Cultural Studies: the defense and the fight of the excluded

During his time in the Ministry of Culture, in Lula’s administration, Gilberto Gil had concretized into public policies a space for popular creativity and new languages.

By Instituto Gilberto Gil

Text: Roni Filgueiras, journalist and researcher

In his inauguration address at the Ministry of Culture of Brazil (MinC, in the Portuguese acronym), on January 2nd, 2003, Gilberto Gil evaluated the role of republican institutions as fosterers of the national culture up to that moment. “The State had never been on a par with the crafting of our people, in the various branches of the Brazilian symbolic creation large tree.” Further ahead, he summed up the task he intended to undertake from that moment on: “There are two things that, today, get international irresistible attention, intelligence, and sensitivity towards Brazil, one of them being the Amazon, with its biodiversity. The second one is the Brazilian culture, with its diversity of signs. Brazil represents this, with its diaspores and its mixes, an issuer of new messages, within the context of globalization.” Bold, but certainly coherent with his trajectory.

Janela com vista para a Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos PretosInstituto Gilberto Gil

The Ministry

Up until July 2008, when he stepped down from the office, there were years practicing what he regarded as a Brazilian vocation: the mix between tradition and modernity, memory and invention, sacred and profane, past and future, popular and scholarly.

Above all, lifting up the popular and poor segments of society to a new place within social dynamics—which in the Cultural Studies (field emerged in England in the 1950s, which had congregated the analysis of cultural practices as relations of power and hierarchy)…

… has drove away these segments from mechanisms of broad cultural production and dissemination, especially in countries that have gone under colonization processes.

While at MinC, he turned into countless public policies what he conceived as the duties of the ministry—symptomatically extinct, on January 1st, 2019, by the provisional measure N. 870, equivalent to an executive order, in the context of the administrative reform promoted by Jair Bolsonaro’s administration: “It is the open space for the popular creativity and the new languages. The space available for adventure and boldness. The space for memory and invention."”

Gilberto Gil dusted away—or better yet, shook vigorously—an Eurocentric conception of culture belonging to the elite and to scholarly productions. He had found a Culture Ministry on a shoestring budget, embedded with the neoliberal policies of Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s administration and focused solely on productions from the Southeast as well as on businessmen, who were using the Rouanet Law—a government mechanism to foster cultural production—as a corporate marketing tool, wanted. It was not an easy task. Gil had collected enemies, even among artists who were considered progressists.

Roda de capoeira durante a visita de Gilberto Gil ao Senegal (2004-11)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The cultural memory

When all was said and done, his National Culture Plan [PNC, in the Portuguese acronym] had created public policies to foster cultural, artistic and ethnic diversity.

It recognized as Brazilian Cultural Heritage the capoeira, the frevo dancing, the samba de roda dancing, and the indigenous body painting.

Gilberto Gil toca berimbau em roda de Capoeira. (2005-10)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The appreciation of Afro-Brazilian culture was translated in a MinC program targeting the development of Afro-Brazilian traditional communities, quilombolas and Afro-Brazilian religious temples.

“We have now 300 Culture Points in socially vulnerable communities, amplifying local expressions. The historic heritage is being restored in over 300 cities…

… around 200 new libraries have been implemented and roughly 800 are in the process of being implemented. No less than 300 new full-length, short movies, TV shows, animations and games have already been completed,” wrote Gil, in an editorial for newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, in 2006.  

Ministro da Cultura Gilberto Gil entrega a Mestre Nenel homenagem póstuma feita a seu pai, capoeirista e músico Mestre Bimba, na cerimônia da Ordem do Mérito Cultural (2005-08-11)Instituto Gilberto Gil

In the editorial, Gilberto Gil remarked that such protagonism of culture, in Lula’s administration, would have lifted up Brazil even further in the international picture. This culminated in the UNESCO Conference, in Paris, in which the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions was adopted, an instrument that regarded cultural diversity as a fundamental right and base for self-determination and sovereignty of peoples. The minister credits the signing of the document, in October 2005, “to the work of the Ministry of Culture of Brazil, sided by countries like Spain, France, Canada and Mercosur neighbors.” It has all to do with the proposals of Cultural Studies: the defense and struggle of the left outs starting off from their cultures.

Gilberto Gil no lançamento da Política Nacional de Museus (2003-05)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The politician

If politics are actions among citizens of a polis targeting common good, in a simplification of what Aristoteles would define ontologically as inherent to humanity, Gil incarnated the political subject and agent of this practice routinely.

“I am a man of cultural agencies,” he commented on his engagement in the context of the so-called Cultural Studies, in a press conference via videoconference, in April 2020, from his house in Araras, in Rio de Janeiro state. Who can question that? 

