View of the steps of the Paulista Museum of the University of São Paulo
View of the steps of the Paulista Museum of the University of São Paulo. Photo: Hélio Nobre

Closed to visitors in 2013 due to structural problems in the building, the Museu Paulista at the University of São Paulo – known as the Museu do Ipiranga – has been undergoing an extensive renovation project, both physical and conceptual. And it should reopen next year, taking advantage of the Bicentennial of Independence to bring its new configuration to the public. In addition to adapting the neoclassical mansion to the requirements of a contemporary museum, the modernization process faces the challenge of proposing new readings and interpretations of history, re-discussing, reclassifying and rethinking this heritage in order to establish new correlations between past and present that do not perpetuate visions. stagnant and consolidated discourses of power.

From an architectural point of view, the museum gains double the built area, new support spaces, greater integration with the surrounding garden, modern facilities such as elevators, escalators, bathrooms on all floors and a careful adaptation of its space to serve all types of public, with 100% accessibility for disabled people. The expectation is that these transformations will allow it to go from 300 annual visitors (at the time of closing) to 700 or one million.

One of the highlights of the project developed by the office H+F, which won the competition held in 2017, is the search for a more generous look, trying to reveal more external and internal aspects of the institution. It proposes greater visibility of the surroundings (with the installation of a large panoramic window, facing the French Garden) and exposes elements of the building's framework itself, showing part of the original juçara wall. And it creates the possibility of seeing from above – from the mezzanine installed on the top floor – the entire constructive structure.

In a way, this expansion of visibility to the different structural layers, present in the architectural project, also reverberates in the broad process of reconfiguration of the museological project itself, which is articulated around a clear attempt to illuminate the various historical, social, cultural dimensions that intertwine in this more than century-old institution. From the monument-building, designed at the end of the 19th century, to the current configuration of a modern history museum, based on the study of material culture, many layers overlap. In a joint effort of the five professors responsible for curating the institution and a wide team of researchers, technicians, educators and students, a new format was structured for the exhibitions. There will be 11 permanent exhibitions, a large temporary exhibition and a series of parallel activities to be selected through public notices, called “counterpoints”, to dialogue with the collection.

“We think that the museum is a privileged place to study the material dimension of society. How this materiality helps to build things, our relationships”, explains Vânia Carneiro de Carvalho, coordinator of the new exhibition plan, remembering that it has been a long time since the Museu Paulista put aside historiography based on great personalities. “We tried to work the museum as a place for exercises, for challenging the images and memories that they would have to represent”, adds Paulo Garcez Marins, current head of the Collection and Curatorship Department.

The exhibitions

The long-term exhibitions will be articulated around two axes: “To Understand Society” and “To Understand the Museum”, looking at the same time at important aspects of everyday life, such as the world of work, consumption habits and the complex history of the institution. In this core more linked to everyday life is, for example, the exhibition houses and things, which derives from Vânia's doctoral research and which investigates how objects help to build gender identity and often hide ingrained forms of prejudice. or the show Disputed Territories, which will try to show how the concept of territory owned by the Portuguese conflicts with the notion of territory of the indigenous peoples who were here.

The dive in search of a better understanding of the history and role of the museum, points in two lines: showing the public the work done by the institution, its role as a research and education center belonging to USP since 1963, and helping to make transparent, to reveal the strong ideological strategy present in the basic project of the museum, inaugurated 100 years ago by Affonso d'Escragnolle Taunay. It was he who conceived and carried out with an iron fist a museological project to reinforce the idea of ​​a leading role in São Paulo in the national formation, raising the Bandeiras as a founding moment and a dynamic element of national progress – embodied in the monumental axis. As this nucleus is listed as intangible heritage by the three spheres - municipal, state and federal -, this exercise of revisiting and revealing the built character of this history will be done through a series of multimedia interventions. The temporary exhibition will also seek to relativize this “Paulistocentric” vision of independence, by showing the plural character of the various independence movements that erupted throughout the 19th century in the country.

Both in these interventions and in other exhibitions that problematize this tense relationship between memory and ideology, the important thing is – according to the curators – to teach the public to question the images, not to accept a frozen, unidirectional view of history nor to consider the constructed images as a double of the real. Images are magnetized with symbolic values, which strongly contributed to the silencing of blacks and Indians and to a false “peaceful” vision of our social relations – as was evident in the recent debate about the statue of Borba Gato. After all, as Garcez explains, what is often revealed “is a narrative of appeasement, racist, sexist and elitist, as the characters are also almost all from the country's elites. So we have to somehow face these issues with the public.” “We think of the museum as a laboratory of an intellectual and educational nature, but also a laboratory for citizenship”, he concludes.

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