Ze Celso



Exu of the performing arts, mythically leaves the scene with fire

José Celso Martinez Corrêa was one of the most exciting, delightful and fun figures in culture, politics and life. He devoured the European revolutionary theater of Stanislavski, Meyerhold, Artaud and Brecht, collectively embodying the teat(r) o Oficina uzyna uzona. A third-world character, he displaced Che Guevara's incitement for the multiplication of Viet Cong subversion, realizing the role of theater in “the opening of a series of Vietnams in the field of culture – a war against the official culture, of easy consumption”.[1]

Zé Celso composes this generation that thought-dreamed and tried to materialize a brazyl – with/o Cacilda, Celso Furtado, Darcy, Guerreiro Ramos, Glauber… subversive, in a political-cultural effervescence that would be hard hit in 1964 by the military and the ruling class and again at the end of 1968 with the AI-5.

Oficina lived the Parisian May of 68 with The Sailing King and then, in Brazil, they set the scene on fire with Live Wheel, which will be repressed by far-right groups and banned by censorship. After imprisonment and torture, Zé Celso will inhabit the Carnation Revolution in Lisbon and the celebration of the independence victory in Maputo in 1974-1975. He also immersed himself in the hinterland and staged the abolitionist Antônio Conselheiro in the commune-Canudos.

In that century, he never stopped insisting on the political-existential direction of indigenous peoples and quilombolas, and it is in these terms that he will understand the clash between Oficina and Grupo Silvio Santos. As it happens with the people of the land and in the multiple occupations in the city and in the countryside, the incompatibility of their ways of life with the capitalist universe is wide open, recurrently staged in the swallowing of the enemy, in the radical wisdom of dealing with the antagonistic.

Bixiga Park against the phallic towers and the SS Group monocultural project. This week, which was the hottest ever recorded in history, only reinforces the urgent timeliness of reviving the waters and forests of the city, including its center. The expanded Marxist infrastructure, from economy to life.[2] A theater-street, theater-track, theater-crowd, theater-carnival, from the big glass window in its connection with the city, crossed by the cesalpine, totem tree – which is born inside Lina’s theater and goes outside. The overflow of a cosmopolitics; land and democracy being sown.[3] Zé Celso, in these last few months, was immersed in the dramaturgy of the fall of the sky by Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Albert, planning the unprecedented work with indigenous people.

Zé Celso was remarkably generous with young people,[4] o Oficina launching countless actresses, actors and artists to the world. Always attentive to new irruptions – including them at all times in the plays, in permanent transformation –, he was a pioneer, along the lines of Oswald de Andrade's technicized barbarian, in filming and broadcasting shows. In an interview in the weeks following the June 2013 revolts, with the embers still hot, Zé Celso situates the turning point in terms of a resumption of “a spirit of here and now, something that is '1968'. “In two weeks, Brazil has changed. Everything has changed, and everything has to change.”

It will also fish out the subversive dimension of the twenty cents and the general proposal of the MPL as “a metaphor for the free pass of everything, including the theater”. And sees the protests as a chorus; not “the choruses of American musicals, of lifting your leg at the right time. They are choirs like football, of individuals who play, who come into contact with the public”.

Invoking Antonin Artaud and a pantheon of the theater, he says “encourage the human power in them, to crown themselves. From each person emanate his power. Theater is direct democracy. Absolutely instantaneous”. In opposition to “all the turnstiles, the cages, the things that close, you have to go dribbling, dribbling, dribbling to emerge, give what you know and receive from those who know, from those who know now”.[5]

“I come from something much earlier than myself”, he would say when asked about the future of Oficina and invoking Dionysus and Eros.[6] For Zé Celso and for the neighborhood (the Vai-Vai flag beautifully covering his coffin), we must conquer Bixiga Park. The workshop-commune will continue, mutation of apotheosis, as a laboratory of warrior happiness of electric bodies in the electronic yard. It will re-exist, driven by the bacchantes, in that dimension recurrently placed by Zé Celso of “a work of liberation, including oneself” that is combined with the “meaning of freeing the production force that everyone has and, with the sum of that production force, to break up the old relations of production that are repressing you”, thus constituting “the revolutionary movement”.[7]

Exu of the performing arts (honor given by Mãe Stella de Oxóssi), mythically leaves the scene with fire, as Sara Antunes put it so well. Throughout his existence, Zé Celso professed and exercised communal luxury, of the class that produces and creates (the emblem of Oficina being the anvil), in the theatrical trade (and priesthood), in love and in the modest shared apartment. The beauty of collective life.

*Jean Tible is a professor of political science at USP. Author, among other books, of Wild Politics (Glac editions & n-1 editions).

Originally published on Socialist Democracy magazine.


[1] José Celso Martinez Correa. “The subverting power of form (by Tite Lemos)” (1968) in Karina Lopes and Sergio Cohn (orgs). Ze Celso Martinez Correa (Rio de Janeiro, Azougue, 2008, p. 16).

[2] “Nature is the infrastructure of life”, an interview with José Celso Martinez Corrêa (by Hugo Albuquerque, James Hermínio and Gregorio Gananian): https://jacobin.com.br/2023/07/a-natureza-e-a-infraestrutura-da-vida/

[3] It is worth seeing the conversation “the voice of those who cultivate the land” with Sonia Guajajara, Guilherme Boulos and Zé Celso that took place in June 2016 at Oficina: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rf89zFaNT8

[4] I lived it myself. When I launched, in 2013, the book wild marx I had the feeling that the only suitable place was the Oficina. I knew Zé from plays and demonstrations, but we had never talked. He was enthusiastic and a friendship-love began. The release was filmed and ends with a beautiful speech by him, followed by a ciranda: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdhQhqxZYTQ. My next book wild policy, launched last year, is dedicated to eight masters – zé is one of them.

[5] “Interview with Zé Celso Martinez (by Daniel DOUEK)” (Research and Training Center, SESC São Paulo, July 12, 2013). Available in: https://centrodepesquisaeformacao.sescsp.org.br/noticias/entrevista-com-ze-celso-martinez. “'I have a lot of libido, a lot of love and I know how to lead to ecstasy', says Zé Celso at 80” (interview by Iara Biderman) (Folha de S. Paul, January 18, 2018).

[6] Interview on Roda Viva, TV Cultura, in 2004: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9t2yIooPHbQ

[7] “A volta de Zé Celso” (by Heloísa Buarque de Hollanda and Carlos Alberto M. Pereira) (1979) by Karina Lopes and Sergio Cohn (eds.). Ze Celso Martinez Correa (Rio de Janeiro, Azougue, 2008, p. 88).

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