Blind artists reinvent Shakespeare

Spotting a collection of Shakespeare-inspired sculptures was an unusual find in the Casa dos Figureiros, an art workshop we visited recently the countryside city of Taubaté in the Brazilian state of São Paulo. About a dozen sculptures of the main characters of Shakespearean plays were on display, however none of them had a price tag – only a small card mentioning they were produced at Instituto São Rafael, a Taubaté-based association created to provide social and economic opportunities to those with visual disabilities. By talking to fine arts professor Décio de Carvalho, also an artist himself, we find that the sculptures – which include characters such as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet – were produced as part of Arte e Cegueira (Art and Blindness), a project he introduced at Instituto São Rafael. A passionate reader of English and Irish playwrights, novelists and poets, Carvalho sought a theme that

Bandit’s shoes hit the catwalk

The Brazilian equivalent of Jesse James and fashion design may not seem immediately connected, but an artisan has reinvented some bandit classics to create shoes that are now desired by fashionistas worldwide. Espedito Seleiro, a craftsman from the small town of Nova Olinda in the state of Ceará has the creation of multicolored leather shoes as his main source of income – all inspired in the shoes worn by Lampião, one of the most famous and feared gang leaders in the Brazilian northeast in the 1920s and 1930s. Lampião (“Oil Lamp” in Portuguese) was the nickname of Virgulino Ferreira da Silva, a cattle farmer and also an accomplished leathercraft artisan born in the backlands of the state of Pernambuco. Lampião became an outlaw after falling into a feud with other local families which resulted in his father being killed by the police – he sought vengeance and proved to be

The Craft Tour of Brazil

In a recent blog we described the Gift Brazil mission, our focus is on trying to shine a light on artisan craft in Brazil and to make it available to the world. Brazil is a very big country. It is the biggest country in South America and the entire Southern Hemisphere and only Russia, the USA, Canada, and China are larger. If you got in your car in Porto Alegre in the very south of Brazil and started driving north to Belém you could keep driving for a week – assuming you stop the car to eat and sleep! But we have made a commitment to ensure we visit every state in Brazil during 2014, to meet local artisans and to work with the local artisan associations so we can personally find some great craft from all across this enormous nation. It will be a challenge because many parts of the country are impassable

Apiaí: reinventing pottery

As part of Gift Brazil’s Great Craft Tour, we visited Apiaí, a small town located 320km from São Paulo city surrounded by lush Atlantic rainforest and one of the most important and traditional pottery hubs in southeast Brazil. Apiaí wants to make its priviledged location and outdoor activities more known to tourists, that is not what we came for: we wanted to know more about the the pottery history in the town and the people making it, employing a mix of techniques inherited by indigenous tribes and African slaves. During the eighteenth century, the region surrounding Apiaí – also known as the Ribeira do Iguape Valley, or simply Rbeira Valley – was populated by former African slaves that had been freed or escaped their captivity. The fugitives then married local women and became farmers, who also produced their own clay pots, crockery and decorative objects. Way before the African slaves arrived,

Craft brings hope to Jequitinhonha Valley

There is a  major stigma of poverty and serious social, economic and environmental problems in the Jequitinhonha Valley. But the region, despite all its difficulties, is also one of the richest of Brazil in terms of culture and craft production. Located in the northern state of Minas Gerais, the Valley is home to some 80 small towns that in the heyday of mining attracted immigrants from all over the country, after the wealth of mineral resources in the area, including gold and diamonds. Today, centuries after all the predatory mining that took place, the region suffers badly with lack of opportunities. The typical drought and blazing sunshine does not make things easier for the local families – husbands often have to seek farming work in other places during the dry season, which can last as long as eight months. Faced with the arduous job of looking after the home and

Caning unites craft and architecture in Brazil

We have already talked about the cobogó, the ever-present concrete feature created in Brazil back in the 1920s as a solution to ventilate rooms, nowadays a decorative item in its own right and available in many graphic variations. When we found an example where cobogó met caning, we loved it even more. São Paulo-based architect Cícero Ferraz da Cruz created a new type of cobogó inspired in the chair weaving patterns of caning resulted in a project that unites two elements full of Brazilian character.  The cement pieces formed the beautiful panel of 5 x 6m seen above, now on display at Farm, a Brazilian womenswear chain, where caning was also used for the shop façade. Caning, a traditional type of chair-weaving craft deriving from peeled bark or skin of the rattan vine,  is very commonly seen in Brazil as a main feature of chairs, tables, bed headboards and other items. The

The Arraiolo rugs of Diamantina

The Minas Gerais city of Diamantina was a center of European culture with a thriving economy during Brazil’s colonial period. Gold and diamonds attracted hordes of explorers from all parts of Brazil and beyond. However, once the mines were depleted, work opportunities were few and far between – similarly to what has happened in the nearby Jequitinhonha Valley. Also in Diamantina, craft played a very important role in the local economy. The wool rugs of Arraiolos, a small town in Portugal, are made with a needlework style that is inspired by Persian carpets, since the Middle Ages.  But it wasn’t until quite recently that this craft style became known – and made – in Brazil. Known simply as “tapete arraiolo” in Brazil, the rug-making technique was introduced in the 1970s through to an initiative of the then archbishop of Diamantina, who sought to create work for the impoverished housewives of the region. Maria de Fátima

Craft, poverty and social change in Brazil

Brazil is a very unequal society. In big cities like São Paulo, it is possible to walk down a street filled with Chanel and Louis Vuitton shops that are more expensive than they are in Europe and then to turn a corner to find someone living in a shack built on the street. According to the World Bank, there are only 12 countries in the world that have a worse distribution of income. The World Bank uses a measurement called the Gini coefficient to measure income inequality – put simply, if every person in a country has the same income then the Gini would be 0 and if one person has all the cash then the Gini would be 1. The Gini coefficient is usually multiplied by one hundred so that it can be written as a percentage. So to give you an idea of the various scores, Denmark is the most

Brazilian fabrics bring warmth to your home

With its bold and bright colors and floral patterns, Brazilian fabric chita lends a very warm, summery feel to any decor scheme. We have already talked about chita here on Gift Brazil – the chita, which was only a “fabric of the masses” back in the day returned to the mainstream with full force in recent decades. The chita – or “chitão,” as it is also known – and is used not only in local craft items, but by also interior designers as part of a project with lots of Brazilian character and anyone looking to give a summery touch to their home decoration. To give you a feel of what it would look like in practice, we selected some amazing homely spaces where chita has taken a leading role – with so many bright colors around, how would it be possible to come home after a long day at work and

The basket weaver of Monte Alegre do Sul

“When I go out everyday, my husband thinks I am going to a meeting” As softly spoken basket weaver Santina Berlofa sits down to talk about her life-long love for handmade, her eyes sparkle and a broad smile lights up the 82 year-old artisan’s face. When I arrive for our meeting on a bright Sunday morning, Santina is actually working – she does the voluntary job of serving customers at the shop run by the artisan association of Monte Alegre do Sul, a small town in the countryside of São Paulo, every day. “I come here everyday to work, but my husband thinks I am going to attend a meeting of the association. He asks: ‘are they going to close the association?’ I tell him ‘it is not going to happen’ and he sighs in relief – we have that same conversation all the time,” she laughs. Santina has been