Viva Laerte – intellectual of the year (and for decades) of the Brazilian people

Image: Bayram Er


Winner of the traditional Juca Pato Award, Laerte Coutinho is the first cartoonist to receive such honor

Among so much ugliness and evil, there are beautiful, albeit timid, little flowers insisting on growing on the asphalt. Last September 23, we learned that Laerte Coutinho is the intellectual of the year, a title awarded by the Brazilian Union of Writers.

The prize, according to the UBE website, is “a replica of the character created by the journalist Lélis Vieira and the cartoonist Benedito Barreto in 1962 – it is not a literary prize, but a laurel given to the personality who, having published a book of national repercussion in the previous year, has stood out in any area of ​​knowledge and contributed to the development of the country and defense of democratic values.”...

A “retired” septuagenarian lady, Laerte will join the illustrious gallery, which brings together people like Drummond, Octavio Ianni, Jacob Gorender, Ailton Krenak, Belluzzo, Lygia Fagundes Telles, Antônio Cândido, Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns, Érico Veríssimo, Cora Coralina, among others. so many others and others. More than fair, obvious recognition to an artist who has been a cultural and political reference for over 30 years.

Immediately, when I decided to write this article, I thought of Laerte’s shy elegance and artistic genius – I immediately remembered Chico Buarque (she and he have a certain distrust in common, in addition to their entire lives committed to transforming the world). Juca Pato is welcome freshness in a bad year for Brazil and for Laerte – who had Covid in January, even went to the ICU. It was an immense joy for thousands of people to see his recovery.

My first contact with her work was in the early 1990s – Piratas do Tietê cartoons in Folha de São Paulo. “Los Três Amigos” (with Angeli and Glauco), unmissable. It was only much later that I found out that since the end of the 1970s Laerte had been collaborating with unions and left-wing organizations, including the ABC Metallurgical Union and drawing the iconic João Ferrador (today I'm not good). She was a PCB militant and helped build several popular communication initiatives.

So many cartoons, so many striking characters. Laerte's artistic expression is densely and sophisticatedly intertwined with his biography. Political engagement, the loss of a son in 2005, the discovery/construction of his new gender identity, at almost 60. Life and work.

The fact is that at some point Laertes transcended. She stopped being a talented cartoonist. She became a philosopher, a thinker of the world, of life. Laerte's work is and will be increasingly recognized and studied.

I was introduced to Laerte at a demonstration against homophobia, in Praça da República, perhaps in 2009 or 2010, shortly before she started her transition. I remember making a quick comment about the strips she was publishing at the time. I confessed that I did not understand many of them. Laerte, with that nice smile, replied: “but I don't understand either”. Her face.

In 2013, when I was coordinator of LGBT policies in the Haddad government and Laerte had already become a reference in trans activism, we really got to know each other and since then we have done several little things together (I had the privilege of interviewing her more than once , yes I count it with pride, although I know she doesn't like those things).

Laertes, prolific, has a voluminous work. An impressive piece. Sometimes direct and accessible, many others almost enigmatic: layers of meaning to be excavated.

The media visibility she obtained as a public person who underwent a gender transition “belatedly” was a beautiful opportunity for many more people to come into contact with Laertian thought and art. TV programs, documentaries, interviews, installation at Itaú Cultural, editions of compilations: we have celebrated Laerte – who is generous, thoughtful and good people. A sort of “anti-celebrity” personality.

And, wow, besides and more important than all of this put together: our cartoonist continues to be a leftist person, who has a side. Who never walks away from a good fight. Who positions himself not only in his cartoons. Laerte supports candidates from leftist parties, supports social movements, ran the “Lula Livre” campaign. Laerte is anti-fascist and anti-capitalist. Organic working-class intellectual.

And without further ado, let us now close this humble, yet honest and most pertinent panegyric. Long live Laerte Coutinho, intellectual of the year in this Bolsonarist Brazil of my God. Save intelligence and art!

* Julian Rodrigues is a teacher and journalist. Member of the National Council of the MNDH and of the National LGBTI Alliance.


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