Saturday, January 26, 2008

BOMB's Brazil Issue

Issue 102 Winter 2008 coverI'm slowly making my way through the new, Winter 2008 of BOMB, which is dedicated to Brazil. Tisa B. first alerted me that this was its focus, and Reggie H. directed me to the site, which makes a few of the articles available for free. Years ago I read BOMB regularly, then stopped, and even heard (and read), wrongly it turned out, that the magazine was going under. Reggie would tell me about its issues, which I sometimes still browsed when I would pop into Nico's while in the City, and finally, last fall, I decided to subscribe to it after Reggie sent the photocopies of the informative conversation that Edwidge Danticat conducted with Junot Díaz, and the piec on Isaac Julien's video installation pieces, including his recent Small Boats.

Whenever I hear that a magazine or journal is focusing on Brazil, my question becomes, is the focus essentially going to be the Rio-São Paulo axis, those being the cultural and economic megalopolises (megalopoleis?) or will it look at another region (say the Northeast, the Amazon, the South), will it be a thematic-sociocultural focus (say on Afrobrazilians), or will it mix things up? (Of course there are numerous other ways of approaching Brazil.) This issue, some of which is online, appears to mainly follow the first, most common approach, with a number of the contributors living in either Rio or São Paulo, or coming from there (and now resident in the US). The issue has much of interest, gathering together some of the most notable contemporary plastic artists (Ernesto Neto [whose work enthralls both Tisa and me], Fernanda Gomes, the Campana brothers, Lucia Koch, Marilá Dardot, Laura Lima, Jarba Lopes, OsGemeos,Thiago Rocha Pitta, etc.), filmmakers (Cao Guimarães and Karim Aïnouz [of Madame Satã fame]), writers (Arnaldo Antunes bridging the two fields of literature and music, but also the very distinguished Lydia Fagundes Telles, as well as Bernardo Carvalho and Francisco Alvim), and a very famous architect (Paulo Mendes da Rocha). The "First Proof" literary section features the work of a handful of writers, some of them very well known, like Rubem Fonseca, whose philosophical crime-drenched novels and stories initiated a new style in Portuguese literature and have led to Nobel Prize stirrings, and the subtle poet Adélia Prado, whom I've suggested might be a potential winner. (Below right, Ernesto Neto, Leviathan Thot, 2006, Lycra tulle, polyamide fabric and styrofoam balls, 174×203 x 184’. Pantheon, Paris. Photo: Marcus Wagner. Courtesy of the artist; Galeria Fortes Vilaça, São Paulo; and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, NY.)

Neto, LeviathanAs a general introduction to some of Brazil's contemporary stars, music notwithstanding (because really, that would require a year's worth of issue, each covering the four largest cities, São Paulo, Rio, Salvador da Bahia, and Belo Horizonte), it seems pretty good, and some of the plastic artists are probably not well known in the US at all. Mendes da Rocha might be more familiar to people in the know, as he's received the 2006 Pritzker Prize, and I was glad that the editors didn't simply take the easiest route by going with the country's centenarian (yes, he'll be 101 this year!) genius, Oscar Niemeyer, who admittedly and astonishingly is still designing buildings, and has since the 1930s. The writers on the whole might also not be so well recognized in the US, but Fonseca, Telles, Prado, João Ubaldo Ribeiro (a Bahian of African descent), Manoel de Barros, and Salgado Maranhão are all internationally known figures, though none has the profile, I would imagine, of either of Brazil's best known 20th century writers, Jorge Amado, Clarice Lispector, or João Cabral de Melo Neto, or its current phenomenon, Paulo Coelho.

Madame SatãThe interviews are pretty informative, and there's a good deal of discussion about Brazilian society and the country's various continuing social problems, though there was considerably less talk about national politics, which, from what I can tell, are in an interesting place right now. I was also hoping that the magazine would feature more writers and artists under 50 (Guimarães fits this criterion, as do novelist Patricia Melo and a few others), but also show more regional diversity, venturing further north and south to find out what's happening outside the Rio-São Paulo axis, and certainly more ethnic diversity. This last problem seems to plague most special issues on Brazil, unless they're devoted to writing by Afrobrazilians or Japanese Brazilians, say, from the favelas, and so on. But who knows, perhaps I've read right past something. I'll keep reading, and perhaps another journal will take up the charge and offer new and exciting angles on what's happening in the arts scenes in the "country of the future."

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