Note from BW of Brazil: It’s always great to see someone recognized when they dedicate themselves to their work. And there is an extra reason in the celebration of this particular case. A black woman who fought to preserve the memory of an Afro-Brazilian community in a city of the country’s south. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that for the past century and a half, Brazil has been on a mission to erase the importance of black history, black contributions and black people themselves from the country. This is evident in the ethnic representations in the nation’s media in portraying the country, history, positions of power and many other areas of Brazilian society. For this reason today we highlight the accomplishments of Giane Vargas-Escobar in keeping the struggle alive.
Strength and struggle of the black woman
Giane Vargas-Escobar of Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul, will receive the International Museum Prize for her work at the Treze de Maio Museum
By Liciane Brun and UA Online
She is the first daughter of Jorge and Jonbelina, a black couple who came from families of humble origin of Santa Maria, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. It was with them that Giane Vargas-Escobar, 46, saw and learned stories of overcoming of the black community. One of the forerunners of recuperation of the Museu Treze de Maio (May Thirteen Museum) in Santa Maria, Giane has a history of struggles for the black population, especially with regard to the reconstruction of the history of the museum (which completed 111 years this year).
The Treze de Maio Museum has been a part of the history of the researcher since at least 2001, when Giane returned to Santa Maria after living for six years in Porto Alegre (the capital of Rio Grande do Sul). She returned to the city to do postgraduate studies in Museology, and from there, began a greater bond with the museum, at the time, a decadent club.
“The interested black community entered into the building, and what we found were immensely dark walls. There was no light, and numerous documents of the club were submerged in water that engulfed the building by years of neglect and lack of maintenance. The sensation was happiness, and at the same time, an immense desire of crying for the situation that we witnessed there,” she recalls.
From her involvement, Giane assumed the technical board of Treze de Maio, in 2003. Today, the researcher lives in Portugal, where she is studying for a PhD in Cultural Studies, at the Universities of Aveiro and Minho. It was there that she received some of the best news: her awarding in the International Museum Prize Winner in 2014, the Museum Horizon Award, an international foundation that aims to promote innovation in museum structures.
The motive: her work at the museum, and the “contribution to the strengthening of the Brazilian identity, highlighting its rich cultural diversity and the memory of social struggles before and since abolition” as described in the motivation of the award, in a document sent to her by Museum Horizon.
“Treze was the institution that strengthened me, which legitimized me as a researcher, someone authorized to hear stories, take care of and keep memories in various information media. This institution instrumentalized me, gave me a ruler and compass so I could write part of the history made invisible and my own history,” she says.
A mosaic of the black community
The Treze de Maio Museum, run by Giane Escobar from 2001 to 2012, presses for the dissemination, promotion and preservation of African and Afro-Brazilian history and culture in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The place takes up the task of preserving the memory of the Sociedade Cultural Ferroviária Treze de Maio (May 13th Railway Cultural Society) and its early founders with the objective of never forgetting their origins.
The Museum, describes Giane Escobar, “constitutes a true mosaic of the Santa Maria black community, a place of generating dreams, of networks of partnerships and leaders with great ideas where we rediscover the black identities and memories of santamariense black community.” She adds that the museum “a place of encounters, re-encounters and clashes, the divergences and convergences, a place of constant learning.”
During her 12 years at the helm of the Treze de Maio Museum, in a work that won her the award, Giane Escobar remembers “a dream that started in a classroom, through a discipline [course on museology at the Centro Universitário Franciscano (UNIFRA)] where students were encouraged to rediscover the heritage, describe it and tell its story, verifying the real possibilities of use by the community.”
During all these years “I met and interacted with countless courageous people with immense creative and supportive capacity, who accepted the challenge of dreaming together and realizing a project in constant process, the project of Community Museum Treze de Maio was formed by a team of volunteer students and researchers, cultural agitators and members of popular culture, militant or not of the Movimento Negro (black movement).”
For memory to not forget
During this period, she describes, “to better understand how the city of Santa Maria developed, through collective and individual reconstruction of the stories and memories of former members of the Sociedade Cultural Ferroviária Treze de Maio and their project visibility at a time when blacks were forbidden to attend the same places of sociability of whites.” (1)
The former owners of that club endured racism and prejudice of the local society, built a legacy and were even the basic characters that facilitated and supported the work of the original team of the Museum. Without them, she acknowledges, “without the past that they kept in their memories we would not have had a way to recover that heritage which today constitutes a community museum.” It was really from the appropriation of this culture and knowledge provided by the social and community museology, fostered by knowledge gained from the black community, that the team was strengthened and continued work until today.
Distance is no obstacle
Far from the city for three months, but without stopping monitoring and supporting from afar, Giane argues that one of the main struggles that Museu Treze still has ahead, after gaining legitimacy and credibility, is keeping the support that it has accomplished so far:
“For this, it’s necessary to call the local government for the responsibility that it should have with heritage, diligently supporting in the maintenance and preservation.
The indication of the award came as a surprise to the museologist, who will receive the award on September 25, during the Feira Internacional do Livro (International Book Fair) in Gothenburg, Sweden, the host city of the Horizon Museum Foundation.
“Receiving external recognition and being designated by people from Europe and Brazil that work in the area of social and communitarian museology for over 40 years, and that never told me that they had designated me was a pleasant surprise. I feel gratified to have chosen the right path. I only learned of the award on the day of the result and I was simply stunned,” she reveals.
For the researcher, it is the result of efforts of black leaders that the museum was constructed, and legitimized throughout the trajectory for the preservation of the memory.
“I always take with me the banner of Treze, as now in Sweden, a place that I never thought I would ever know, and that intended its greater recognition in the field of museology, returning its view to the city of Santa Maria,” Giane says.
GIANE by GIANE
To see the black population in universities, as students and as professors in all areas
To stop dreaming because it’s dreams and angels that moves me. Like the song of the Swedish group ABBA, that I heard in my teens and I will have the opportunity to be in the place of their origin, I believe in angels, part of the song “I Have a Dream”
When launched in 2003, the Project Museu Treze de Maio and also the first edition of the children’s book with black racial perspective, Os Problemas de Júnior (Junior’s Problems), authored by writer Maria Rita Py Dutra. Besides this, the first Municipal Coordinator of the Black in Santa Maria had just been created. And in 2008, the first vestibular (college entrance exam) with the reservation spaces and racial quotas for blacks in UFSM (Federal University if Santa Maria). The Treze de Maio Museum actively participated in all these processes. Collective victories, constructed with articulations, grit and struggle of the black population of Santa Maria.
An unforgettable day
Recently, when I received the news of the International museum Prize winner in 2014, through a message from Hugues de Varine, international consultant in the area of museology and development, former director of ICOM, the International Council of Museums
I would like to mention four black women that gave me and give me strength to firmly continue my path. Much of what I am today is because I had in my life inspiring women: Jonbelina, my mother, Celanira, my mother-in-law and friend, Angelina (in memoriam), my maternal grandmother and Amoreti (in memoriam), my aunt.
1. This is an important piece of information as Brazil has long portrayed itself as a country free of racial segregation, with according to elites, only happened in places such as the United States and South Africa. But over the years, a number of scholars and activists have revealed areas and cities throughout the country in which socially respected exclusion of Afro-Brazilians was considered normal.