After the Gray Area Symposium (Mexico, April 2010) I've been invited by crafthaus to talk about brazilian art jewellery in a blog.
In this blog, Ana Paula de Campos will also help me to give a overview of what is going on around here and also tell a bit about brazilian culture, that is very little known.
For my first blog post about Brazil, I've decided to tell the story of the FIGA. As I child it was a very common charm that many people wear. I always thought it has a connection with Umbanda, the religion brought to Brazil by the african slaves during colonial times. But amazingly in my researches I learned it most probably appeared in ancient Greece or Rome and it was used as a sexual amulet to enhance fertility. It could be seen in women's and children's necks. The thumb represented the penis penetrating the female organ ( the other two fingers). People at that time believed that wearing this pendant would keep them away of the risk of becoming infertile.
So the pendant/amulet was actually brought to Brazil by europeans. Here it acquired the status of a powerful amulet and became quickly incorporated. The folklorist Luis da Câmara Cascudo in his book, Dictionary of Brazilian Folklore, stated it is one of the most ancient amulets that repels bad energies and brings good luck. It is very much spread and here is strongly related to afro-brazilians traditions. It is a quite common expression "Faça figas" ("do the Figas") to say to a person wishing luck.
During the 40' the american artist Alexander Calder ( 1898-1976) came 3 times to Brazil and was very much influenced by our traditions. Among his very prolific production Calder also made around 500 wonderful pieces of jewelry. Some of them were his versions of the "Figa". He made around 20 of these and gave most of them as gifts. One of those Figas was sold in a Sotheby's Contemporary Art auction in 2006 for $60.000.
In references about Calder it is clear that he took this form from the Brazilian culture, during his trips to Brazil.
The FIGA started as a charm and some of them turned out to be works of art: being collected, sold not only based upon the amount of carats it holds. That's also my point of view. Jewellery is more than a dismissable acessory, it can be an art media just as any other media. It can add meaning and induce reflexion.
Today it is curious to find a St Martin's jewelry student, Alexandra Petsetakis
choosing Calder's brooch as a favorite piece in a online magazine, but most of all , it is curious to read that she says the figa is "a timeless interpretation of the South American charm".
The legend continues to the extent of great exaggerations such as in this mexican website
: "It has been many centuries, since a helper of Sir Anhul Hassen, discoverd 'A Figa', buried in the clay of an old tribal temple of the Coari area of Brazil. Since then, it has been handed down generations in families that want to preserve this secret that gives them the advantage over others to succeed."
So I decided to use it as a symbol for the blog. It shows how one thing (more specifically a jewelry piece) that appeared first in Greece or Rome with one meaning, nowadays can be considered genuinely latin american/brazilian!
This is what we call here anthropophagy, a very much brazilian trademark concerning culture: we eat, we digest and we give the world something completely different. But that is a long story I wish I can tell in one of my future posts....