Gil’s trajectory in arts and in public administration communed, in fact, of an inseparable wish to unite in policies and creative projects something that should never had been set apart: the common roots and symbolic exchanges of culture among Africa, Brazil, and Latin America, ever since its European colonization, in favor of democracy. An example of it, in the late 1970s, was his participation in the Cultural Council of Bahia State; another example, the releasing of albums with multiple accents and sonorities, of which Soy Loco por Ti, América, Refavela e Kaya N'Gan Daya are illustrations.

Gilberto Gil em gravação de especial de fim de ano para a TV Globo, 1980, From the collection of: Instituto Gilberto Gil
Gilberto Gil com Daniel Rodrigues em foto de divulgação do álbum Realce, 1979, From the collection of: Instituto Gilberto Gil
Gilberto Gil em apresentação à época do álbum Refavela, 1977, From the collection of: Instituto Gilberto Gil
Show lessRead more

Gilberto Gil in the set of a year-end special show for TV Globo, 1980. Collection: Instituto Gilberto Gil, Gilberto Gil and Daniel Rodrigues in a publicity photo for the album Realce, 1979, Collection: Instituto Gilberto Gil. Gilberto Gil in a performance at the time of Refavela album, 1977.

Gil himself had combined the ancestor country musicality from his hometown Ituaçu, the city that saw him grow up, to the vanguards of experimentation from the capital, when he moved to Salvador. There, he forged his political-musical heritage in his activities ahead of the Academic Center, in the Business Management School, when he first met friends like Caetano Veloso, Torquato Neto, José Carlos Capinan. His tendency to experimentalism was amplified in the Tropicália movement: the cultural hybridism, mix of tradition and modernity, and which contrasted with the setback imposed by the military dictatorship. When he returned from exile, Gil recalls, he toured the university circuit, performing in over 20 cities in São Paulo state.

Caetano Veloso em ensaio fotográfico, From the collection of: Instituto Gilberto Gil
Torquato Neto, From the collection of: Instituto Gilberto Gil
Gilberto Gil com o compositor Capinan e a cantora Zezé Motta, 1990, From the collection of: Instituto Gilberto Gil
Show lessRead more

Caetano Veloso in a photoshoot, Torquato Neto, Gilberto Gil and songwriter Capinan and singer Zezé Mota, 1990.

Truthful to multiculturalism, he merged in songs geographic coordinates and cultural influences: from rock to punk, from soul to disco music. From 1987 on, and as a natural unfold of his double life, he presided over the Gregório de Mattos Foundation, institution focused on Afro-Brazilian culture, when he strengthened ties between Bahia and Africa, which culminated with the opening, in Salvador, of a Benin House and, in Africa, of a Bahia House. Gil got involved in the restoration of the Historic Center of Salvador, in a project with the signature of architect Lina Bo Bardi.

His political-artistic acting, especially as one of Tropicália’s most important names, have earned him books, articles and academic thesis in Europe, Latin America and Brazil. Gil created and helped to change worlds, ways of living, that have paired with the culture of Brazilian people. Or better yet, with the cultures of the peoples of Brazils. Axé!

Credits: Story

Exhibit credits

Research and text: Roni Filgueiras
Editing: Chris Fuscaldo
Assembly: Patrícia Sá Rêgo
Copyediting: Carla Peixoto
Acknowledgements: Luis Turiba, Maria de Nazaré Pedroza, Adair Rocha, and Sérgio Xavier

General credits

Editing and curating: Chris Fuscaldo / Garota FM
Musical content research: Ceci Alves, Chris Fuscaldo, and Ricardo Schott
MinC content research: Carla Peixoto, Ceci Alves, Chris Fuscaldo and Laura Zandonadi
Photo subtitles: Anna Durão, Carla Peixoto, Ceci Alves, Chris Fuscaldo, Daniel Malafaia, Gilberto Porcidonio, Kamille Viola, Laura Zandonadi, Lucas Vieira, Luciana Azevedo, Patrícia Sá Rêgo, Pedro Felitte, Ricardo Schott, Roni Filgueiras, and Tito Guedes
Data editing: Isabela Marinho
Acknowledgments: Gege Produções, Gilberto Gil, Flora Gil, Gilda Mattoso, Fafá Giordano, Maria Gil, Meny Lopes, Nelci Frangipani, Cristina Doria, Daniella Bartolini, and all photographers and characters in the stories
All media: Instituto Gilberto Gil

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.
Explore more
Related theme
Gilberto Gil
A musical journey into the sound of Brazilian icon, Gilberto Gil
View theme
Google apps