Opinion – Orientalíssimo: With Tarsila and É o Tchan, exhibition celebrates an Egyptian element in modernism


The exhibition Desvairar 22 takes an unexpected path to talk about Brazilian modernism. Instead of focusing on the city of São Paulo and its maddening urbanization, the curators point to ancient Egypt with its sarcophagi, sphinxes, pyramids – and also its axé.

The exhibition, on display at Sesc Pinheiros, brings together more than 270 items distributed in four different centers: “Missing Egypt”, “Ossos do Mundo”, “Means of Transport” and “Wandering Indians”. The first of them draws the attention of this very Oriental blog, by identifying the influence of Egypt on Brazilian modernist thought.

“The land of the pharaohs and priests, the pyramids and the sphinxes, has long been disturbing the linear narrative of the so-called Western culture”, says the curator of the show in a note posted on the Sesc website. “Modernity, with the invention of tourism and photography, has renewed this interest in the country, which is now not only an origin but also a destination.”

According to Anba (Brazil Arab News Agency), the idea came from the curators’ realization that modernist artists shared a certain attraction to Egypt. Perhaps not the real Egypt of everyday life, but the one fantasized by Orientalists like Dom Pedro 2º. The monarch visited the country twice, in the 19th century.

The Sesc show incorporates photographs of the Brazilian emperor, accompanying an original sarcophagus. The exhibition advances in time and displays the painting “Calmaria II”, by Tarsila do Amaral, inspired by a trip to Egypt in 1926. Speeding up the clock even more, Desvairar 22 includes more recent representations of Egypt, such as a cartoon by Laerte, the Carnival march “Allah-la Ô”, the track “Faraó” by Margareth Menezes — and the song by É o Tchan that says “this is the mixture of Brazil and Egypt / you have to have charm to dance beautifully”.

The exhibition is on view until January 15 at Sesc Pinheiros (Rua Paes Leme, 195), in São Paulo. Visiting hours from Tuesday to Saturday are from 10:30 am to 9 pm. On Sundays and holidays, it runs from 10:30 am to 6:00 pm.

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