Monuments: Statue of Borba Gato on fire. Image: reproduction of social networks.
Borba Gato statue on fire. Photo: reproduction of social networks.

UA fire reached the statue of Borba Gato, in the South Zone of São Paulo, on the afternoon of July 24th. Despite the flames, no one was injured and the Peripheral Revolution group claimed responsibility for the act. In videos posted on social media, it is possible to see a banner extended by the protesters that read: “Peripheral revolution – the favela is going down and it won't be carnival”. It is not the first time that the statue, inaugurated in 1963 and signed by the sculptor Júlio Guerra, has been attacked. An artistic action, in 2020, put her in the company of skull replicas, in an intervention by the Action Group. Four years earlier, in 2016, the 20-tonne piece of concrete, coated with inserts, was bathed in paint.

The last action boosted a resurgence in the virtual environment of the debate about the statues and monuments erected in the past in honor of figures linked to the slavery of blacks in Brazil and to the flags, which “took the militarized form of organization of hunting expeditions and the enslavement of the Indians”. or searching for precious metals”, according to Lilia Schwarcz and Heloisa Starling in Brazil: a biography. Below we list excerpts from articles that can enrich the debate, check it out:

For the anthropologist and curator Helio Menezes, in a text published by Folha de S. Paulo, “monuments are not always safeguards of history. They are more concerned with the mentality of the context of their creations, political negotiations and the right to memory, than with the mission of substitutes for the historians' own craft. Its static nature, contrary to the dynamism of social processes, can generate the opposite effect, freezing in space representations of characters and events that the accumulation of historical research, over time, discredited as false, inappropriate”. Menezes notes an interesting fact in light of the apparent commotion over the recent fire: “Many [monuments] are only noticeable when they are questioned”. For him, such questioning reignites the debate about the gaps in official history and erased memories. “Is this justification, however, enough to keep them on their feet, reinforcing colonial imaginaries and racist symbologies in the midst of our common living spaces?” he asks.

Pointing to another snippet of Brazil: a biography, the lawyer and professor at FGV Thiago Amparo recalls that Borba Gato is itself a product of revisionism in the image of the pioneers, a revisionism that is barely a century old. “The image of pioneers as 'fearless explorers' would only be recycled at the beginning of the 20th century”, he says.

Monument to the Flags, 2016, Jaime Lauriano. Photo: Filipe Berndt/ Publicity
Monument to the Flags, 2016, Jaime Lauriano. Photo: Filipe Berndt/ Publicity

The privileged target in the State and in the city of São Paulo are the monuments dedicated to the pioneers. “Although contemporary historiography is rich in critical studies that detail the association of pioneers with the enslavement of indigenous people, they are present not only in monuments, but in a complex of streets and roads that compose a kind of imaginary network of their presence in the fabric city ​​of São Paulo and São Paulo”, observes the artist and researcher Giselle Beiguelman in interview for Rádio USP last year.

Referring to past acts against monuments, Beiguelman explains: “I don't see it as vandalism, but as activism. However, it is important to think of forms of contestation that not only produce new erasures of memory, in this case, the memory of barbarism”.

In this perspective, she emphasizes that several specialists have been proposing new curatorial strategies to deal with such monuments. “One example would be the migration of these statues to new places of memory, such as museums, where they could be part of a collective exercise of symbolic reprogramming of the images that the monuments project”, she suggests. In line with the artist's proposal, Fabio Cypriano, in an article for arte!brasileiros, states that “the transition to democracy without facing the violent past is one of the reasons for the current nightmare”.

Projection of "Brasil Terra Indígena", by Denilson Baniwa, at the Monumento das Bandeiras. Photo: Francio de Holanda.
Projection of “Brasil Terra Indígena”, by Denilson Baniwa, at the Monumento das Bandeiras. Photo: Francio de Holanda.

Menezes suggests that “a commission composed of the government and specialists, especially from groups whose memories were not monumentalized, could be constituted to analyze case by case”. Among the alternatives listed by the curator are relocating them to museums that present them critically; confront them through interventions, and “countermonuments, reconfigurations that invite their resignification 'in loco' — banishing the curse of their unique history”. His caveat is that they cannot be left as they are: “The horror of empty progress”.

Amparo brings a practical case to the conversation by citing commissions established in New York City in 2018 and at Yale University in 2016 that detailed which principles should serve as a basis for analyzing, on a case-by-case basis, the representation of history in public space. “For example, in the vicinity of a Monument to the Flags, given its artistic value, a monument in memory of the indigenous genocide can be incorporated, thus preserving the work, but giving it a new meaning”, he says.

The writer Itamar Vieira Junior, in turn, notes that in Salvador, in front of an important private hospital, there is a statue in honor of the Count of Pereira Marinho, who, according to research by Cristiana Ferreira Lyrio Ximenes, was an important trafficker of Africans. . “He had 12 vessels and dedicated himself to the slave trade for almost 30 years. It is estimated that more than 11,5 men and women kidnapped from many regions of Africa, mainly from Costa da Mina, arrived in Bahia from Pereira Marinho's vessels. At the end of his life, the trafficker donated part of his patrimony to philanthropic activities, such as the Santa Casa de Misericórdia, which keeps the monument standing to this day,” he writes.

Vieira Junior states that: “In the public space, where a society transits that intends to overcome the scourge of slavery and its harmful effects, which persist to this day, human values ​​must be celebrated... images that honor violence, at the cost of the premise that we need to reflect on history”. He adds that we should imagine the effect of replacing these monuments with others that evoke important values ​​for life in society. “Having images of past and present abolitionists or monuments to the victims of our historical tragedy, such as those that exist in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, can make a difference to our perception of history and the project of society we want.”

Pedestal where the statue of Edward Colston stood. Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Marnanel.
Pedestal where the statue of Edward Colston stood. Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Marnanel.

It is also important to emphasize that the movement and popular indignation that lead to protests of this type must be repeated as society continues to transform and, regrettably, “the murders of black [and indigenous] people happen again and again and again”. new”, as Fabiana Moraes and Moacir dos Anjos point out in an article published in Pink Magazine. They claim that in the US, for example, “feeling again [following Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020] has brought not only crowds to the streets, but it has brought several statues to the ground for the first time. It also led city halls and other bodies to rethink what to do with their monuments, preferring to leave them out of squares where it is no longer possible to maintain the ode”. For the authors, still, “in the rewriting of history through images, one of the most beautiful actions was precisely the one that launched Floyd’s images, through holograms, on the places where they were – or are – the images of Confederates, monuments to southern generals who advocated slavery and fought in the Civil War of 1861–65”.

On the subject, also read articles by Tadeu Chiarelli (here) and Naiara Tukano (here), published by arte!brasileiros.

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