Ana Mae Barbosa

Full Professor

Universidade de São Paulo and Universidade Anhembi Morumbi




The group of designers Piracema work with traditional craftspeople without any imposition and any directiveness, looking towards the development of the creative process. Of course the presence of the designers is already an intervention but their relations are based on dialogue. The process initiates by workshops to make the craftspeople aware of their personal history, of each other’s experiences and local history. A local historian is always invited to talk about the town. The education process is based on research of the materials from the region for economic reasons and on the development of visual perception. The designers stimulate the participants to look around at local things like patterns and forms in the architecture in the surroundings to be used as visual motives of the products to be created.

First, my focus will be on the cooperative work among designers, art educators and craftswomen from Benevides, in the Amazon Region a place where survival is at risk.

The second group I’ll analyze is from Marajó Island, Pará. It includes men who are mostly unemployed or under-employed and some are the husbands of craftswomen. Observing that the work of their wife was getting recognition and making good money some men decided to learn to make lace, embroidery, ceramics, basketry and different ornaments. I interviewed the designer Mary Maués and the art educator Ida Hamoy about the process of work and several craftswomen and men who participated in the workshops. All of them talked about the freedom they had and all of them recognized the higher quality of the products made by them after the workshops.

Key-words: Design, Crafts, Amazon, Art Educators.


The first projects of Visual Culture in Brazil took place in the Festivals of Art at the end of the dictatorship like the Festivals of Ouro Preto and other Festivals in Minas Gerais as well as the Festival of Campos do Jordão in 1983. Like Art Education, Visual Culture in Brazil has different tendencies. I belong to the Historical tendency, a tendency based in local roots but in international dialogue. In Brazil Visual Culture was born in the Cultural Studies practiced by Gilberto Freyre in the 30s. Stuart Hall recognized that when he and Richard Hoggart created the Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham, England, there was little preoccupation on cultural questions, among the exceptions was Gilberto Freyre in Recife that since the 30s changed the focus of the social studies from race to culture.

When in 1989 I invited Richard Hoggart to give a Course at the University of São Paulo, after I had been in the Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham in 1982, we had pleasant conversations on the cultural vision of the two Freires that changed brazilian culture, Gilberto Freyre and Paulo Freire.

Gilberto Freyre studied brazilian culture through images, cake recipes and newspaper news. He was student of Franz Boas at the Columbia University. Paulo Freire changed education in a way to get social consciousness into direction to social justice.

Another intellectual who shaped Visual Culture in Brazil was Aloisio Magalhães, a designer with ambitions to transform brazilian society, paying attention to History, to ecology, to mixed cultures, to modernization in dialogue with traditional culture and solving problems of the real people. He transformed the visual industry into Art and Art into necessity. It is not by chance that the best projects in Visual Culture in Brazil are projects that connect Design, Ecology and Art/Education.

This paper presents a research about the reciprocal influences of Designers, art educators and Craftspeople looking for models of production and consume not harmful to the environment but that could upgrade the income of poor communities.

It shows that the perspective of sustainability requires a redesign of attitudes and objectives of the actors involved, as well of the capitalist model of development.

My first research on this issue was in 1994 in Minas Gerais. My question was: In which way designers could develop the work of crafts people without blocking their creative process? I had observed that designers used to give new models to the crafts group but as soon as the designers left the community, crafts people went back to the old models.

During the 90’s the designer Heloisa Croco begun to work together with crafts people in the winter festival of Ouro Preto, promoted by the University of Minas Gerais. She was invited by the festival director, the artist José Nemer, to organize a workshop of several days with craftspeople. I was an observer. I discussed the result of this work with soap stone in the Art Education Congress in Taiwan, in 1995. The works of those workshops in Minas Gerais got so high recognition that the store Tok Stok (similar to IKEA) begun to sell their products. If before the craft people were making pyramids and images of Buddha to sell for tourists, after the workshop they begun to explore the possibilities of the materials and got a place in the national market. Croco and Nemer amplified their work organizing a group of designers for communities called Piracema Laboratory.

