Ibero-American Utopias


The Cultural Attaché of the Brazilian Embassy in London, Hayle Melim Gadelha, kindly spoke with our reporter about the ‘Ibero-American Arts Award’, an arts competition which is being jointly organized by the Embassy of Brazil in London and the Association of Cultural Attachés of Latin American countries, Spain and Portugal (ACALASP).


BBMag – How did the idea for the competition first come about?

HMG – For some time, ACALASP has wanted to put on a major event to commemorate the relaunch of its activities, as well as to celebrate the rich cultural diversity of the countries that we represent. So, to this end, we hit upon the idea of an Ibero-American themed arts competition. Here at the Embassy of Brazil we had already set a precedent by running our own Visual Arts Award in 2014-2015. So we decided to extend the original format into a collaborative cross-embassy initiative for 2016.

Fortuitously, our plans thereby coincided with the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’, so we thought we would explore how More’s fictional account of an ideal world could be said to speak to the Ibero-American situation – therefore, this year’s theme will be ‘Ibero-American Utopias’. This also speaks to our interest in fostering cultural interchange, and in stimulating new interactions between the Ibero-American and British worlds. In this case, we are linking a key text of the UK’s Renaissance intellectual history to current trends in contemporary art, and revisiting and investing with new significance the story of the relationship between these two spheres.

So, how about the link?  If you stop to think about how Spanish and Portuguese explorers first fantasized about the Americas as a kind of ‘new Eden’; how Latin American thinkers have sought to forge their own unblemished ‘native’ consciousness; about Don Quixote and his impossible dream; or Pablo Neruda’s hymns to the ideal of Pan-American unity; or Mário de Andrade’s irreverent utopian novel Macunaíma, his rhapsodic amalgamation of brazilianness, – you will see that the intellectual and art histories of Ibero-American countries are indeed a rich tapestry of utopian dreams and contestations. And it isn’t just Ibero-American artists who have been inspired by the myth of El Dorado. You need look no further than Voltaire’s Candide for an example of how Latin America, Spain and Portugal have long served as beacons of utopianism to writers and artists from beyond their borders.

We’re looking forward to seeing how participating artists will respond to the utopian impulse through their art.


BBMag – What is involved exactly? And how can you take part?

HMG –  Over the next few months until October 16th, we’re calling on all artists (aged 16 and over) who live and produce their art in the UK, to participate in the competition. Any of the following variety of formats are allowed: painting, drawing and works on paper, sculpture, photography and printing. Artists must submit a single artwork on the theme of ‘Ibero-American Utopias’. Submissions can be made digitally via email (see our website for further information). All submissions will initially be judged by ACALASP’s curatorial committee, which will be choosing the 30 artworks to go on display at the Embassy, from 15th November to 8th December. Subsequently, a jury composed of high-profile specialists from the Arts world will decide on the two best artworks; and the public will vote for its favourite. The three winning artists will receive cash prizes which have been generously offered by Itaú Bank, ACALASP’s sponsor in this initiative.


BBMag – Is the competition only open to participants from Latin America, Spain and Portugal? Or could a British or a German artist take part?

HMG – The competition is open to all artists resident in the UK aged 16 and above, regardless of their nationality. You just have to be able to envisage a utopian world. So whether you are originally from the UK, or you’re from Latin America, Portugal, Spain, Shangri-La, Eden or Arcadia, you’re all welcome to take part!

BBMag –  Are there plans to make this event a recurring fixture? Do you intend for it to take place on an annual basis, for example?

HMG – We would love for this to become a regular event. ACALASP is committed to providing artists with creative opportunities and, by extension, to raising the cultural prestige of Ibero-American nations. And, apart from the Arts Award, we have more ideas up our sleeves for the future. Watch this space!

BBMag – Where can our readers find out more information about this competition?

HMG – Our website is the place to go for all information regarding Award submissions and the exhibition: iberoamericanartsaward.org/.

There you will find information on how to submit, the terms and conditions, and the exhibition space where the 30 pre-selected artworks will be put on display.

We also have a Facebook page (Ibero American Arts Award) and Twitter feed (@IberoAAAward) which will keep you up to date on all the important news, dates and milestones throughout the competition period.

BBMag – Apart from this competition, what plans do you have at the Cultural Section of the Embassy for the next few months in the UK, especially during and after the Olympic and Paralympic Games?

HMG – As ever, the Embassy’s role is to promote the richness and diversity of Brazilian culture, from absolutely every region of Brazil, to our UK audience.

In addition to our customary programme of exhibitions, Cineclub and book club sessions, there are going to be some special highlights as the eyes of the world turn to Brazil for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Just to give you a flavour of what is to come:

In our cinema programming, we will be screening two internationally-acclaimed films, Anna Muylaert’s ‘The Second Mother’ and Fernando Meirelles’s ‘City of God’, in partnership with the Horniman Museum. We’ll also be watching and discussing the hit TV series produced by HBO, directed by Claudio Torres, ‘Magnífica 70’, which is now available on Channel 4’s digital platform ‘Walter Presents’. The ‘Walter Presents’ team and the Guardian critic Mark Lawson will participate in a debate at this exclusive session.

In music, we will be hosting Dona Onete, the septuagenarian songstress from the Amazon, performing her wonderful though still relatively unknown carimbó rhythms. She will be performing on the 3rd July in a traditional Brazilian ‘festa julina’ (midsummer celebrations which occur in June and July), also taking place at the Horniman Museum.

In theatre, there will be dramatic readings by actors Jussilene Santana and Márcio Mello, and performances of a new production, ‘Turmoil’, by the vibrant Brazilian theatre group ‘Dende Collective’.

And in the visual arts, we will be hosting a remarkable collection of photographs by Ellie Kurtz, renowned in the realm of world theatre photography, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. We will also be hosting exhibitions of paintings by the artist Henrique de Aragão and the Italian-Brazilian visual artist Flaminia Mantegazza. And after the Olympic and Paralympic Games, in November, our gallery space Sala Brasil will be occupied with the showing of the 30 most outstanding Utopian artworks submitted to the ‘Ibero-American Arts Award’, followed by another exhibition in December in partnership with the ‘Brazil Observer’.

We are finalizing a special programme for the period of the Olympic Games, which will be announced shortly. Keep an eye on our website for more details.


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