Extended | “Armadillo: Soccer, Adversity and the Culture of the Caatinga”

(Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

The Museu de Arte do Rio (MAR) aims at politicizing the World Cup mascot, the armadillo or Fuleco. The exhibition “Armadillo: Soccer, Adversity and the Culture of the Caatinga” combines surprises, fun and critic questionings over the symbolic football universe and the caating, the armadillo’s natural habitat, an endangered species that by becoming a ball to protect itself frm predators, becomes an easy prey for men.

The caatinga, the only exclusively Brazilian ecosystem, a place of resistance and adversitiy, is a great source of both native culture and colonial traces, seen in this exhibition through the figures of Antonio Conselheiro, Lampião, the retreatants, writers Rachel de Queiroz and Graciliano Ramos, the Cinema Novo movement, among others.

Reflecting a cultural diversity, the anti-heroic face of Brazilian football, however five-time world champion, comes up in matches, either downhill or in the mud, and in a team that never scored a goal. Still, with square balls, three goalposts and Marxist thesis, the art on display goes from social drama to the joys in football matches through historical images and contemporary works such as by artists Julio Leite, Lenora de Barros, Pablo Lobato, Rodrigo Braga, Tony Camargo, Celso Brandão, Miguel Rio Branco, Lula Wanderley, Igor Vidor, Rubens Gerchman, Antônio Bandeira, Ana Vitória Mussi, Nelson Leirner, Delson Uchoa, Heloísa Juaçaba and Letícia Parente.

“The exhibition will not show great moves, but rather charm the public with the way football can generate ideas, poetics, critical images, moving situations and establish territorial relationships”, explains curator Paulo Herkenhoff. “It is like a microcosmos, a microphysic within society. That is why the match is not as important as everything football stands for, politics wise.”

Apart from the exhibition space, “Armadillo: Soccer, Adversity and the Culture of the Caatinga” spreads out in the museum occupying the pillars and the walkway that link Escola do Olhar to the Exhibition Pavillion. In the pillars, synthetic grass covers the floor, foosball and button football tables provide unusual activities to visitors. Teachers and students from Benjamin Constant Institute join the team Educativo do MAR to carry out activities, like pottery workshops.


The choice for the armadillo and the caatinga was motivated by a research in Ceará that states a poor child knows only half the vocabulary a middle-class child knows. An experience in accelerating vocabulary knowledge in Ceará schools, however, resulted in achievementes in all subjects. “With that in mind, we want the “Cup at MAR” legacy to be in the field of education”, says Herkenhoff, who is also the museum cultural director. “By expanding a child’s vocabulary, art can enhance greatly their contact with the world”, he concludes.

(Content originally from: http://www.sopacultural.com/)

The armadillo isn’t blue. Its brownish shell warns us that the three-banded armadillo is not bound to the skies, but to the ground. The armadillo-ball can’t fly, but it has a form of defence: It rolls itself into a ball as a protection against not knowing how to dig a hole in which to hide. It is to this feature that it owes its Portuguese name tatu-bola: “ball-armadillo”. Protected against natural predators, it is easy prey for man and is, therefore, a victim of environmental imbalance. Everything about the three-banded armadillo lends itself to the hot red ground of its habitat – the caatinga –, which are the dry sertão hinterlands which spread through part of the North and Center-West of Brazil, and through a large part of the North-East.

Some have reduced the three-banded armadillo from World Cup mascot – an opportunity to develop into a reflection on a global scale – to the symbol of soccer worldwide. A sad fate. The expectations of environmental protection movements were that the World Cup would contribute towards saving the armadillo from extinction and towards the increase of appreciation for its habitat. Hence they gave it a name which stems from the combination of two Portuguese words, FUteboL (soccer) + ECOlogia (ecology) = Fuleco. The caatinga, the only biome that is exclusively Brazilian, is both abundant and arid at the same time. A place that is entwined with misery and branched with immense sociocultural richness, its history and its culture of resistance are marked by adversity.

The choice of the three-banded armadillo as the mascot for the World Cup launches, here, the political challenge of this intense moment in the country’s public life: how to consider the ball – the game in its most common form, as well as the sport in its professional aspect – from the perspective of the armadillo? Certainly a kind of armadillo-thinking can ask productive questions to reflect on the present and future of Brazil. Questioning the stereotypes of the ball, and therefore football, the armadillo questions the territorialities that appear alongside it: what type of Brazil is shown by this creature, and what Brazils might be supressed by the blue shell of the mascot version?

Armadillo: Soccer, Adversity and the Culture of the Caatinga establishes itself from the point of view of the living creature itself. The imaginary of the caatinga, of the armadillo and of the ball conducts itself here through the perspective of the adversity that governs the history of Brazil. Art and cultural artefacts roam the bright and hot ecosystem of the caatinga, the armadillo in the mythology of indigenous societies, the symbolic and political invention of the sertão – drought, cangaço (a form of social banditry), social literature, the cinema novo movement, contemporary art –, even the soccer of the adverse ball (not the FIFA standard ball, but the irregular armadillo-ball that the creature rolls into), the game understood as an important form of sociability and of resistance. Starting from the armadillo, it is possible to experience the ball in its reinvention of spherical perfection, getting close to the political force and to the aesthetical potential of the forms whose adversity builds up an energy that is ready to explode.

Finally, the choice of the armadillo and of its caatinga home owes itself primarily to the research in the state of Ceará which concluded that a poor child possesses only half the vocabulary of a middle class child. An experiment took place in the caatinga surrounding the acceleration of the acquirement of vocabulary in schools and resulted in advances in all disciplines. What can art do to broaden a child’s vocabulary? Starting from this quest that is crucial to MAR, begins the game of the World Cup, because the legacy of the museum to schools will be educational projects. Eduardo Frota and Paulo Herkenhoff, curators

“Armadillo: Soccer, Adversity and the Culture of the Caatinga”, with Julio Leite, Lenora de Barros, Pablo Lobato, Rodrigo Braga e Tony Camargo, among others.
Extended until 19th October

Museu de Arte do Rio
Praça Mauá, 5 – Centro
T: 21 3031-2741
For more information: www.museudeartedorio.org.br

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