My current research on the work of Piracema Lab took place in Pará, Amazon Region. First, my focus was on problems of gender and heritage of craftswomen, who survive through their work, who are poor and live far away in hidden regions of the country. How can design improve the production of those women? What can art educators do in favor of them?

The motto of Piracema Lab is: no imposition and no directiviness towards the development of the creativity process. Intervention exists because the presence of the designers is already an intervention but it is based on dialog. The Piracema Lab works first the creation of a logo (Fig. 1), that should be the identification of the group, of the labels, of the products and of the stores.

The education process is based on the research of the materials of the region for economical reasons and on the development of visual perception. They stimulate the participants to localize around them visual motives that generate the logo, the patterns and the forms of the objects (Fig. 2).

Along several workshops they make the craftspeople aware of their personal history, local history, and of each other experiences, everything enveloped by the visual imagination. A local historian (not necessarily academic)is always invited to talk about the city, its history and its architecture.

The first group with whom the Piracema Lab worked in Pará, coordinated by Ida Hamoy, was a group of woman from Benevides, a decadent town, very rich on the time of the rubber commerce but today a place where the survival is at risk. A group of religious woman promoted with a group of woman’s designers and art educators workshops to develop, to plan, to up to date craftswoman production. This complicity of gender called my attention and I was completed captured by the quality of the results, that I intend to show through images.

The second group with whom the Piracema Lab worked in Marajó Island, Pará, included man, some of them husbands of crafts woman. The unemployed or bad employed husbands observing that the desconsidered work of their woman was getting recognition and making good money decided to learn to make lace, embroidery, ceramics, basketry and different ornaments or to administrate how to sell the manufactures and to buy material.

To administrate the work of the woman helps them to maintain the power on the family. I observed that the work among designers and crafts people is more fluent and flexible when an art educator works as mediator between them. Several other researches arrived to similar conclusion, for example the workshops of the Projeto Axé in Bahia and the projects of Artists in Residence studied by Rachel Mason in the book Por uma Arte-Educação Multicultural (2000).

The art teacher knows about the process of teaching and learning and the way to communicate with students, becoming a good mediator in the process of reviewing each one making process in direction to the creation of new forms of thinking. The art educator studies chiefly to be mediator, the designers and the artists studied chiefly to be creators. They need each other abilities. I interviewed the designer Mary Maués and the art educator Ida Hamoy about the process of work in Pará (Benevides and Muaná, Isle of Marajó) and several crafts woman and man who participated of the workshops .All of them talked about the freedom they had and all of them recognized the better quality of the products made by them after the workshops .Only two of them are making the same thing that they used to do before (one that I interviewed, who mention another one) but with better colors, better finishing and better design Besides they are selling more and more expensively theirs products. Most of them diversified their products. In Pará, Benevides and Marajó Island, the population is descendent of indigenous population and maintains the same costumes of their ancestrals. The values cultivated by the Indian population are different of the values of capitalism. Those differences go back to the colonial times. The Portugueses that colonized Brazil tried to transform the Indians in slaves but gave up because considered them lazy and unproductive. However what they considered laziness is a kind of conception of life. They work to live; they don’t work to accumulate money. The Designers had great difficult to understand this difference .For example, if I buy six necklaces they charge 8 dollars for each, but when someone orders 100 of the same necklaces they will charge 10 dollars for each piece because they are going to spend a lot of time working, without playing with the kids, without talking with the friends. The Piracema Lab stimulates the crafts people to work with the waste of the Amazon , the skin of animals they eat , including fish skin, fibers of the forest, wood brought by the river . A student of mine, Tatiana Azzi studied the work of the Piracema Lab in the State of Ceará. The Brazilian designer Renato Imbroise is working with the same methodology in Mozambique, Africa. We are exporting methodology. The organizers of the project with the Brazilians Designers in Mozambique did very good evaluation of the results, according the bulletin of the Museum CASA in Brazil, that I translate here. This Museum is at the same time gallery, therefore can sell the exhibit products. The exhibition of crafts from Mozambique had been a big success of critique and of sales.

