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Professor Claudia Calirman’s Book is First in the Field to Open Up Discussion on Art in Brazil during the Military Regime

Assistant Professor Claudia Calirman’s pioneering new book titled “Brazilian Art under Dictatorship: Antonio Manuel, Artur Barrio, and Cildo Meireles” provides a fresh and innovative perspective on art and creativity during the most brutal and repressive years of the military dictatorship in Brazil in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Although this time period was thought to have been long afflicted with “cultural emptiness’” Calirman, in the Department of Art & Music, shows how government censorship and surveillance were in fact an impetus for the flourishing of creativity as visual artists sought out new and subversive mediums of artistic expression to circumvent government persecution.

This first-of-a-kind study into this important but overlooked segment of contemporary art, “Brazilian Art under Dictatorship” was launched at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in June 2012 co-hosted by Consul General of Brazil Luiz Felipe Seixas Correa. Director of MoMA’s library and archives, Milan Hughston, organized an exhibition with archival materials from MoMA’s collection related to the book in recognition of Calirman’s landmark publication.

“This is the first time there is a book about what happened during this period in the visual arts and how artists were using politics in their work. The book is about ephemeral actions used to circumvent censorship. There were innovative ideas during that period and you had to use your imagination to convey what you wanted to say without being persecuted” said Calirman.

Calirman investigated this vibrant artistic moment that was brought forth in defiance of political oppression through three case studies. Renowned artists Antonio Manuel, Artur Barrio and Cildo Merieles breached the traditionally formalist art tradition in Brazil during the years 1968 to1975 through “the use of degradable and decomposing materials, their own bodies the media, the readymade, and language.”

Calirman defines her book’s premise in the introduction. It is “a narrative of creative advancement in the face of repressive politics. It is the archetype of artistic ingenuity: bold invention born, in spite of impossible odds, out of a desire for expression.”

Sarah Sarzynski from Times Higher Education Supplement said, "Calirman's examination of three artists Antonio Manuel, Artur Barrio and Cildo Meireles helps to challenge the myth that the Brazilian dictatorship fostered only 'cultural emptiness.' Via letters, manifestos, exhibition reviews, descriptions of artworks, and interviews with artists and critics, she reveals the ephemeral, per formative and clandestine artwork produced during the period. . . . Calirman breaks down myths about the absence of opposition to the Brazilian military regime and urges us to continue to examine the many forms of resistance in Cold War-era Latin America."  

Calirman’s book coincides with Brazilian President Dilma Roussef’s recent establishment of the Commission of Truth to investigate the numerous human rights violations that were committed during the military regime.

The General Consul of Brazil in New York Luiz Felipe de Seixas Correa said at her book’s launch, “Ms. Calirman’s book is thus an important contribution to our collective memory. If Brazil today has become a solid full-fledged democracy it is because we learned – and are still learning – the painful lessons of a past that will not be repeated.”

Professor Calirman was the 2008-09 Lemann Visiting Scholar of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) at Harvard University. She is part of the Advisory Board of El Museo del Barrio, NY.

To purchase the book, click here.
To read a book review from Hyperallergic, click here.