Context is integral to art, in all forms. This principle is at the heart of design scholar and art consultant Adriana Kertzer’s newest book Favelization: The Imaginary Brazil in Contemporary Film, Fashion and Design. Daughter to a Texan mother and first generation Brazilian father, Kertzer was raised in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city. Upfront about her privileged upbringing, Kertzer makes no claims to be an expert on life in the favelas (Brazilian slums).
What she does claim in her book, however, is eye-opening and game-changing: the misappropriation of stereotypes and representations of the favela in film, fashion, and design glamorize the favela in order to appeal to non-Brazilians. Kertzer illustrates this through the use of case studies that focus on shirts designed by Fernando and Humberto Campana for Lacoste, furniture designed by Brunno Jahara and David El Context, and the films Waste Land and City of God. Context is therefore key to Kertzer’s analysis, as she discussed recently in a talk about her book at The Line’s Apartment in New York City.
In conversation with The Line’s Stephanie Murg, the undergirding narrative was clear: taking symbols of the favela out of their spatial and cultural contexts negate the conditions, people, and experiences that remain behind those representations. In her talk, Kertzer noted that this process is detrimental in its lack of specificity and attribution. When asked how artists may be able to “favelize” correctly, Kertzer remains uncertain still, but suggests that “specificity shows reverence.” In that, if one hopes to utilize the favela as a source of inspiration, it’s important to do so responsibly, respectfully, and acknowledge the truly acknowledge the link between the favela and the completed film, fashion or design object.