Alimentary

The idea of Alimentary came from the confidence that the place of gastronomy is not only the kitchen. In Brazil,despite the cultural and sociological interpretations around food and its transformation, the way out of the domestic domain is relatively recent. But that landscape is begging to change. With the relevance and the magnitude that the Brazilian cooks have obtained in the last decade, names such as Alex Atala and Helena Rizzo represent the country and, through their dishes and a conceptual discourse on food and all that it involves, tell stories that comprise a wide cultural universe.

Since the first impressions on the grandeur of the exuberant nature and the indigenous potency and all the migrating cycles, up to the contemporary expressions of Brazilian identity, we acknowledge that the kitchen in Brazil has been a territory of exchanges and disputes, of strength and permanence,and mainly of transformation.

The purpose of Alimentary is not to account for this entire trajectory, but rather to introduce a poetic approach, with deviations and appropriations. Throughout the exhibition, the influences from the cultures introduced with colonization and the territorial occupation, and the importance of recognizing the regional Brazilian products for the construction - and future transformation - of the Brazilian kitchen identity are highlighted. Such factors are also regarded as key to understanding our food cultural identityas it is investigated in a special way in this exhibition by cooks whose dishes perform a symbolic dialogue with aspects of the periods or movements presented here.

From this wide repertoire, issues that focus the kitchen through the arts and the history arise, to discuss not only the food but Brazil itself. In freely interpreted relations, the place of the indigenous cooking - and the indigenous people - within the general imaginary is investigated, since the appreciation of the cassava and the flours, to the appropriations of theseingredients by artists.

If food can be a representation of abundance, its lack is the clearest designation of hunger.Câmara Cascudo, the most important thinker about food as an element of culture in the country, spoke about “feeding the mind”1. At Alimentary, food is art.

Felipe Ribenboim
Rodrigo Villela

(1) Câmara Cascudo, Dicionário do folclore brasileiro. Rio de Janeiro: Ediouro, 1954, p. 297.

A CENTRAL PLACE

The challenge and the ambition of Alimentary is to set itself apart from a conventional, easily catalogued exhibition. It’s not, for instance, an exhibition of art pieces, if we think about the things that it includes, such as texts, historical documents, kitchen utensils, contemporary culinary researches, photographs, and documentary videos, among others. It’s not a didactic or historical exhibition either, since one can find, from the bird’s eye view that is offered here, gaps and ellipses, redundancies and idiosyncrasies. The strategy of the curatorship was to represent a portrait, maybe unfinished, but clearly suggestive, of how the universe of food and cuisine, in a gradual and quiet way, has contributed to the constitution of Brazil as we know it.

If the records, texts, and documents found here tell the story of a long, complex, and many times traumatic process of settlingof knowledge and cultures, the artworks haven’t been selected to clarify or to exemplify it, but rather to counterbalance didactics with poetics. The goal was to show through the pieces a portrait of the Brazilian alimentary universe which would accurately reproduce, apart from its external features, the plurality, the diversity, and even its state of permanent transformation.

According to Gilberto Freyre, the place where the black, the indigenous and the Portuguese influences “[…] could balance or harmonize was at the Northeastern agrarian kitchen, where it is neither excessively Portuguese as in the Brazilian capital, nor exclusively Amerindian as in the Far North; there’s balance”. It’s revealing that, in the view of one of the greatest thinkers of the Brazilian formation, the place where the so called “racial democracy” becomes concrete and real is in a kitchen.

The purpose behind Alimentary is not to offer or validate sociological theories as Freyre’s, but to employ them to confirm the hypothesis that the kitchen has had, for a long time, the central role in the construction of the national imaginary. The presence of artworks from several epochs and styles in which the importance of the food becomes tangible in many ways, even if not always in a straight and literal way (or maybe exactly because of that), helps us understand how deep the relation of the Brazilian people with the alimentary universe is and contributes to the understanding of the huge cultural value that it carries.

Jacopo Crivelli Visconti

Prelude

The trajectory of Alimentary begins with the arrival of the colonizers and, more precisely, with the wonder that features the contact with the new world. The Portuguese carried within themselves the ancient desire for mystical lands, dreamed and imagined throughout the centuries, and they wanted to find them here.

