Brazil is all that and more

Commentary by Maria José Barbosa and Maurita Murphy Marx from the Iowa City Press-Citizen

Brazil lives in the popular imagination as an exotic, tropical landscape whose glorious beaches offer stunning vacation destinations. For some, the mention of Brazil stirs thoughts of unrestrained logging, all-but-unknown indigenous populations along the Amazon and over-crowded cities where the disparities between rich and poor couldn’t be sharper. And yet for others, Brazil is a 21st-century powerhouse, bursting with plentiful natural resources and rich with development opportunities.

Brazil is all this and more.

Brazil and the United States both enjoy large populations, abundant natural resources, diversified ethnicity and freedom of religion and speech. Historically, culturally, economically and politically, they’ve traveled similar paths. As in the United States, Brazil was built on gold rushes, large plantations and slavery. Today, the two countries share membership in international organizations such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the Organization of American States, the G8+5, the Group of 20 and the World Food Organization.

Over the last century, American anthropologists, artists, creative writers, explorers, filmmakers, historians, musicians, politicians, scientists, engineers and agronomists have discovered Brazil and its material and cultural wealth. In turn, Brazil has been influenced by the structure of American society, by its higher education system, innovations, inventions, science and technology. Brazil and the United States have much in common and yet our understanding of this complex, modern country to our south is often framed by outdated perceptions.

A number of free events this week will offer the public a chance to deepen its knowledge and experience of Brazil, starting with International Programs’ WorldCanvass on Tuesday at FilmScene in downtown Iowa City. Host Joan Kjaer and her guests will discuss the political and social dynamics of Brazil today, explore the artistic and aesthetic sensibilities of this multi-layered culture and preview a major conference to be held in Iowa City later in the week. The free program begins at 5 p.m.

On Friday and Saturday, the interdisciplinary symposium “Construing Brazil in the United States” will be held on the University of Iowa campus. This event will gather scholars, presenters and performers from UI, peer institutions in the United States and Brazil to share their expertise and interact with the general public. The symposium will explore the different approaches and topical choices that scholars have taken in the United States when interpreting, teaching and writing about Brazil in such areas as art and art history, anthropology, cinematic arts, cultural studies, dance, ethnomusicology, history, literature, music, performance theory, politics, religion, sociology, theater and translation.

Ambassador Paulo de Camargo, the consul general of Brazil in Chicago, will give the keynote address on Brazil’s contemporary cultural affairs and Portuguese language promotion. A concert of all Brazilian music will close the symposium at 5 p.m. Saturday in the University Capitol Center Recital Hall. The music will range from the more “classical” Brazilian composers Villa-Lobos, Guarnieri and Mignone to the popular music of Brazil called the “choro” (to cry), along with the samba and Brazilian jazz. The symposium is free and open to the public.

We invite you to join us for the WorldCanvass discussion on Tuesday at FilmScene, 118 E. College St., and for all subsequent symposium events.

Maria José Barbosa is a professor of Brazilian literature and culture and the Portuguese language in the UI Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Maurita Murphy Marx is a professor of clarinet and a faculty member in the UI School of Music.

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