Spotted in Brasília: The Carnivalization of Memory

Posted by Rebecca Atencio

A colleague at UnB, Anderson da Mata, kindly sent me these fabulous images from Brasília (thanks, Anderson!).

On the left is the original sign for the longest and most important bridge in the capital city of Brasília. The bridge is named after General Costa e Silva, the second of the five military presidents during the dictatorships. On the right, the sign has been altered so that the name that appears is that of Bezerra da Silva, a famous samba composer.

The bridge in question was inaugurated in 1976, hence during the dictatorship period. As such, it represents the military government’s penchant for pharoanic public works projects (incidentally, the official name of another iconic dictatorship-era bridge, the Rio-Niterói bridge, is also Ponte Costa e Silva).

This particular makeshift gesture is rife with significance. As Anderson pointed out in his email to me, the substitution of a military president’s name with that of a samba composer suggests a carnivalization of the esculacho, or protest. Moreover, rights activists have long lobbied throughout Brazil to rechristen streets and other public spaces that bear the names of notorious repressors. In some cases, the spaces have been renamed in honor of victims of torture, murder, and political disappearance. While such activism has been visible for years in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Recife, it has been conspicuously absent in Brasília until recently. See here for a blog post published on 12 April of this year reporting a separate initiative to rename this same bridge. In that intervention, local youth sought to rename the bridge after Honestino Guimarães, a student leader from Rio de Janeiro who disappeared during the the dictatorship.

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