This is a case that is full of meaning. First, because the acquisition of the work places it in the same system that legitimates the work of Pedro Américo and it can also be exhibited in Museu Paulista when it reopens, sharing the same physical space with the work that it critiques. It is a case of a dispute of narratives.
There is also an archival layer that does not depend on the reopening of the museum. It has become official. A current research in Museu Paulista's collection on Independência ou Morte is now a set of results that no longer relates only to Américo's large-scale oil painting and which constructs the official view of Brazil's independence, but also has an image which reinforces something that the larger painting tries precisely to minimize, namely, the idea of public participation in the construction of history.
It is also significant that the collective actions with the painters, as well as the addition of one of our paintings to the museum collection, are related to Giorgio Agamben's concept of profanity. According to the author, profaning is the act of restoring something sacred to the free and common use of man. It is quite true that, in the text, Agamben deals with the specific field of theology, defining religion as “that which subtracts things, places, animals or people from common use and transfers them to a separate sphere” (Ibid., p. 65, free translation of the Portuguese version). However, this view of subtraction and separation of elements from the world also seems valid in the visual arts field because, as the author claims, “every separation contains or retains within itself a genuinely religious nucleus” (Ibid., p. 65).
Therefore, works exhibited and stored in museums also fit into this logic since they are subtracted from the everyday world and activated in the select and almost religious world of the visual arts. One way to react to this is to do what was done in this account of experiences: to remove the official discourse on imagery from inside the museum and render it the raw material for transformations carried out by artists that are not included in the official discussions about art, museology and historical painting.
1.5. Beyond Museu Paulista, a possible approach to a critical review
The four years of problematizations with the historical painting Independência ou Morte helped us to create a kind of methodology for the problematization of historical paintings, that can be easily replicated in other museums.
The painters from Praça da República and I have problematized the issue of representation of ordinary individuals in other paintings, such as in a Finnish work from the Ateneum museum in Helsinki.
In Miss Kekäläinen (1916), Eero Nelimarkka depicts the woman who cleaned his studio. Despite naming her in the title of his work, which could be seen as an act of appreciation and gratitude, he decides to represent her with her back to the viewer, hiding her face.
During four months, with the help of the Nelimarkka Museum––a foundation that preserves the artist's history – I searched for a document that could give me a hint as to what Kekäläinen looked like. However, I found nothing. Nevertheless, the Praça da República painters and I produced a new version of this painting, with the same dimensions as the original, in which Miss Kekäläinen appears with her face turned towards the viewer, but slightly blurred. If any information is ever found regarding what she looked like, we will update the work.
This is an example of how the experience with the closed museum in Brazil, and its main work of art, was not merely a set of specific actions, but a possible way of defragmenting official images through popular representation.