At The Barbican
February - 21st May 2006
by Cardinal Cox
Dope on Pnuk part 6
The Tropicalia art movement of
Brazil started in the late 'sixties - as a protest movement
against the oppression by the generals, that was (as the curator
said at his introduction) "as much Beatles as Black Panthers".
The movement took its name from an installation that recreated a
shack from the favelas. The name was then appropriated for a
compilation album of songs by funky/psychedelic/folk acts of the
From the earliest, this movement
had many apparently contradictory strains, one of which was a
celebration of the culture of the favela. Another was distinctly
playful, shown in the exhibition by the curious sensory altering
masks, some of which contain fragrances (made by Lygia Clark).
This continues with bowls of coloured liquid that we are invited
to taste to try and identify the flavours (Lygia Pape). A third
strain was high-concept avant-garde. This could be
exemplified by Walter Smetak, a classically trained cellist who
taught music at an out-of-the-way college, and who started making
his own hybrid instrument sculptures.
These forces are typified in the
exhibition by, on one side, a display of ultra-modernist concrete
sculptures, and opposite this are coloured comic book squares
with black speech bubbles. Chalk is provided, and my
contribution, (one of the first) was the exclamation of "Sexy
While the movement proper may have
lasted only five years (until 1972) its legacy can be found in
Brazil with certain punk sensibilities. A film was shown of a
ballet choreographed to music by British band The Fall (who, the
weekend before I went to the exhibition, had been in session on
A second legacy is that one of the
movement's musicians, Gilberto Gil, is now Minister of Culture in
the Government of the country, a position he only took when it
was promised that it wouldn't interfere with his gigging schedule.
The mottos from the Tropicalia
movement struck me, the first adopted from a Brazilian TV comedy
show, "Those who don't communicate get stuck and are left
behind." The second accompanied the picture of dead criminal
'Horseface', that translates as: "Be an outlaw, be a hero."
© All work copyright of Cardinal Cox.