Ethel Leon is a journalist and professor of the history of design. She holds a master’s and a doctoral degree from the College of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of São Paulo (FAU-USP), and has written a number of books on design, including Design brasileiro: quem fez, quem faz (Senac RJ, 2005), Memórias do design brasileiro (Senac SP, 2008). Leon, alongside Marcello Montore, also co-authored the Brazilian chapter of História do Design na América Latina (Blucher, 2009). She has organized several exhibitions on Brazilian design, such as: Singular & Plural, quase 50 anos de design brasileiro and Ornamentos do Corpo e do Espaço, both at the Instituto Tomie Ohtake; and, with Kiko Farkas and Felipe Taborda, the Brazilian exhibition at the 2006 Designmai in Berlin. Leon edits the e-magazine Agitprop, a publication specializing in design.
Talk: Brazilian Modern Furniture
The narratives around Brazilian design – both graphic and product – tend to lean on two apparently opposing visions. In the first, everything made around here is nothing more than a copy or a reflection of the production of central countries; this would make local design a second-wave production, meriting no greater interest. On the other side stands the kind of explanation that tends to highlight “innate” qualities in Brazilian process and products, lining up specific traditional characteristics such as the use of native woods, alongside “sensuality” and a propensity to laziness. Modern Brazilian furniture is generally seen in the light of this second category. These two visions, however, while apparently antagonistic, are both sides of the same coin – which turns a blind eye to the conjunction of the specific place of our peripheral situation and its implications within the so-called world-system, in which economic globalization restructures the relations of cultural exchanges.
A look at the production of any number of modern Brazilian designers, such as Joaquim Tenreiro, Sérgio Rodrigues, Michel Arnoult, and Jorge Zalszupin, reveals both the presence of clear international filiations as well as characteristics that affirm Brazil’s modern period and react to a specific context of production, making us realize that these designers are less focused on a “style” than a “cause.”