When Pero Vaz de Caminha reports, in his famous letter, the first contacts with the natives and the way how their gestures were interpreted by the Portuguese as signs of the existence of great treasures in the recent discovered territories, the scribe admits his desire to believe in the dream instead of reality, in the utopia instead of the facts: “[…] that’s how we understood it”, he writes, “for so we wished!”. Huge plants, both wonderful and scary, terrible beasts never seen before, and the natives who ate everything: ants, roots, leaves, and even people. Despite the ontological difference between the anthropophagic ritual and the daily eating habits, it’s feasible to imagine that everything, under the dazzled eyes of the colonizers, should seem strange, new, unexplainable, and deeply “other”. That’s where are derived from both the misinterpretations by Pero Vaz, acutely analyzed by Câmara Cascudo, and the drawings and paintings made by the travelers, which, many centuries later, were still full of the colors and almost smells from the new world, demonstrating the permanence of a stupefaction and a taste for the excess that would persist, somehow, to these days, or at least until the appearance of Carmen Miranda in a surreal sea of bananas.

ROOTS

The richness of the indigenous cultures is closely connected to the universe of food: from the techniques of agricultural production to the methods of preparing and serving it. The indigenous art is present in the subtlety and variety of details. Hunting and fishing utensils, bowls, and many other items carry languages, patterns, and symbolical and representative traditions of these cultures.

Many dishes from the indigenous cooking were incorporated to the customs of the entire country: popcorn, paçoca, fish stew, pirão, porridge, among other delicacies. Nevertheless, the major contribution is the assimilation of mandioca [manioc] and all of its derivatives. Corn is considered an important source of food not only for the groups present in the Center-South of Brazil, but also to the ones deriving from the great Tupi body, and the Jês – who cultivated and exchanged its seeds, cultivating the widest variety of corn, such as the green, the white, the red, and the black ones.

In its first two centuries as a colony, the Brazilian cuisine was mostly indigenous. From then onwards this contribution was overshadowed by the remarkable presence of other peoples that have migrated to Brazil, and who have used food as an element of union and representation. Today, the cooks have their eyes especially focused both towards this cooking, so long forgotten and denied, and towards the Amazon’s one.

Today, there are approximately 242 indigenous peoples who occupy an estimate of 13% of the national territory. Throughout history, the “Indian” has always occupied a distant place in the imaginary of the other Brazilians, and was only seen as the first inhabitant of the country. Even so, these peoples who used to live in the forest are currently spread all over the country, living mostly in very adverse situations, usually excluded from society. Therefore, the importance of valuing and recovering their traditions, after all, in their products, in their cultivation techniques, and in their preparation of food is much of the origin of the Brazilian cuisine.

Brazilian identity

The construction of a Brazilian identity is here shown from two perspectives: social and economic. The social approach identifies the cultural crossing, the foreign cultures that were mixed and adapted, and which constituted - and still constitute - Brazilian expressions. Many habits were introduced, transformed, and reinterpreted over the years, shaping distant realities that came closer by finding ways to express cultural, physical, speech and, facial – features, and “Brazilianize” themselves.

The economic approach focuses the cycles in Brazil that were connected to food products, given the agricultural qualities of the land, since the arrival of the Portuguese colonizers. From a historical point of view, these two approaches are based on complementary routes, since the economic cycles were only possible due to the success of the immigration and vice versa, which then allows us to revisit our history through a path intertwined with the land and its possibilities.

Countless elements constitute the Brazilian identity: from the most abstract and subjective to the historical and material ones. Culture is the space where these constitutive elements are arranged. It’s through culture that a route between history and the Brazilian cuisine is set.

Understanding Brazilian identity through the history of its taste in food is, therefore, to tackle essential aspects of its culture. The appreciation and the importance of this taste are not always taken into account, either because of the proximity of something as ordinary as the intake of food, or due to the lack of artistic character attributed to cooking. Since our goal is to connect fields and to cross boundaries, it is art that paves the way to taste, establishing strong links with the innermost elements of our culture.

