Hayle Melim Gadelha, Cultural Attaché of the Embassy of Brazil in the United Kingdom, talks to Art Breath about the effects of art on society and politics and art from Brazil
What are your thoughts on how art and culture can be used as crucial tools to help create a flourishing society?
Culture is the unique set of subjective experiences shared by a given society, which reflects its relation with space, its cosmology, beliefs and aspirations, and, naturally its own expressions of art.
To grant people material conditions, freedom of thought and speech and opportunity to develop their intellectual capacities is the best way to enable a society to fulfil its cultural potential. I believe that culture allows people to understand their history and place; to deal with their anxieties and desires; and to create better ways of living in society.
Art can be a good instrument to use for regeneration. Do you project that the creative fields could help create new jobs and new outlets to push economic growth?
There is, of course, a significant economic aspect to culture, the importance of which cannot be neglected in contemporary societies. The sector generates immense incomes and a growing number of jobs. The creative industries are nowadays a complex and powerful force of social transformation. It is of utmost relevance to foster cultural production and to provide its players with a safe and attractive regulatory framework. The UK is an outstanding example of how a thriving cultural sector can contribute to a national economy.
Brazil is well known for having a rich artistic and cultural history. Could you tell us a little about the different forms of art Brazil is famed for?
Brazil is one of the largest countries in the world, with one of the biggest populations, so it has naturally given rise to various forms of art. In addition, Brazil has traditionally been a country of immigration. Indigenous peoples, Europeans and Africans were the first formative elements of Brazilian social fabric – and many waves of migration have since enriched the country’s cultural diversity. The best word to describe Brazilian culture is plurality, and there is no exaggeration in saying that any person in the world could be a Brazilian, because in Brazil all ethnicities and religions cohabit in a tolerant way, forming a very rich cultural mosaic.
Therefore, it would be impossible to fairly address the question in a few lines. Regarding its most celebrated expressions of art abroad, I would highlight the innovative rhythm of bossa nova, the modernist architecture, the neoconcretist movement in the visual arts, and the world-famous carnival. What they have in common is a confluence of different influences and the very Brazilian trace of absorbing and processing alien manifestations to create a unique and defining expression of Brazilianness.
How powerful is street art in Brazil? How much is it used as a vehicle and a form of expression to deal with any political or economic concerns?
The street art scene is Brazil is among the most lively and influential in the whole world. It is a natural channel of expression for those who have no access to the so-called high culture platforms of art. Street art is deep-rooted in Brazilian urban areas, especially in São Paulo where the conditions have been favouring the development of this form of art. It is interesting to notice that street artists who were once seen as minor artists or even criminals have now achieved recognition and being proudly exported as a legitimate expression of contemporary Brazilianness. I took the picture below of an official advertisement at the tourist office at São Paulo’s main airport.
In your opinion, how significant are art and culture in relation to diplomacy, as soft powers? Can they help bridge the gap between hostile countries?
I believe that art and culture should play a central role in any country’s diplomacy. Cultural exchange is the right way to reach a better understanding between different societies. To engage the foreign public with a culture is to bring societies closer, making it possible to achieve desired outcomes in a more permanent, efficient and cheaper way. Instead of deploying military force or economic coercion, a nation can simply display its attractiveness in order to persuade others to be favourable towards its ideas or initiatives. A personal experience made me see this very clearly, when I participated in an inter-embassy football tournament in Beijing. The African embassies, not numerous enough to have individual teams, got together to form a multinational squad and chose to wear the Brazilian national team’s shirt. I felt proud to see that somehow Brazil was perceived as representing positive values that were attractive. Many benefits can be accrued from that kind of ‘soft power’ – from better perception of a country exports and increase in tourism to better treatment for its citizens and support in multilateral instances.
Do you think they could help with aspects of Peacebuilding and Peacekeeping?
Absolutely, yes. A very emblematic example of such a convergence happened in Haiti, in 2004. Organised by the United Nations and in the wake of the civil war, the Brazilian football national team travelled to Port-of-Prince to play against the local team a ‘match for peace’. Such elements have been instrumental to ensure the success of Brazil's 12-year command of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.
