My PhD research project, one of twelve being developed at the V&A under the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award scheme (and in my case, also at Birkbeck, University of London with additional funding from a FCT studentship), focuses on Brazilian contemporary design.
Design in Brazil is a topic I started researching in 2009 during my MFA in Design Criticism at the School of Visual Arts. Today I am particularly interested in understanding how design practise in Brazil evolved between 2004 and 2014, a period during which Brazilians witnessed significant economic expansion and unprecedented social mobility triggered not only by job growth but also by state support programmes such as Bolsa Família.
These changes in economics and policy helped create a new consumer base: the so-called C-class. Below the country’s traditional elite (A) and middle-class (B) but above the poor and destitute (D, E), Brazil’s lower-middle class represents around half the country’s population (90/100 million citizens) and is, despite the current crisis, changing the way Brazilians shop, travel, communicate, use public space and, eventually, express their political voice. As such, how have designers reacted or even contributed to these significant changes in consumption and citizenship? And are the results of their practise worthy of international interest, namely by design museums such as the V&A?
To better understand the context of design practice in Brazil’s recent past I’m now in the country on a 3-month research trip. Until September 28th I will be traveling to several cities and a sustainable development reserve in the Amazon, conducting interviews with design professionals, students and academics, but also other agents relevant to the Brazilian design system such as magazine editors, museum curators, marketing and consumption experts, social scientists, manufacturers and state officials. Should you know of someone I should talk to, do get in touch.
I’m writing this first V&A blog post from Rio, where this Wednesday I attended the first “Design in Dialogue” event promoted by the Centro Carioca de Design and ESDI, Latin America’s first design school. Under the topic Design and the Olympics, guest speakers architect Pedro Évora, graphic designer Fabio Lopez and historian Ana Luiza Nobre introduced projects that deal critically with the city’s urban and social issues. A highly participated discussion ensued, reflecting a sentiment common to the inhabitants of Rio, and the citizens of Brazil: failed expectations.
My next stop will be João Pessoa, where I’ll spend a week attending N Design, the national design student convention. Despite the event’s jamboree atmosphere I expect to get a sense of the hopes and frustrations of Brazil’s future designers. I’ll dedicate my next post to them.