torpedoed nationality

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By MANUEL DOMINGOS NETO*

The sending of Paulo Mendes da Rocha's collection to Europe at this moment is a flagrant of the ongoing process of suffocation of Brazilian memory

In addition to the collective dream of living better, nationalities require a common perception of the past. Hence, the destruction of memory referring to struggles for social change is the most serious fascist enterprise for a nation.

A self-respecting community takes care of its memory like someone who drinks water. The alternative is to die. There are no societies without symbologies that selectively sacralize lived experiences. This is what the expression “places of memory” consecrated by French historiography indicates. Such “places” are references of national souls.

Architecture, being an incisive bearer of messages related to the past and the promises of a better future, has great weight in the construction of collective memory. It is a universally privileged instrument for identifying societies and legitimizing states.

Would Mussolini and Hitler have managed to manipulate Italians and Germans without clashing with the perceptions that these peoples had of their own paths and without injecting them with great expectations as to the glories to come?

Both valued the expressions of Classical Antiquity as an argument to repudiate the “degenerate art” of modernity and promote aesthetics suitable for manipulating the masses according to their totalitarian purposes. Modern art was incompatible with Nazi-fascism. Architecture, don't even mention it!

Obviously, in modernity, political power has always sent messages to society appealing to Greco-Roman aesthetics. But only the despotic condemned to death the innovators who opposed them.

Thinking about Brazil, Bolsonaro's success requires the squandering of Brazil's historical and artistic heritage. If they could, the president and his generals would destroy everything that talents like Niemeyer, Portinari, Paulo Freyre and Djanira did. The purpose of those who miss the dictatorship is to silence artists and intellectuals. The orientation is to disappear with IPHAN, without which the memory of architecture and other heritage would not exist. The effort to destroy the Casa de Ruy Barbosa, the Cinematheque and other relevant collections has the same motivation.

These ideas come to mind when I learn that Paulo Mendes da Rocha's scribbles, drawings, models and photographs will cross the Atlantic towards Casa da Arquitectura, a Portuguese institution.

This architect's work doesn't particularly move me. I don't like his overly invasive interventions in listed monuments nor his inattention to the landscape. But it is the greatest living reference of modern Brazilian architecture. His influence, exercised from the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of São Paulo, is beyond question. Paulo Mendes collects major awards, including the famous Pritzker and the Venice Biennale. Its documentary collection is of equal importance to that of other great Brazilian producers of knowledge.

The architect's decision expresses his defensive instinct against the boldness of destroying Brazilian memory. Brazil, in fact, never had a serious policy for the preservation of historical collections in the most varied domains of science and art. There is no culture of preservation, there are at most specific and sectoral initiatives. It is as if our knowledge-producing institutions have nothing to be proud of and are of no importance to society.

Paulo Mendes is 91 years old and knows what savage repression is. His political rights were revoked during the military dictatorship and his work as a professor at USP was prohibited. Sending its collection to Europe at this moment is a flagrant of the ongoing process of asphyxiating Brazilian memory.

The victims of this government's destructive instinct are countless. Amazon, indigenous peoples, scientific community, diplomacy, national defense… Those infected by the plague stand out in the sinister list.

But, in the whole work of torpedoing nationality, it is not worth forgetting the neglect with the memory of Paulo Mendes da Rocha, a reference of Brazilian architecture.

* Manuel Domingos Neto is a retired UFC professor. He was president of the Brazilian Defense Studies Association (ABED) and vice president of CNPq..

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