You have brought to London a perspective of Brazilian art and culture with regular interesting exhibitions and music events that are open to the public at Sala Brazil. Can you tell us about the events you have on?
The Embassy of Brazil enjoys a privileged location at the heart of London’s cultural scene, and we’ve been attempting to benefit from this space to promote the uniqueness and diversity of Brazilian culture. Every second Wednesday we screen Brazilian films at our ‘cineclub’, and one Thursday every month we have book club sessions when important Brazilian works of literature are discussed in English. We have been developing also an intense programme of exhibitions in our two galleries, ‘Sala Brazil’ and ‘Gallery 32’.Currently we are displaying ‘In the heart of Brazil’, by British photographer Sue Cunninghan. Several concerts of classical and popular music, as well as books launches, gastronomic, fashion and design events, various cultural discussions and theatre plays are also held on a regular basis at Sala Brasil. Our goal is to present the plurality of regions and art expressions, the richness of Brazilian people and the immensity of our country culture. Our programmes can be found on our London Facebook page and on the website (www.londres.itamaraty.gov.br/en-us/cultural_section.xml ). They are up to date on the Brazilian forms of art that are on, not only at the Embassy premises but across the United Kingdom.
What has been your favourite event so far and why?
During this year and a half I have been working at the embassy, we have had memorable concerts, such as the ones by Yamandu Costa and Fabio Zanon, two of the world best guitarists.
Among the many exhibitions we have held, I would highlight the ‘Art from Pernambuco’, on contemporary art of that north-eastern state, and the ‘A Token of Concrete Affection’, about concrete poetry. Both of them shed light in important yet little-known aspects of Brazilian art, which go much beyond the stereotypes associated to Brazilian culture.
What do you wish for the visitors to Sala Brazil to take with them after their visit?
I would be very happy if they took more knowledge and curiosity about the extraordinarily rich culture of Brazil, a continental country separated by an ocean from the UK but that shares some important views and aesthetic values.
You are currently also working on a Phd that combines history, politics and art, can you tell us a little about it and what drove you to look deeper into this subject?
I am currently researching, at King’s College, the role of art as a tool of soft power, from the perspective of Brazilian foreign policy. I am focusing on a very important episode that has nevertheless somehow disappeared from the history of art in Brazil. In 1944, during World War Two Brazil government was the only South American country which sent troops to the European front. A 25.000-strong expeditionary force was deployed to Italy to fight aside the Allies. Simultaneously, 70 of Brazilian greatest artists ever donated 168 paintings to be displayed and auctioned in favour of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, as a token of recognition for the British war effort. The exhibition, held at the Royal Academy of Arts and eight other galleries across the UK, would be the very first show of Brazilian art in Europe and represented an illustrative case of using culture promotion to exert soft power – in that occasion, as a complement of military hard power.
It is interesting to note that both the troops and the paintings were intended to strengthen Brazil’s position in the post-war international system, in which Brazil would emerge as a regional power with aspirations to play a major role in global politics.
Do you have a favourite art work that has affected you and why?
More recently, Tino Seghal’s installation ‘This Progress’ had a big impact on me. It’s a journey through others’ experiences, in which the visitor interacts with ordinary people from different generations and backgrounds.
Among the Brazilians, I would mention the radical and hallucinatory installation ‘Cosmococa’ by Helio Oiticica and Neville D'Almeida - a multifaceted sensorial experiment that takes you on a journey from a hammock to a swimming pool. It can be seen in the Inhotim, which in my opinion is the best museum of contemporary art in the world.
Hayle Melim Gadelha, a career diplomat,
is the Cultural Attaché of the Embassy of Brazil in the United Kingdom since June 2014.He is also pursuing his PhD research on culture and soft power at King’s College of London.From 2011 to 2014, he served in Beijing, in the commercial section with significant achievements in the promotion of Brazilian trade and investment.His MA of 2011, from the Rio Branco Institute, was on the cooperation among the countries of the Amazonian region. In 2010, he won the scholarship to attend the Andrés Bello Diplomatic Academy in Chile (Santiago), an accolade recognizing his diplomatic talent.