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Conflitos : Photography and Political Violence in Brazil, 1889-1964

The name of the photography exhibition which opened at the end of November at the Institut Moreira Salles sets the tone for this historical exhibition. For exhibition curator Heloisa Espada, who in addition to being a curator is also a historian, it is actually necessary to know history in order to comprehend current events. It is precisely to make understood the economic, political, and social crisis hitting Brazil at the moment, to look at the current situation through the lens of past events, that putting together this exhibition made sense for her.

These photographs, dating from the proclamation of the Republic in 1889 up to the coup d’état in April 1964 (which resulted in the long twenty-one years of military dictatorship), echo the events and issues that Brazil is currently facing. “Landless” farmers in remote areas of the State of Bahia have already fought for the same causes in a very similar way as today (while occupying the fazendas, these enormous farms) during the Canudos War in the late-19th century. Similarly, we see that the revolts by society’s oppressed do not only belong to the past few decades. During the Revolt of the Lash (or Revolta da Chibata in Portuguese), taking place in 1910 in Rio de Janeiro, the marines (a majority of them black, regularly abused, and subjected to whippings despite the previous abolition of slavery) lead riots against their commanders.

While we look at the images of these events that marked Brazil for the past two centuries, in parallel echoing the country’s current situation, another history is written between the lines– that of photography’s technical evolution. In addition to large format image reproductions on the walls, the exhibition curator wanted to show images from the archive in relation to original pieces in adjoining display cases to reveal the evolution in photography techniques and the means to have them circulating. In rooms portraying the older conflicts of the late-19th century, we can also see faded albumen prints, then depending on the era we find stereoscopic images, postcards, and amateur photographs at the time of the democratization of photography… By choosing to show images from the Canudos War by Flávio de Barros, the curator has even chosen to recreate how the photographer showed images, he organized (paid) screenings of his images at the magic lantern.

By gathering images documenting Brazil’s wars and conflicts over a period of close to a century, Heloisa Espada, as she had hoped, offers a view of Brazil that distances itself from the image of how we often see this country– a place where everything happens in a pacific way.

Elsa Leydier

Elsa Leydier is a photographer and author specialized in photography. She divides her life between Lyon and Rio de Janeiro.



Conflitos: Fotografia e violência política no Brasil 1889 - 1964
Through February 25, 2018
Institut Moreira Salles, Rua Marquês de São Vicente, 476
Gávea CEP 22451-040
Rio de Janeiro/RJ