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Brazil grieves over the destruction of its 200-year-old Museum

Posted on September - 10 - 2018

Photo: The Guardian

As the art world is filled with events, fairs and controversial happenings, big institutions are often taken for granted, which losses can shake the world to the ground, such as the one that took place Sunday, September 2. Brazil’s oldest institution was destroyed after an aggressive fire burned the building and over 90% of its collection. Rio de Janeiro’s Museu Nacional, where reports say, has suffered ‘incalculable’ loss after the destruction of its 200-year-old collection, losing as much of its archive of 20 million items. The news is heartbreaking, and it’s a mourning time not only for the cultural sector but for the whole of society.

The museum is one of the oldest and most important historical and scientific museums of Brazil and the most significant natural history museum in Latin America. The institution was the home of “Luzia” a 12,000-year-old skeleton, which some reports comment that it has managed to survive. Other items to escape the fire include the library consisting of over 500,000 books and the famous Bendegó meteorite.

Politicians, academics, museum officials and the general public are appalled at the loss of 200 years of Brazilian heritage, materialized in science, culture and education, which was not even insured. Some blame President Michel Temer, and predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, for cutting funds directed at science and education as part of their austerity policies as well as other expenditures, such as the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and 2014 World Cup as well as the persisting corruption that plagues the country.

Photo: CNN

The destruction of the museum also affects indigenous groups whose precious artefacts were stored at the museum. Several dozen protesters lined outside the museum’s gates to communicate their mourning and outraged over the government’s neglect towards one of its most valuable institutions that harbored Brazilian memory, as well as the inadequate maintenance of the critical infrastructure, such as a working sprinkler system.

Sadness and frustration have taken over the citizens of the Rio Janeiro and Brazil, which also exemplifies the country’s political situation and was the opportunity for the upcoming presidential candidate, Marina Silva, to relate the fire to ‘a lobotomy of the Brazilian memory.’ The process of recovering the lost pieces will be slow, and most officials will focus on rebuilding the museums, asking collectors to donate their collections and the aid of other international institutions.

By: Gabriela Martinez de la Hoz