Defying the restrictions of Brazil’s military dictatorship in the ’70s, Paulo Bruscky explored the role of art in society through various mediums that can be seen at the Phoenix Art Museum from Sept. 6 to Dec. 28.
Bruscky found his inspiration on the streets of Brazil, where he explored a wide range of issues that challenged the socio-political status quo. He looked to impact people outside of the galleries and museums to see what role art played in society.
At the peak of the military rule, Brazilians did not have the freedom of having public gatherings. A short film,“Arte/Pare,” features Bruscky in action as he stretches a red ribbon across the Boa Vista Bridge, gridlocking traffic for 45 minutes. This act was intended to symbolize the firm control by the Federal Police in the 1970s. Bruscky produced art in many different forms and led by example by bringing art to the masses in Brazilian society.
“He is a multi-faceted artist. He is not only one of the world’s first artist to use the Xerox machine as an artistic device, but he is also a poet, a pioneering male artist, a photographer, filmmaker, and performance artist,” said Vanessa Davidson, The Phoenix Art Museum’s Shawn and Joe Lampe Curator of Latin American Art.
Bruscky’s work was first displayed in the United States at The Bronx Museum of the Arts. The Phoenix Art Museum received the opportunity to feature The Paulo Bruscky: Art Is Our Last Hope exhibition, including many pieces that came directly from art collectors in Brazil.
“[The exhibition] is the first one to include mail art. It is unique because it focuses on art forms that emerged in the ‘70s and ‘80s that aren’t often seen, such as Xerox art, mail art, sound art and video art,” Davidson said.
Walking the streets of Brazil with a sign hung by rope that read, “What is art, what is it for?,” Bruscky posed in store windows and quietly sat in local shops. Bruscky wanted people to experience that every man is an artist through their own interpretation.
“My favorite piece is a piece called, ‘What is art, what is it for?,’ and it questions the role of art in society during the dark era of the Brazilian dictatorships, created in 1978. I think that it really brings to the floor some of the most sensual aspects that preoccupied Bruscky in the ‘70s,” Davidson said.
Humor and irreverence were powerful artistic strategies Bruscky used in his work to connect with the daily reality of Brazilian citizens in an era of repression and censorship, according to Davidson.
Passport portraits of unidentified Brazilians are cut in half, connecting their hairlines to their chins. Bruscky shows in a 12-photo collage, “Personas,” the difficulty in identifying the people who disappeared and fell victim to the dictatorship’s violence.
Scattered among the walls, stamped envelopes are seen by people entering the exhibit and words with pictures are explored on the backs to show the contents of the letters. Mail art connected people internationally with the intent of drawing attention to the world developing around them.
“In his mail art, he would create work that would announce the abuse of a dictatorship on everyday Brazilian citizens and he would print and write slogans on the outside of his envelopes and words inside the envelopes,” Davidson said. “He would send these abroad to other countries, not only in Latin America, but throughout America, Europe and Asia. People he was corresponding with got a sense of what it was like to live in Brazil under the military regime through his mailing.”
Experience The Paulo Bruscky: Art Is Our Last Hope exhibition for yourself at the Phoenix Art Museum. Bruscky will host a meet-and-greet on Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. at the museum.