Miscegenation

The construction of the Brazilian alimentary heritage occurs in the context of the intense mixture that represents the country, composed by the blending of several cultures and diverse domination processes. So, the construction of this society happens through trades and also impositions, with strong and distinct customs in constant tension.

From ancient times, the miscegenation process - among indigenous, Portuguese, African, Dutch, Italian, Japanese, Syrian, German, Lebanese, Arabian, Jewish, Armenian, and other peoples - could be seen in the several regions of the country and refers to distinct political and economic situations: among who were incorporated there are slaves, fugitives, conquerors, adventurers and prisoners.

In the cuisine, these routes cross each other resulting in new paths, with particular colors, spices, and flavors, which somehow explains the reason why the bread sold in bakeries from Portuguese owners is different from the bread made in Portugal; why the pizza sold in pizza parlors from Italian owners has a different recipe from the pizza produced in Italy; not to mention many other family dishes, that still represent their traditions, that were adapted generating new tastes and new flavors.

Between traditions and ruptures, each ingredient becomes a symbol of a story that is still to be told. In Jorge Amado’s work, for instance, the food introduces the peculiarity of a black Bahia; and an ordinary ingredient, such as the dendê oil, may carry the presence and permanence of the African culture diffused over the country.

Due to the trades, influences, heritages, and changes, the history of food is mixed to the history of the country, creating the cultural melting pot that characterizes us.

Economic Cycles

From the 16th century to present days, the history of the Brazilian development was essentially related to food.

The connection between food and the Brazilian economic cycles was many times evident, such as in the cases of monocultures (sugarcane, coffee, cocoa), but was also permanently implicit.

In the spices and ingredients that were taken to the Casas Grandes [the landlord residencies] by the hands of the first black slaves that had come to the sugarcane plantations; the development of the country cooking and culture by drovers and Bandeirantes who opened paths in the countryside; in the later constitution of colonial settlements by European and Asian workers: one observes in all of these moments a latent relation between the land and the cooking, Such a connection arises from a cultural universe that redraws boundaries and feeds a world with countless possibilities, contributions, influences, and exchanges, in a continuous process regulated by the economy.

The miscegenated people not only introduced products, adapted recipes, and learned new usages, thus creating a new relation to food, which led to the emergence of regional cuisines, extending the boundaries of what would become the Brazilian one. Local products were used with new techniques, adapting and building up a wide and unique repertoire.

Coordinamento generale| General coordination

Base7 Projetos Culturais

Arnaldo Spindel
Maria Eugênia Saturni
Ricardo Ribenboim
Carmen Maria de Sousa
Renata Viellas Rödel

Original ideia and text

Felipe Ribenboim
Rodrigo Villela

Curator and text

Jacopo Crivelli Visconti

Research

João Luiz Máximo

Content coordination

Yuri Fomin Quevedo

Production in Brazil

Julia Bac
Assistente | Assistant
Carol Angelo

Production in Italy

Cláudia Marques de Abreu

Administrative

Thais Irineu

Expography design

B7 Arquitetura e Design
Vlamir Saturni

Translation

Noemi Jaffe
Sandra Biondo
Pedro Lopes

Expography construction and Light

D’Errico Impresa di Construzioni SRL

Graphic design

Via Impressa Design Gráfico

Transportation

Millenium Transportes
Arteria SRL

Insurance

JMS Seguros
Generali Brasil Seguros S.A.

Acknowledgments

Acervo Banco Itaú; Airton Queiroz; Almeida e Dale Galeria de Arte; B-Art; César e Claudio Oiticica; equipe D.O.M.; equipe Maní; equipe Mocotó; equipe Remanso do Peixe; Família Farkas; Família Pennacchi; Galeria Fortes Vilaça; Galeria Luisa Strina; Galeria Millan; Galeria Nara Roesler; Luciana Brito Galeria; MJME Collection; Museu Afro Brasil; Museu do Índio | FUNAI – Brasil; Museu Nacional de Belas Artes | IBRAM | MinC; Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo; Rodrigo Ferreira da Rocha; Ruy Souza e Silva; Sandra Brecheret Pellegrini; Sergio Coimbra e equipe; E a todos que, direta ou indiretamente, contribuíram com a realização deste projeto.