An Ode to the Gambiarra
Chapter 3—Creative Homecoming
I will open this chapter by clarifying that this paper is speaking to notions of (*)Brasil and not Brazil, a sentiment brilliantly articulated by Blanc and Tapajós (1978) in their song “Quarellas do Brasil” when they boldly stated that “O Brazil tá Matando o Brasil, (...) O Brazil não merece o Brasil, (...) O Brazil não conhece o Brasil” (Brazil is killing Brasil, (...) Brazil doesn't deserve Brasil (...) Brazil doesn’t know Brasil). In such simple lyrics they were able to capture the complex dynamic between Brazil—an exotic tropical place in the global collective subconscious that grew fond of that vision of itself and took it on as a marketable identifier (Karentzos, 2019)—versus Brasil—a country that exists far away from the western gaze and operates within its own parameters, where palm trees are nothing but a place to get water from (Hélio Oiticica, 2014).
“Brasilidade2 is beautiful! Contrary to Brazil, which was invented, Brasilidade created itself enthralled in the sound of a lot of brega3, resistance, rala bucho4 and a whole lot of irreverence"
—Brazil 1,99, 2020a
2 Indicating state, condition and the quality of being from Brasil - roughly translates to “Brazilianness”.
3 Brega is a genre of popular music in Brasil, typically associated with “low quality” and very marginalized, low in the ‘erudite’ hierarchy of good music—‘brega’ literally translates into “tacky” and “unfashionable” 4 Rala bucho is a colloquial expression from the northeast of Brasil (a region often associated with poverty and uneducation) to indicate dancing - literally translates to “scrape stomach”
With that distinction in mind, it becomes interesting to briefly mention a movement of classically trained artists turning to the Gambiarra with more appreciative eyes after contact with established western institutions. This movement is not situated in historical time but in personal time; a time in one’s career where a ‘creative homecoming’ begins to take place, when after being exposed to an overwhelming saturation of western practices—which is unavoidable within the context of a globalized world that imposes a hegemonic narrative over others (Fry and Kalantidou, 2014; Mignolo, 2018; Escobar, 2018)—one retreats inward searching for the creative essence of one’s roots.
In line with this are works such as the 2020 film “Gambiarra”, who’s co-creator Luiza Herdy returned to Brasil in 2017 after completing her BA in Film Production from the University of the Arts London;
Cao Guimarães’s photographic series from 2000-2014 “Gambiarras” which began two decades into his artistic practice;
The Campana Brothers oeuvre but especially the “Favela Chair” and “Detonado”;
And lastly, but perhaps most pertinent in this case, my own graduate collection which is still in development.
Given that I cannot have the pretense of knowing these artists true intentions nor their feelings about this ‘creative homecoming’, I now speak from both personal experience as well as my own perception of their practices as it parallels my own journey. What I find most notable is not the time between when an artist begins their practice and when this ‘homecoming’ takes place (this can vary greatly) but the fact that this search for an authentic manifestation never comes right away, it isn’t their first work or second or third. It might be obvious that you can only have a homecoming after departing from home, but what I want to emphasize is deeper than that. I am interested in the fact that only after witnessing other perspectives and learning the ‘civilized’ practice do we feel we have the right to return to something so vernacular, so ‘banal’, so ‘unprofessional’ and ‘low-brow’ as it might be seen from western lenses (Escobar, 2018; Fry and Kalantidou, 2014).
“Orlando over Olinda5. Mcqueen over Herchcovitch6. Coq Au Vin over Pato no Tucupi7. What does the gringo have? Did we forget the baiana?8(...) Why do we tend to value more what's foreign if what is national is so rich and colorful? (...)”
—Brazil 1,99, 2020b5 Orlando, Florida (which is one of the most popular vacation destinations for Brazilians) versus Olinda, Pernambuco (beautiful vacation destination in the northeast of Brasil which is more appreciated by ‘gringos’ than by Brazilians).
6 Alexander McQueen (famous British fashion designers) versus Alexandre Herchcovitch (one of the most renowned Brazilian fashion designers).
7 Coq au Vin (‘fancy’ French dish of chicken braised with wine) versus Pato no Tucupi (traditional Brazilian dish of duck braised with tucupi sauce [manioc root extract] from the Northern region). 8 Reference to Dorival Caymmi song “O que é que a baiana tem” famously performed by Carmen Miranda in a call and answer style asking “what does the baiana have?” and then enumerating their traits and characteristics - ‘baiana’ is a term to refer to women from the state of Bahia but also a cultural almost folkloric figure of a dark skinned wise priestess of afro-brazilian religion.
It is in this way that Gambiarra can be seen as a counterargument, as resistance and even as a healing towards the colonial mentality still existent within the Brazilian territory and deeply ingrained in Brazilian creatives. This mentality states that anything foreign will be better than everything local, it convinces us that there is nothing of value here (Mignolo, 2018), and it can only be found valuable if the West/Global North declares it to be so (usually through the process of commodification since in capitalism profit is the only true value something has) (Escobar, 2018; Kalantidou and Fry, 2014). This disregard for what is local as well as a perception of Gambiarra as something bad, unworthy, suspicious and even shameful are made explicit in the interviews conducted in the film “Gambiarra” (2020).
Hi-tech street smart (Guarçoni, 22 Mar 2016, São Paulo)
“Globalisation (...) negates local economic knowledge, practices and values. But at the same time it appropriates anything and everything deemed to be able to be revalorised within the remit of its own economic regime. Nothing that can be exchanged exists beyond the reach of the means of commodification.”
—Kalantidou and Fry, 2014, page 15
By existing outside capitalist parameters Gambiarra can be presented as a self referential idea of Brasilidade and a more genuine expression of Brazilian creativity than anything else proposed until this point. When compared to one of the most monumental points of this quest for a national creative identity—de Andrade’s 1928 Anthropophagic Manifesto where he “called for European influences to be devoured as a way of transforming them into an autonomous Brazilian identity” (Karentzos, 2019, pp 232)—we can argue that Gambiarra is so patriotic that it does not reference Europe at all—it exists independent of it, not as a response to it. Gambiarra is only preoccupied with its own surroundings and not concerned with what is going on an ocean away; it lives in the present of a challenging reality that requires incomparable ingenuity; it is unapologetic for its resourcefulness, nor for its primitiveness. Gambiarra can be seen as the rebellious son of an intellectual Antropofagia.
Broken window + tape = fixed window II (Guarçoni, 5 Nov 2019, Milan)
“Gambiarra as expression of the spontaneous creativity and of the creative spontaneity do Brasileiro, a more authentic design than any anthropophagic manifesto could have ever predicted, a manifestation of a collective spirit that transcends any idea of resilience known abroad”
—Guarçoni, Research diary, 26 October 2020
De Andrade began his Anthropophagic Manifesto by stating that “Onlyanthropophagy unites us. Socially. Economically. Philosophically.” (1928, pp 3) and in line with that sentiment I want to argue that “Só a Gambiarra nos liberta. Criativamente. Epistemológicamente. Estruturalmente” (Only Gambiarra liberates us. Creatively. Epistemologically. Structurally.).