost 50 years old, when her son got a camera, she started to attend the Photo Cine Clube Bandeirante, which allowed her to develop a new career, becoming “the great lady of portraiture in our country”, as defined by Pedro Karp Vasquez, a quote that can be read on one of the walls of the exhibition.

Madalena Schwartz, mid-1969. Pedro Luis Szigeti Collection.
Madalena Schwartz, mid-1969. Pedro Luis Szigeti Collection.

A video statement by Madalena, right at the beginning of the exhibition, confirms how friends and family usually describe her: a shy and elegant lady, always wearing classic clothes. Her discretion, however, was no impediment to her recognition. She photographed for important magazines around the world and, in 1974, she had her first solo show at Masp, the São Paulo Museum of Art, at the invitation of its then director, the Italian Pietro Maria Bardi.

The exhibition now on display politicizes Madalena's work by thematizing the trans universe, an urgent issue in Brazil, marked by persecutions and murders, at the same time that their visibility becomes unprecedented, in the case of Erika Hilton, the most voted woman in the city ​​of São Paulo in last year's elections. 

This politicization follows the line of The Yanomami fight, who three years ago addressed the indigenous issue through the work of photographer Claudia Andujar, Hungarian as Madalena. However, the two have very different characteristics, despite the fact that they are brilliant photographers in common and photography is an essential strategy for both of them in communicating with the world: while Claudia was an activist for the indigenous cause, Madalena never characterized her work as an engaged attitude. It is much more about a great portraitist who, on account of artist friends and neighbors at Copan, where she lived, ended up also looking at this scene.

The exhibition, curated by Samuel Titan Jr. and the Argentinian Gonzalo Aguilar, contextualizes these relationships of the photographer, by presenting a huge map of downtown São Paulo on one of the walls of the exhibition, where the main spaces where Madalena Schwartz transited are seen: her residence in Copan, the laundry on the street Nestor Pestana, the headquarters of Clube Bandeirante, the city's theaters, among some points.

Copan, by the way, inspires the architecture in the space itself, as the lilac-colored panels of the exhibition discreetly follow the sinuous shape of the building, while it is portrayed in a series of nocturnal and very impactful images in the back of the room. .

On the panels are more than one hundred images, most of transvestites, but also performing artists such as Ney Matogrosso, Patrício Bisso and Elke Maravilha.

And the panel divides two other contextualizations: on the one hand, an audiovisual documentation about São Paulo in the 1970s, marked by the military dictatorship and transgression at the same time; while, on the other hand, images of transvestite and transvestite culture in other Latin American countries, also in the 1970s and 1980s, reinforce the show's politicized character. In fact, the nine sets, which are effectively militant works, basically attest to Schwartz's grandeur.

Danton and unidentified person, 1970s. Photo: Madalena Schwartz, IMS Collection.
Danton and unidentified person, 1970s. Photo: Madalena Schwartz, IMS Collection.

Faced with movement issues me Too, one wonders whether an exhibition by a woman as bold as Madalena should not also have a female curator, as happened in the Diane Arbus exhibition (1923–1971), at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, in 2016. After all, in a At the time of debates on representativeness, the IMS could seek to understand the context, which was also lacking at the opening of the show, again with only men: the curators and João Silvério Trevisan, who, by the way, had a speech that spoke little about the artist.

This does not, however, compromise the deserved visibility that Schwartz's precursor work receives. The images on the panel, correctly distributed in different formats, point out how, in addition to dominating the use of light and dark in photography, a relevant technical issue, she managed to reveal an intimacy with her portrayed, which mixes complicity and empathy, especially those carried out behind the scenes. or in your own home.

Meise's photos, for example, reveal the model's fragility as she transforms, even using mirrors to create doubles, a composition very similar to what Nan Goldin would do in the following decade. This type of image overloaded with symbology is also seen in the series with Danton, his makeup artist from a salon on Rua Augusta, especially in the one where he is naked with his face characterized as a woman, sitting on a stool while another boy behind him moves around, again. generating a double. Danton appears in other images without makeup, when he is seen in a more delicate and vulnerable way, which is only achieved in a portrait when in fact there is a kind of solidarity between who is portrayed and who portrays, very similar to the complicity of the indigenous people portrayed by walk.

More than talking about the transvestite, transvestite and transgressor universe of the 1970s, Madalena Schwartz deals with humanity in a broader way and, therefore, with its inclusive character: it is about the same family with distinct individualities. 

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