CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed


Severed heads and ideal portraits: The real versus the typical in the iconography of 1930s Brazil

Session 14 The Other and the Foreign: Contact, Curiosity, and Creative Exchange


This paper deals with struggles over the representation of Brazilian cultural identity in the 1930s, contrasting photographic coverage of legendary bandit leader and folk hero Lampião with official efforts under the Vargas regime to generate a visual order based on enduring archetypes of race and brasilidade (Brazilianness). The failed attempt to build a monument to ‘Brazilian man’ is considered in this context, as are paintings by Cândido Portinari that sought to generate images of racial type. The comparison between these divergent works teases out the ways in which the celebration of an imaginary ‘self’ masks the violent suppression of the ‘other’ within the heart of Brazilian society. At the exact historical juncture when quelling rebellion and regional autonomy loomed as a major preoccupation of government, a new paradigm of cultural unity was being forged, based on idealized abstractions of what constituted ‘the people’ and ‘the nation’. The tangled intersection between discourses of modern and archaic, native and imported, health and degeneracy reveals how real differences were effaced in the process of constructing a stable national identity.



Rafael Cardoso is a writer and art historian, PhD from the Courtauld Institute of Art, and collaborating professor for postgraduate studies at Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (Instituto de Artes). He is the author of numerous books on the history of Brazilian art and design, including Design para um Mundo Complexo (2012); Impresso no Brasil, 1808-1930: Destaques da História Gráfica no Acervo da Biblioteca Nacional (2009); and A Arte Brasileira em 25 Quadros (1790-1930) (2008). He is also active as an independent curator, having staged the major exhibitions: Do Valongo à Favela: Imaginário e Periferia (Museu de Arte do Rio, 2014); Rio de Imagens: Uma Paisagem em Construção (Museu de Arte do Rio, 2013), From the Margin to the Edge: Brazilian Art and Design in the 21st Century (Somerset House, London, 2012), among others. His works of fiction have been translated into German, Spanish and Italian, and include the forthcoming O Remanescente (2016). He is presently resident in Germany, where he has taught at Hamburg Universität and Freie Universität Berlin.