Mozambique was a Portuguese colony up to 1975 (Brazil until 1822) It is a country of the eastern coast of Africa, with 801.590 km2 of area, inhabited for little more than 20 million people and whose official language is the Portuguese, although to have a great number of native languages . A severe civil war that followed independence and the arrival and fast dissemination of the virus of the AIDS had left millions of died and orphans and had paralyzed the economy of the country. Currently, the agriculture of subsistence and small creations of animals are main activities developed for the population of the field. In this context, two projects that promote the dialogue between Brazil e Moçambique, uniting the innovation and surprising of the Brazilian design with the technician of the Mozambican’s crafts, are acting in the direction to help to change this reality. One in the north and another one in the south of Moçambique, the projects begun when Eduarda Cipriano, director of the Foundation for the Development of Comunidade (FDC), visit Brazil and knew the work of Renato Imbroisi. The designer was invited to visit Mozambique and to evaluate the possibility to make a project in African lands.

With the objective to rescue local techniques and traditions, to delineate cultural and local Mozambican identity, to foment the development of new products and to select the final product , generating income for the communities, had appeared the Maciene project, and the Ujamaa project, carried through for the Aga Khan Foundation. Both the projects had been co-ordinated by Renato Imbroisi and promoted the cultural interchange by means of workshops carried through periodic visit of Brazilian designers to Mozambique.

Dulce Mudhlovo, local manager of the Maciene project,said “[…] in Moçambique we had everything: sructure, space, adjusted machines, but not good products. We call Brazilian because we wanted products with international quality. Today it has a strong impact in who looks at objects” (A Casa, 2010 :np). Mozambican craftsman Rachid Jonas Conjo, who was in Brazil for launching the exposition Brazil in Africa: artesanato moçambicano + design Brazilian, points out:


the Brazilians give-in formation and teach-in working with substances we didn’t know. We are changing behavior, having other ideas different from Brazilians’ ideas. We are creating new products. This is good (A Casa, 2010: np).


Still according to Conjo, Brazilian designers emphasized the idea that the artisan production and the manual ability are patrimonies of the Mozambicans. Rachid Conjo also reminds us that many abundant materials in Moçambique are discarded; they had started to be used like:


the banana tree of Maciene. Before was being wasted, now has a use, as well as tires and plastics. They are things that people did not know. We did not make this type of product with these raw materials, but now we are making.


Dulce Mudhlovo detaches that ‘it is not to bring something from outside but to search what we have e to improve’. She affirms that the benefits brought for the projects are clear. ‘The life of the people improved very much. All the process since to find raw material until the commercialization of the products are made by the community’ (A Casa, 2010: np). The projects disclose that, beyond the language and although at the distance, Brazil and Mozambique has very much in common.

The best of this production was in exposition in the museum A Casa (2010).

Elizabete Garber in the text Global and Local: Rethinking citizenship in art and visual culture education, elects five principles to be developed in the students by art and visual culture teaching practice: identity, understanding beyond oneself, race/class/gender awareness, becoming political subjects, and transgression and play.

The Piracema Lab is developing the key principles that Elizabete Garber argues as the most important for Arts and Visual Cultures along with excellence in Design Teaching.




A Casa. Bulletin. Available: <>, [fev 25 2010].

Azzi,Tatiana (2009). O jogo das diferenças: o design brasileiro no cenário multicultural. Master’s Dissertation presented to the program Design, Arte e Tecnologia ,University Anhembi Morumbi.

Barbosa, Ana Mae (2009). Tópicos Utópicos. Belo Horizonte: Comarte.

Garber, Elizabete (2010). Global and Local: Rethinking citizenship in art and visual culture education in: Encounters on Education. Volume 11, Fall, pp. 117-133.Available: 02.29.2011).

Hall,Stuart (1996). Race, culture, and comunications: looking backward and forward at cultural studies in: Sorey, J.(ed.). What is cultural studies? London:Arnold,pp.336-343, translation into Portuguese by Helen Hughes pag 336

Mason,Rachel. (2000)Arte-Educação Multicultural.Campinas:Mercado das Letras, 2000.

Stuart Hall. Race, culture, and communications: looking backward and forward at cultural studies In: STOREY, J. (ed.). What is cultural studies? (1996), 336-343. London: Arnold. From the translation into Portuguese by Helen Hughes.