restricted access “More a Diplomatic than an Esthetic Event”: Canada, Brazil, and Cultural Brokering in the São Paulo Biennial and “Isumavut”

This essay looks at models of cultural brokering between Canada and Brazil, from 1950 to the present. Focussed on two exhibitions, the São Paulo Biennial and “Isumavut,” the essay 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 essay documents a postwar 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 colourful backdrop for a series of corporate and government-organized events. The essay 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.