communist propaganda prints. Photo: reproduction

In a curious paradox, the police files gathered by the São Paulo State Department of Political and Social Order (Deops) with the aim of repressing and persecuting any person, movement or party that opposed the dominant ideology ended up becoming a rich source of information. information for a lengthy study of precisely the criticisms I wanted to silence. It was from the data gathered over decades by the forces of espionage and repression that the historian Maria Luiza Tucci Carneiro structured her research. Subversive Prints: Art, Culture and Politics in Brazil 1924-1964, which seeks to map the careful, dedicated and often anonymous work of dozens of artists, artisans and activists, who used graphic arts to denounce excesses and inequalities, demonstrating a tenacious resistance and desire for political and social transformation. “In addition to archiving subversive prints, they also preserved, by irony of fate, the memory of intolerance”, summarizes the author.

Communist propaganda printouts with Deops Bureau of Investigations caption. Photo: reproduction

In the book, released this year by publisher Intermeios, the researcher analyzes an extensive collection of documents, which she has been mining during several researches carried out in the archives of the Deops Fund, released for consultation since 1995 and revisited by her on different occasions. Copies of these prints, pamphlets, publications and other items that belong to the universe of printed matter were kept in a drawer in her office, waiting for an occasion for further study, a moment brought about by the epidemic and the mandatory domestic retreat. It also contributed to the urgency of revisiting this vast collection, the feeling that we live in a moment in which several of the situations denounced by artists and artisans seem to be repeating and worsening. “It's a provocation that I do. I invite the reader to be outraged by what we are experiencing, I demand a position, in these times of total abnormality, against all forms of violence perpetrated by such an insensitive government”, she explains.

After all, resistance, criticism and the desire for change seem to be the common point between a production as diverse as the printed material studied by Tucci Carneiro. If we restrict ourselves to analyzing only publications that involve images - which constitute a large part, but not exclusive, of the body of study, which also presents a textual production, of easier circulation and dissemination -, the historian's research is subdivided into two large groups of authors: on the one hand, there are those who had artistic training, belonged to the bourgeois class, moved through intellectual circles or were recognized as important figures in the arts and Brazilian politics.

Also part of this first group of professional artists is a wide range of political exiles, with emphasis on refugees from the Nazi persecutions that ravaged Europe, especially in the period before and during the Second World War and who are a topic of great importance in the trajectory of the researcher. In his book, Tucci Carneiro makes an extensive survey of these artists, presents synthetic biographies, always trying to trace the relationships between the poetics in tune with the avant-garde research in the field of art and the political ideology that drives such actions.

But perhaps the unique contribution of this study is the effort made to make room for a second group, the anonymous authors, coming from the working classes, many of them workers, artisans, without artistic training or, in some cases, having a formal basis acquired in the Schools of Art and Crafts in Rio and São Paulo. They are those that Mário de Andrade called “proletarian artists”, of humble origins, children of immigrants. “They remained on the sidelines of the main cultural and artistic movements in the history of modern art, without having a studio and without frequenting the circuits of the avant-garde protesters”, explains Tucci Carneiro. Despite the clandestinity, essential for those who did not have any type of protection, and the great dispersion of this material (naturally, the vast majority of protest forms produced in Brazil were forgotten or lost), the historian managed to gather some traces capable of identifying some authors of this militancy. There is, for example, Moyses Kalinas, Romanian, painter and employee of the Klabin paper factory, who even had an expulsion decree issued, but who remained in the country until 1948. Other names, such as Angelo de las Heras, JB Pelayo, J. Matheus, Otávio Falcão and Novac were identified. Despite the scarce information, their recognition is a way of – as Tucci Carneiro says – “give them a place, a memory space”.

Defining herself as a “historian of political ideas”, Tucci Carneiro sought to superimpose different layers of interpretation in the book. She proposes reflections on the highly repressive character of a dictatorship like that of Getúlio Vargas, which appropriates the avant-garde aesthetics, but adopts a systematic strategy of persecution against communists, anarchists, socialists, foreigners and Jews. But she articulates them with an attentive look at the artistic and political strategies adopted in the period, in an attempt to transform art and society, using expressionist references and focusing on human dramas as a preferred theme. “The discourse of the ordering State assumed, through propaganda and police repression, an accusatory (Manichean) tone by pointing out leftist groups as enemies of the Brazilian nation”, she writes, demonstrating how repression and anti-communist propaganda were sides of the same coin. This becomes evident, for example, with the realization that little or no inhibiting action has been launched against the extreme right movements.

On the other hand, figureheads such as Lasar Segall – branded as “Jewish artist, producer of degenerate art” by the Political Police secret service – or Tarsila do Amaral were constantly watched. There is a tasty passage in the book that reproduces the comments of an undercover agent in the Clube dos Artistas Modernos (CAM) after attending a lecture by the painter: “Unquestionably, Ms. Tarsila do Amaral is the biggest and boldest communist among all national communists. She is the greatest because she impresses and almost converts everyone who hears her. She is also the most daring, as her partners are always looking for outskirts and hidden places to preach communism, while she makes use of noble halls where, bluntly, she teaches theoretically and practically the Red doctrine”.

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