Monday, April 7, 2008

Back to Brazil

NEW YORK—It was business as usual last Thursday at the Throckmorton Fine Art gallery in midtown. The chairs were made of scrap metal, the air kisses smelled of wine, and everyone, miraculously, just loved the art.

The photos of waterfalls that lined the walls were taken in various places in photographer Valdir Cruz’s native country, Brazil. Not surprisingly, many of the patrons milling about, gesturing with their plastic wine cups, were his compatriots. Despite the beautiful pictures, and the Brazil vogue that has led to a proliferation of night clubs, salon treatments and compilation CDs in New York, Cruz’s countrymen were less than enthusiastic about their patria.

Though she is Brazilian, artist Márcia Grostein’s website is available only in English, and she is very clear that her home is New York. Peering through cat’s-eye glasses, Grostein says that in New York, general opinion towards things Brazilian began to warm about 10 years ago. “I helped change a lot of things,” she said, in Portuguese, “because when I came here ‘Brazilian’ was curse word.” In spite any struggle she has faced in New York, Grostein is ambivalent about her home country. Rolling her eyes, she stated, “I never want to live in Brazil ever again."

Aristides Sergio Klafke has been a Brazilian for every one of his 55 years, but he believes his 22 as a New Yorker have been the most important. When asked about the ties to his home country in New York, he shrugged noncommittally, saying “I don’t have many Brazilian friends.”

An artist, Klafke has never shown his work in Brazil because he says he lacks strong
connections there, preferring to focus on his work in his chosen city. He explains that his art is not quintessentially Brazilian “in the sense of showing parrots and boa constrictors, coffee and Pelé,” referring to the famous Brazilian soccer star. Running a tattooed hand though his gray hair, Klafke furrowed his brow, adding, “of course, you never lose your touch.”

Klafke’s girlfriend, Italian Matilde Damele,
was very enthusiastic about the country, like the majority of the non-Brazilians at the gallery. Of course, she has a personal stake in the people of Brazil. When Damele mentions her Brazilian paramour to her friends, she said, they get very excited. Making a perfect red “o” with her mouth, Damele mugged: “Oh! A Brazilian!”

Damele has been living in New York for 8 years, and works as an artist. Shaking her miniskirt-clad hips back and forth, she winked, saying “there is an aura—and it’s not an accident!”

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