More a Diplomatic Than an Aesthetic Event


Kirsty Robertson with Sarah Smith, Stephanie Anderson, Elizabeth Diggon and Ahlia Moussa. “More a Diplomatic than an Aesthetic Event: Canada, Brazil and Cultural Exchange.” Journal of Canadian Studies 47 (January 2014): 1-29.

This paper looks at models of cultural brokering between Canada and Brazil, from 1950 to the present. Focused on two exhibitions, the São Paulo Biennial and “Isumavut,” the paper reveals the ways that government has historically used culture to broker relationships between Canada and other nations, and more specifically, to manage an often tense economic relationship with Brazil. Using these exhibitions, the paper documents a post-war attempt to give art and culture a role in international affairs, and to introduce Canada as part of an international community of other like-minded liberal-democratic nations. The argument then considers how debates between the National Gallery and the Department of Foreign Affairs in the 1950s over the autonomy of art within the Biennial had largely disappeared by the early 2000s when “Isumavut” provided a backdrop for a series of corporate and government-organized events. The paper concludes in the present moment, asking whether the model of cultural brokering still applies when art and other government-sponsored cultural exchange programs aimed at Brazil have largely been cancelled.

The research and writing of this essay was supported by a SSHRC Internal Research Grant from Western University, Canada. The grant was awarded to support a collaborative writing project between Dr. Kirsty Robertson and four graduate students at two different Canadian institutions (Stephanie G. Anderson, Western University; Ahlia Moussa, Western University; Elizabeth Diggon, Queen’s University; Sarah E.K. Smith, Queen’s University).

Read the paper here.

About Kirsty Robertson

Kirsty Robertson is Associate Professor of contemporary art and Director of museum and curatorial studies at Western University, Canada.
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