Brazilian art historian: ecological catastrophe in the Amazon: I'm giving up on the world conference in Florence

Brazilian art historian Luiz Marques foregoes participation in world art history conference due to ecological catastrophe in the Amazon.

Brazilian art historian Luiz Marques, a specialist in 15th- and 16th-century Italian art, curator-chief at the São Paulo Museum of Art and director of the Institute of Art History at the same museum, has written a heartfelt letter to announce his withdrawal from participating in the CIHA - Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art, the largest international congress on the subject, to be held in Florence, Italy, Sept. 1-6: the reason is that Brazil is going through what Marques calls an “ecological catastrophe,” namely the fires raging in the Amazon.

According to Brazil’sNational Institute of Spatial Research (INPE), fires in the South American country are up 85 percent this year compared to last year: about half (about 40,000) of the 76,720 fires that broke out from the beginning of the year through Aug. 22 in Brazil occurred in the Amazon rainforest. This is not an absolute record because in the past, especially before the 2010s, the situation was worse (the record, again for the period January 1 to August 22, was set in 2004, with 117,740 fires in the whole of Brazil). However, NASA has shown that fires in the states of Amazonas and Rondonia alone (two of the nine federal states over which the forest extends) are above average this year (while they are lower in other states of the country, such as Mato Grosso and Pará).

In addition, data reported for the country as a whole are up from last year, and Co2 emissions from fires in Amazonas state this year are the highest since 2010. There are also other data that help to understand the extent of the phenomenon: Brazil includes about 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest area, while the remainder is divided among Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and Guyana. According to data from the Global Fire Atlas (which in turn processes NASA surveys), there were 99,590 fires throughout the Amazon from January 1 to August 21, compared to 53,935 for the same period in 2018 (but there had been 106,404 in 2016). According to Carlos Nobre, INPE climatologist, the fires are mainly of arson origin and occur mostly during the dry season, and Brazil’s current agricultural policies are allegedly guilty of not respecting the environment enough. And many scientists agree that global warming, although not the direct cause of the fires, promotes their development because it makes the climate hotter and drier over larger areas, making many areas more exposed to risk.

Thus, there has indeed been an increase in wildfires, bucking the trend of past years.Much of the blame has therefore been placed on Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has been accused by the international community of not doing enough to deal with the emergency, so much so that the French president, Emmanuel Macron, has proposed to discuss the problem at the next G7 meeting, and U.S. President Donald Trump has offered to bring U.S. help. At the moment, Bolsonaro, after declaring that the Amazon rainforest is “an essential part” of Brazil’s history and that it is his duty to protect it, has decided to send the military to the region. Indeed, the president is thought to have felt international pressure and fears possible sanctions.

This is the picture of the situation in which the letter from Marques, who is one of Brazil’s leading art historians, fits. Marques addresses “friends and colleagues” directly, stating that he will not be able to attend the Florence conference because “the situation in Brazil is becoming more serious every day.”

“We are now facing an ecological catastrophe that cannot but also be political and social, and truly on the brink of the abyss,” Marques declares. “In my own small way, I have made commitments to students at the university and also in high schools, who are feverishly preparing for Brazil’s participation in the global youth climate strike on Sept. 20. In short, I have to give small lectures on environmental crises in schools in São Paulo as early as September 2 onwards. There is a lot of anguish among them, but also determination. They need a hand on the adult side. I had to choose between commitments.”

Marques then speaks modestly about his own commitment to the conference, “I wish you a very good conference. I must also add that from a scientific point of view, my presentation at CIHA, which focused on the Italian collections of the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes in Rio de Janeiro, is not at all important because it comes from research done many years ago and already published in catalogs and exhibitions. It has been years since I have done any research in art history, because I have changed my path and am now involved in ecology.”

Finally, Marques launches heavy criticism of the political situation in Brazil: “I am really very sorry and I ask a thousand apologies for this desertion at two weeks of the Convention, but I cannot do otherwise. The events of this last week are also psychologically terrible. Without any magniloquence, we are experiencing the most important historical crossroads in human history. There is a clear emergence of fascism in Brazil, a fascism obviously different from that of 1920-45 in Europe, and also different from the Brazilian military dictatorship of the years of my youth. Something that is not yet possible to define, but that destroys the last links of man with nature. A social-ecological fascism, in short. The accelerated forest destruction that Bolsonaro and Brazilian and global agribusiness are trying to impose on the world today must be stopped, because it will have irreversible consequences for the whole world. And these consequences are not for the distant future. They are for the next decade. Once again a thousand apologies.”

Pictured: fires in South America recorded by NASA between August 15 and 22, 2019.

Brazilian art historian: ecological catastrophe in the Amazon: I'm giving up on the world conference in Florence
Brazilian art historian: ecological catastrophe in the Amazon: I'm giving up on the world conference in Florence

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