Hélio Menezes on the literary and cultural legacies of Brazilian writer Carolina Maria de Jesus

Thursday, Feb 25, 2021

On February 17, 2021, the Brazil LAB and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese hosted the first of a series of talks, “Pílulas literárias”, in connection with Lilia M. Schwarcz and Pedro Meira Monteiro’s seminar “The Canon Re-Signified (POR 415/LAS 425). The event was live-streamed for the public on the YouTube channels of Lilia Schwarcz, Pedro Meira Monteiro and Projeto MinasMundo. The event was hosted and conducted by Professors Schwarcz and Meira Monteiro and their students.

Last week’s guest, anthropologist and art curator Hélio Menezes, has previously served as guest curator of the Afro-Atlantic Histories exhibition at MASP and Instituto Tomie Othake. He is currently the curator of contemporary art at Centro Cultural São Paulo and a Brazil LAB fellow.

During his talk, Menezes spoke on the literary and cultural legacy of Brazilian writer Carolina Maria de Jesus, and presented aspects of the exhibit he will be co-curating on Carolina Maria de Jesus at the Instituto Moreira Salles in Brazil, paying special attention to the importance of the author’s work to both Brazilian and international audiences, as well as the political and cultural impact of her writing. He noted the importance of taking an intersectional critical approach to de Jesus’ work, understanding the way in which she, as a Black woman who spent over a decade living in the Canindé favela on São Paulo’s periphery, inhabited a social space crisscrossed by many diverse interests in mid-20th Brazil. Menezes also highlighted the variety and richness of de Jesus’ writing style, mentioning the irony and humor that can be found in her work and underscoring the importance of reading her not just as a member of a marginalized group who wrote about the harsh truth of favela life, but also as a scholar, reader, and author with a right to her own ambiguities and complexities. In Menezes’s own words, Carolina Maria de Jesus posited the “margin as a center,” and ultimately founded a “new canon” of Brazilian literature. 

The public, live-streamed event was attended by a global audience, including individuals from across Brazil and throughout the United States, drawn by the relevance of Menezes’s curatorial work, the impact of Carolina Maria de Jesus’s writing, and the profiles of Professors Lilia Schwarcz and Pedro Meira Monteiro.

The guest’s exhibit on the legacy of Carolina Maria de Jesus will open on June 12, 2021 at the Instituto Moreira Salles in São Paulo. 

This event was organized by the Brazil LAB and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and was co-sponsored by Projeto MinasMundo and ANPOCS Pública.