February 2018

Carnival: The Free Body

Instituto Moreira Salles

Images from the collection of Instituto Moreira Salles

The Streets
Carnival is the suspension of daily life. During the four days it lasts, everything is possible. The public exhibition turns participants into temporary actors, allowing them to get into a cathartic theater. In the streets, one can experience a different persona or even pretend to represent a real deep, repressed self. Nothing matters. That´s Carnival.

All the photographs in this exhibition have been taken in Rio de Janeiro.

The House
In the dynamics of Carnival, the notions of "home" and "street" have very tenuous borders, as the sociologist Roberto DaMatta points out in his studies on the theme. In this sense, the space filled by "the house" or "the street", across the history of Carnival in Brazil, varies and mingle. The three sections highlighted here, therefore, aim to mark dimensions of the same ritual. Already in its origins at the turn of the 19th century to the 20th century, the backyard batuque, a "proto-samba", spread to the streets of the neighborhoods, when houses were opened and neighbors joined the dance.


From the song "Leave the girl" by Chico Buarque de Hollanda

The first small groups of foliões (Carnival players) increased and became cordões and ranchos, and were initially almost exclusively formed by blacks and mestizos, mostly manual workers, with talented musicians among them. Although always attracting the attention of all social classes, the fear of the "uncontrolled" portuguese entrudos and cordões was appeased with the emergence of "carnival societies", thematic balls and of the evolution of various kinds of groups into big samba schools.

However, the greater motivation of the suspension of everyday reality, transgression, naturally exploded. The frenzy never ceased to invade the party houses, whether they were popular terreiros or elite halls.

This is what helps in understanding the resurgence of the blocos (blocks) - pageant groups associated with particular neighborhoods - a kind of contemporary cords. Following the increasing commercialization of the official parade since the 1970s and the decrease in attendance at clubs, the blocos returned strongly in the late 1990s. The streets of the city were invaded by crowds, mostly young people, who in less than 5 years became the largest concentration of people in public space among the country's festivals. A little more slowly, there was an affirmative "reafricanization" among these groups, a movement that in Salvador, Bahia, the other huge regional carnival, occurs since the end of the 1940s.

The School
"The House" could also be represented by the school of samba, home and family to those who grew up with the music produced in its courts, dancing there since children, protected by their community codes and hierarchy. But what would the art of the school be without the parade, the public contest and the incorporation of the outsiders, which by contrast make the school and its sambistas so unique? The samba school is their home, but the sambistas' home spreads all over the city.

For foliões of any social status, the magic of carnivalesque theater is that it makes each person individually free and at the same time in communion with collective joy. But for those oppressed by all kinds of absent basic rights, the staging finds in the costume a very particular type of liberation, a self-affirmation which aims to achieve the sublime.

Angola Congo Benguela
Monjolo Cabinda Mina
Quiloa Rebolo
Here where the men are
There is a big auction
They say that there are
A princess for sale
Who came along with her subjects
Chained in ox cars
I want to see
I want to see
I want to see

Angola Congo Benguela
Monjolo Cabinda Mina
Quiloa Rebolo
Here where the men are
On one side sugar cane
On the other side coffee plantation
At the center a gentlemen seated
Seeing the harvest of white cotton
Being harvested by black hands
I want to see
I want to see
I want to see

When Zumbi arrives
What will happen
Zombie is lord of the wars
Lord of the demands
When Zumbi arrives it's Zumbi
It's who's in charge.
I want to see

"Zumbi", by Jorge Benjor

"(...) carnival was confined in time, not in space. (...) The town square and its adjacent streets were the central site of the carnival, for they embodied and symbolized the carnivalesque idea of being universal and belonging to all people."
Mikhail Bakhtin, in "Carnival and Carnivalesque"

Feast and rite, so intensely profane that it attracts a horde of faithful, Carnival in Brazil brings with it meanings that go far beyond the holiday and the celebration. House and street. Party with no owner, in it emerge the power of creativity and the vocation for integration of a culture formed by sharp differences. If "Brazil is not for beginners", as Tom Jobim said, living the days of Carnival can be a good way to begin to understand it.

Credits: Story

Carnival - The Free Body
Images of Instituto Moreira Salles´s collection

Edition: Rachel Rezende

Instituto Moreira Salles Photography Archive

With an archive of around 2.000,000 images, the Instituto Moreira Salles holds the most important array of photographs of the 19th century in Brazil, and the best compilation of Brazilian photography from the first seven decades of the 20th century.
The collection is housed at the IMS’ Photography Archive, in Rio de Janeiro. It is the largest building dedicated to the preservation, restoration, safeguarding, and dissemination of photographic archives in Brazil.

Pereira Cunha, Maria Clementina: Não tá sopa: Sambas e sambistas no Rio de Janeiro, de 1890 a 1930. Campinas: Editora da Unicamp, 2015

DaMatta, Roberto: Carnivals, rogues, and heroes: an interpretation of the Brazilian dilemma. Indiana: Notre Drame Press, 1991.

Bakhtin, Mikhail: "Carnival and Carnivalesque", in: Cultural Theory and Popular Culture.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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