with response by Mabel O. Wilson, hosted by Rebecca Yuste-Golob
In the early 1950s, U.S. citizens were encouraged to travel to Brazil to “have fun” and come back home “the wiser” by visiting modern architecture, with architects among these tourists. Brazilians, for one, knew a trick or two about living comfortably in hot, tropical weather, leading the world in Climate Control with designs that could be adapted to U.S. suburban living in regions that needed “privacy, shade and breeze.” Moreover, Brazilian examples of modern living carried important social lessons on how to be “free of racial prejudices.”
This talk explores the dissemination of the Brazilian ideology of racial harmony as it circulated through exhibitions, architecture journals, and popular magazines entangled with modern architecture as a discourse on “whiteness.” Traveling through north-Atlantic networks, as what I call tropical whiteness, modernism became a Trojan Horse of Brazil’s racial imaginary. Celebrated, contested, and challenged, it will “colorize” Brazil’s modern architecture, losing the “clarity” that local white elites and cultural officialdom sought to promote. This presentation advances the notion of tropical whiteness to reframe Brazilian modernism, explore a contested field of racial meaning, and uncover the dialogic relationship between cultural whiteness and tropical exoticism that in the 1940s and early ‘50s underwrote its architectural imaginary.