In 1928, Mário de Andrade – icon of Brazilian modernism, poet, novelist, musicologist, public intellectual and the first Cultural Secretary of São Paulo –  challenged his readers with the provocation that Brazilian cultural creativity loses its identity in the exchange with Europe[1]. Mário would have had much to contribute to our research project The Art of Cultural Exchange. He would have tested our understanding of cultural exchange as a mutual act of translation and asked what really happens when artists exchange ideas and practices from one cultural context to another. What gets lost?  What gets learned? How are those who make translations themselves transformed? If translation is, as often said, a betrayal then how to understand the importance of the gaps and losses which open up during the process?

Since 2014, a combined research team from Queen Mary University of London and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro has been investigating the transformations sought through artistic exchanges between the UK and Brazil with a particular but not exclusive focus on Rio de Janeiro.  The city has been a global point of exchange since the Portuguese first established it as pivotal to the movement of precious metals and peoples: of silver and of slaves.  Four centuries before it was recognised as one of the great cities of the world, Rio de Janeiro became a place of international exchange through its external articulations. Transformed at the beginning of the 20th Century into the city through which Brazil translated itself to the world, Rio de Janeiro generated the popular cultural languages that mediated Brazil internationally through to the 1960s: samba, carnival and Bossa Nova.  The dissolution and degradation of the utopic image of the Cidade Maravilhosa[2] was only too evident by the 1970s  as the city became infamous for its violence and social divisions. The decline seemed to have been arrested by the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century with what promised to be the rising global strength of the Brazilian economy, symbolised by its successful bid to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

An important part of the way in which Rio began to re-build its self-esteem, has been through the new dialogue that has been possible with communities that, despite often being located in the topographic centre, have forever been confined to a social and civic periphery.  It is these territories – favelas and other peripheral communities –  that have seen the renaissance of a new utopian vision of transformation through the activities of cultural organisations that offer a re-translation of the city and of its relationship to its own citizens and to the world. The Art of Cultural Exchange has mapped the way in which cultural exchange etches the immense contours of Brazil –  drawing on case-studies from the Amazon to São Paulo – but our understanding of the  transformative curve of international cultural exchange has been very much shaped by the internal translations that have been attempted in Rio de Janeiro over the last thirty years.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) and the British Council, The Art of Cultural Exchange has spent two years investigating cultural exchange between the UK and Brazil as a means of understanding how artists interpret, transmit and circulate ideas, ideologies and forms of knowledge with specific reference to the production of new ‘translations’ produced from and, where possible, between peripheral territories.  The research has sought to increase understanding about our present practices of cultural exchange within the historical legacy of the ways in which Brazil and Britain have engaged in translations of themselves and each other across the last 500 years in order to enable new strategies for the future. Recognising that as arts organisations emerge from peripheral territories in both Britain and Brazil, they make possible new translations for all of us.

The Art of Cultural Exchange set out to examine five key research questions:

How can we define cultural exchange and understand the possibilities and limits of such initiatives as an act of translation?

What are the transformations sought in translating cultures?

How far is it possible to achieve reciprocity in the act of translation during cultural exchange?

How sustainable is the process of transformation?

How to stimulate innovation through the choice of those who engage in the act of translation that is undertaken through cultural exchange?

 The research has been conducted across three consecutive lines of enquiry:

·      Mapping of cultural exchange projects between UK and Brazil 2012-16

·      Five case-studies

·      Debates and discussions (including two public seminars based around eight specially commissioned Position Papers)

The research has gathered source material in the form of interviews, testimonies, photographs, audio recordings, fieldwork commentaries and creative texts, combing them in a series of reflections related to Brazilian/British cultural exchange over the last four years.  From the wealth of material that is gathered on the site, we have edited this publication in a way that seeks to maintain the multiplicity of voices engaged in these mutual acts of translations and transformations.

I like to think that Mário de Andrade would have approved as our research team looked towards active art practices that are social, territorial and engaged in the construction of communities, cities and perhaps even countries.  I hope he would have seen how in these exchanges between the UK and Brazil, artists have developed their creativity and continue to redefine their identity.

Paul Heritage

Rio de Janeiro and London, November 2016

[1] Ensaio sobre a Música Brasileira, Mário de Andrade: 1928
[2] Cidade maravilhosa (composed by André Filho; arrangement by Silva Sobreira) – the marvelous city – was the title of a 1935  carnival song which made reference to what had already become a popular nickname for Rio de Janeiro.  First recorded by Aurora Miranda, the song was made most famous by her sister Carmen and by the 1960s had established itself as the city’s anthem echoing echoes through the streets of Rio de Janeiro at every subsequent carnival.