Speaking about Brazilian design


The image above is the first slide of my latest talk on Brazilian design, which I delivered on April 7th in Salamanca, Spain. It reads: “Fruit hats or frugal innovation? The contemporary challenges of Brazilian design.” In the last six months I’ve had the pleasure of speaking about my findings and reflections on Brazilian design in four cities and rather different contexts.

First up, and upon an invitation from Susan Yelavich, I spoke at Parsons the New School of Design in New York as part of the Global Issues in Design and Visuality in the 21st Century Lecture Series. It was a huge honour for me to come back to Parsons as a speaker, as I had been of Professor Yelavich’s Global Issues recitation leaders during the Spring 2010 semester. In this talk, which I named “Beyond the Fruit Hat: Brazilian Product and Furniture Design Today”, I addressed the 300-or so undergraduate students sitting in the New School’s Tishman Auditorium and highlighted the perils of being culturally pigeon-holed, as so much of Brazilian design is – hence the term “Fruit Hat”, which Brazilian artist Vik Muniz mentions in this extremely interesting interview with brothers Fernando and Humberto Campana.

Then on November 4th and 5th, I included a few examples of Brazilian designs in my “Is Happiness for Sale?” talk I gave in a research workshop dedicated to happiness, part of the amazing Next Future programme at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. António Pinto Ribeiro, the programme’s curator, had invited me to speak about happiness and design. Quite a tough call to answer! The talk’s pdf is available (in Portuguese) here.

In January 2010 I spoke specifically about designer-driven community projects, at the request of Martina Margetts, the organiser of the stimulating, one-day symposium Brazil: the cultural contemporary at the Royal College of Art in London. My 40-minute talk – where I blatantly ran out of time, as did the other speakers – was probably my most polemic to date. The evening’s round panel discussion was particularly lively, too. It was quite an honour to speak at this academically demanding event, amidst many Brazil art, design, architecture and culture specialists and scholars. It was also a privilege to have enjoyed a travel grant from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

After having taken a one-week intensive Summer course on Latin America at ISCTE last September, I got to know about the “Los BRICs. Brasil potencia emergente” 2-day symposium, which took place in Salamanca in April. I submitted an abstract for a 15-minute talk and was invited by the organisers at the Iberoamerican Institute to speak at a panel named “Brazil: an emerging economic power”. I was the only speaker not affiliated to a research institute – so much so, my name badge said Frederico Duarte / Fabrico Próprio, which is the title of the book I co-edited and launched in 2008. My talk was rather well received, if only for being quite a departure from other lectures mostly on economic, sociological, political and juridical aspects of contemporary Brazil. No one was really expecting a Portuguese guy to talk about Brazilian design – from the Havaianas to the Campanas –, connecting it to the country’s burgeoning consumer society, its still frail manufacturing sector and challenging what people think they know, and don’t know, about consumer products designed and made by Brazilians.

These talks have allowed me to reflect, and reconfigure my findings, about a subject I’ve learned quite a lot in the past two years – and am still learning. If you’re interested in knowing more about what I’ve been talking about, do get in touch –frederico[at]05031979.net.

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