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Covering 170 years of the country’s history from 1833 to 2003, this month the CCBB brings together an impressive visual history of Brazil, containing more than 300 photographs harvested from public and private collections alike.
The exhibition takes the science of photography introduced by European expeditions during the Nineteenth Century and Emperor Dom Pedro II’s subsequent obsession with the burgeoning art form in Brazil as its starting point.
These simple images that gave the world the first glimpses of this ‘Tropical Giant’ and its diversity of human and plant life contrast harshly with the turbulent uprisings at the end of the 1800s and the first throes of modernity in the following decades.
With a seven-part chronological division at its core, the end of imperialism and the urbanisation of the country, its subsequent industrialisation and, of course, life in the shadows of the military dictatorship all show the rapid transitions that Brazil continues to endure today.
If the underlying contradictions of Brazil's modernisation can be summed up by one photograph alone, then Madalena Schwarz's image of Paulette and Carlinhos getting ready to perform with the Dzi Croquettes cross dressing dance troupe could be it. Formed in the early '70s at a time when the military dictatorship was throwing dissident and subversive musicians and artists in prison, the 13-strong cross-dressing dance troupe enjoyed huge success in Brazil and abroad, breaking down national taboos and sexual stereotypes in the process.
Essentially, then, Um Olhar offers a highly accessible and valuable visual history lesson, and one that suggests there is much more upheaval yet to come in this fascinating country.