Cultural Synopsis - Exhibitions at Caixa Cultural

There are two painting exhibitions on at Caixa Cultural, Praça da Sé, 111 T.: 3321-4400, until March 31st, Tue-Sun, 9h -19h – entrance free. Both are about immigration and how immigrants integrate into the new community or form ghettos.

One, is by the painter Johann Moritz Rugendas, born 1802 in Augsburg, Germany, lived in Brazil  from 1821 to 1846, and died back in Germany in 1858. He lived through the European excessive romanticism and the French academic style which developed in Brazil with the French painter, Debret, with glimpses into future realism. It is worth seeing the drawings and paintings of this German explorer of 19th century Brazil, showing society in the south, northeast and centre-west of the country. The slaves in the paintings show the horror of the barbaric treatment they experienced or the lethargy and resignation of lives tortured and families lost.

The other exhibition is by Leila Danziger showing and reminding us of the horror of a century after, when Jews tried to escape Nazi Germany in overloaded ships heading towards South America. Very similar to the situation of the negroes in the slave ships or the immigrants fleeing Africa nowadays, in dinghy boats. She also points out the work of the Jewish painter Lasar Segall, and his own experience trying to escape from war, hunger and poverty, heading towards Brazil in 1912: His notes on human conditions in these ships gave origin to the series “The Immigrants” (1920) and the painting Immigrant Ship (1939-1940) and the poet Paul Celan who survived the holocaust and whose poem about the sinking of a ship is also shown at the exhibition entrance.

The end of the poem points to hope and willpower which takes me to a bird named Tsuru, the Japanese name for the Crane, an ancient bird which, according to legend, kept company to hermit monks who meditated on top of mountains. It was said that these monks had the power of eternal youth. Eventually, the birds took on the connotation of the power of youth and were called the birds of longevity. The birds are monogamous and faithful to one life companion till death do them part. Therefore they are also known as the birds of fidelity, happiness, life. There are fifteen species of cranes but the best-known one has white plumage, black bushy tail and a red pop-up on the head. He may reach a height of 5m and 6m wingspan. About 1000 of them still live on the Japanese isle of Hokkaido preserved from extinction.

Sadako Sasaki was born in Hiroshima and was two years old when the bomb hit the city. She lived 2 km away from the epicenter. At the age of 12 she dreamed of becoming an olympic athlete when she was diagnosed with leukemia. She went into hospital in February 1955 where her best friend visited her and brought her an origami tsuru saying that if she made a thousand birds she would overcome her illness. In October of the same year Sadako knew she was dying and changed her wish for the thousand tsurus. She wished to complete the expected amount for Peace in the World. Friends finished the said number for her and started a campaign to raise funds for a monument for Sadako. 3000 schools started a collection and her statue with an open-winged tsuru was raised in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, on May 5th, 1958, celebrating Japanese Childrens Day. Every year, school children from all over Japan pay homage taking origami tsurus to the monument.

Christina Thornton