By Felicity Clarke, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Bordering on the recently police occupied Complexo de Alemão, the North Zone favela complex of Maré is home to a one of the city’s most fascinating museums. Founded in May 2006, the internationally acclaimed Museu da Maré is a community museum that presents the history and culture of one of Rio’s biggest and most populous favela complexes.
“The museum was created to have a dialogue with the city, to show that favelas aren’t just about violence, they’re about good people with stories,” says João Batista, or ‘JB’, a guide manager who has been working at the museum since it opened. “This history must be preserved.”
The project was developed by CEASM, the Maré Center of Study and Community Action through forums with residents and community leaders to define the project. Eventually the effort was launched when the organization won a government culture prize in 2005.
“Many didn’t believe in the project,” JB says, who has lived in Maré for fifteen years. “They’d ask ‘Who’s going to visit a museum in a favela?’ but now we’ve had almost 27,000 visitors in four years which answers all those initial doubts”.
Housed in a former naval equipment warehouse on the safe, wide open road between Avenida Brasil and Linha Amarela, the museum tells the story of the favela in 12 sections that include Water, Home, Work, Resistance, Children, Party, Faith and Fear. “There isn’t a strict chronology, the past and the present are in flux and the future appears as a perspective” explains JB.
The first section, Water, shows how the settlement of the area began in the 1940s with irregular wooden structures and walkways built above the water on the edges Guananbara Bay. From a deserted swampland in 1928, to haphazard wooden structures, through to aerial views of the government initiatives to pour concrete in areas, the photography shows the complete physical transformations underwent in less than a century.
However it is the Home‘s bright blue wooden house structure dominating the space that captures the attention. A life size replica of one of the original Maré homes, the house’s interior is beautifully presented with authentic household items and trinkets donated by members of the community, including a radio, crockery and an iron comb on the stove which women would heat and use to straighten their hair.
Unsurprisingly, the exhibit has provoked emotional reactions from older members of the community who have an intense childhood connection with the type of home.
Moving through the areas Work, Resistance, Daily Life, the various challenges, transitions and triumphs within the community are narrated through photography and documents interweaving between periods and themes.
Faith explores the multitude of Christian denominations and African spiritualism present in the community, while photography and items in Party reflect the diverse cultural traditions and celebrations within the neighborhood.
The area entitled Children is at once joyful, with the kites and toys and items of play, and sad, as it looks to inspire reflection on the situation in which children in the favela live today. It leads to the blacked out Fear area which starkly outlines the heartache of the past related to the shaky structuring above water and the present threat of gun violence.
The permanent collection is complemented by temporary exhibitions, currently a celebration of Afro-Brazilian women and work by local painter Manoel Carreira, plus the building’s other areas house a craft workshop space and shop, library, and performance space make the museum alive with constant activity. Next Saturday, December 18th from 10AM, there is an event presenting the culmination of these activities with dance, music and theater performances alongside a craft fair.
Regularly cited at international conferences as a model of a community museum, the team has consulted on a similar project in South Africa. This is all confirmation of the museum’s importance in valuing and preserving Maré’s unique identity.
As Luiz Antonio de Oliveira, director of the museum and CEASM, enthuses: “We’ve created a reference in the city, in Brazil and in the world working to present the memory and the culture of a place no one wanted to know”.
Museu da Maré is easily reached from bridge seven on Avenida Brasil, following the museum signpost on the left down Avenida Guilherme Maxwell. The museum is number 26, a signposted bright yellow building on the left. Of course, it is important to exercise caution and going with a trusted guide is advisable, especially for those who don’t speak Portuguese.
Open Tuesday to Friday, 9AM – 6PM, Saturday 10AM – 4PM
Call ahead to confirm an English speaking guide (21) 3868-6748