Latin infusion

Tropicália hits London this month with a major festival of Brazilian culture on the South Bank. Maeve Hosea discovers its spirit already at work among a young generation of expat Latins spreading the graphic message of their indigenous heritage across the capital and beyond

Vibrancy and a love of intensity are obvious assets of Brazil’s visual identity, bound up in the popular imagination with the spectacle of an annual carnival full of sultry bodies in glittering costumes dancing through the streets.

A major festival of Brazilian art and culture, which launches at London’s South Bank later this month and runs until September, is set to showcase the country’s talent across the visual and performing arts. This includes the immersive sensory installations of sculptor Ernesto Neto, the quirky combinations of materials in the Campana Brothers’ furniture, and colourful street art from Cirque du Soleil designer Gringo Cardia.

The confident form and ideas displayed in the work of Brazil’s design scions are frequently as thought-provoking as their beauty, and the festival is a strong representation of sensual and intellectual Brazilian culture.

Meanwhile, a young generation of Brazilian designers is already working in the UK design community, embracing the spirit of cultural exchange and choosing to make London its home. Drawing on both British and Latin culture, these designers are demonstrating an interesting range of ideas and approaches in their work.

’Creativity has a central role in the development and understanding of our physical and social environments,’ says Fabiane Lee-Perrella, director of Flour, a studio that concentrates on design for public spaces. ’Working in social and cultural design, I focus on the investment people can make, through direct participation, in improving everyday places and services. It is about enabling new relationships and intimacy with the spaces and things around us.’

Flour is collaborating on a major installation for the Southbank Centre’s Festival Brazil to build, in partnership with children from a local housing estate, a reconstruction of part of a Brazilian favela slum.

Involving end-users in the design process is central to Flour’s Free-Piece Suite, an embedded seating project at London’s Stockwell Park housing estate. The installation, which gives residents a place to sit and relax, was developed to explore interconnections between the furniture people treasure and the relationships and environments in which they experience precious moments.

Lee-Perrella acknowledges her Brazilian roots and an approach influenced by the Tropicália movement – the brief, but powerful explosion of musical, cultural and political activity that took place in Brazil in the 1960s. ’Like most of Tropicália’s artists, who brought together visual arts, theatre, poetry and music, I am not interested or restricted by a single medium or vehicle,’ she says. ’A key part of the Tropicália movement was cultural anthropophagy – a creative cannibalism – of all societies, taking in influences from all genres and concocting something special.’

The confidence in the spirit of Tropicália is widely felt in the young generation of Brazilian designers working in the UK, and is a particular guiding force for Disney Consumer Products in-house designer Clelia Lobba, who injects a Brazilian playfulness into her work. She believes good design does not have a geographical provenance or rigid national identity, but rather an openness to cross-cultural exchange.

’I always tend to create compositions exploring vibrant colours and massive, cropped, close-up prints that come from the Tropicália movement that was so strong in the Brazilian culture,’ says Lobba. ’Then, I embrace dark hues that relate to the underground cultures in São Paulo and London.’

Ana Cintra, a young London-based textile designer, also draws on a wide range of inspirations, including her Latin American heritage. A recent project is inspired by the work of Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector and the off-key melancholic Brazilian jazz form bossa nova.

’What I really take from Brazil is the strong Modernist architecture and the Portuguese language, which, apart from having a beautiful soft sound, is capable in its prose, poetry and music lyrics of defining my recurrent theme of longing,’ says Cintra.

Cintra says she works in London because graphic design is respected and understood in the UK, and she relates to the sophisticated wit and simplicity found in British design. ’It is a very competitive sector, and the competition keeps the standards high,’ she says. ’I like breathing the air of Anglo-Saxon individualism and feel comfortable being a freelance, instead of being expected to belong to a group.’

Graphic designer Joã o Wilbert drew inspiration from many cultures for his digital design project Exquisite Clock, which formed part of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Decode: Digital Design Sensations exhibition earlier this year.

Using digital technology, Wilbert uses the clock to demonstrate the creativity present in the everyday and the everyman.

The piece comprises a website, an iPhone application and several physical installations that send and receive numbers between them, and so connect and share in real-time. The visually represented numbers, uploaded by people located around the world, take many forms, including a swan’s neck curved like a number nine or a pair of legs arranged in the shape of the number four.

’The clock – largely inspired by the [Surrealist] game exquisite corpse – was born out of an experiment looking at how people really see time around them,’ says Wilbert. ’The platform was created to be inspirational and to make people think differently about their everyday surroundings. When I take a look at the clock, I see that the beauty of it is in the fact that each picture shows a different person from a different country and, most importantly, with a completely different perception’.

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