While this blog may have been quiet these past four weeks, things in Brasil certainly have not. Those 31 days between the last post and now witnessed me playing an early morning pick up soccer game with a handful of Brazilians after staying out until 5am at a birthday party the night before (this is probably the most Brazilian sentence I have ever written), shooting 3 fashion related events (Thelure fashion show, a pre-carnival fashion shoot, and the Schutz 2015 Fall Collection release party) and of course, spending 10 days in Rio de Janeiro soaking up everything that is Carnaval (seriously, I did everything from being in the middle of a block party to renting a tuxedo so I could attend a $2,000 a ticket (I wasn’t paying!) ball). All of these experiences are certainly worth writing about and should be transcribed soon, however today’s post is about a recent collection of days in which I discovered a tremendous amount of stillness and clarity.
In the 7 weeks I have been in Brasil, with so many new life transitions to work through, it has been difficult to narrow in on the balance between finding my feet as a photographer and making sure to experience São Paulo. The early stages of a new career path are rife with challenges. Navigating them 6,000 miles from home in an unfamiliar culture adds on an inexplicable amount of complexity. I threw myself into the fire and faced these challenges head on, but recently began to feel I was leaning too far in one direction. I wasn’t giving myself enough time to simply get lost in my new city. It is out of this context a simple idea was born: I would spend every day this week visiting a new museum – “Museum Week.”
Before I start my recap I would like to send you to a short article recently written by a friend of mine about the idea of taking oneself out on a date. This was my experience everyday this past week. I attended every single one of these museums by myself and spent hours meandering through their many galleries at my own pace. I saw what I wanted to see. I went where I wanted to go. I did whatever I wanted to do. So much of the still and calm I found during Museum Week is attributed directly to spending time experiencing culture by myself. There is a richness embedded in spending time in this manner and I urge all of you, no matter how scary it might feel, to experience this at least once.
Monday – Parque Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires Park)
As it turns out, the first day of Museum Week was not spent at a museum at all. After discovering most museums are closed on Monday I instead decided to explore a small pocket park nearby. Parque Buenos Aires (BA) is a short 20 minute walk from my house, although I had to traverse possibly the steepest hill in São Paulo to get there. The hike was worth it though because BA quickly became my favorite place in all of São Paulo. There are many rolling meandering paths crisscrossing the park carving out space for grassy slopes and children’s playgrounds. The backside of the park rises up to a circular clearing where a giant stone statue quietly anchors the void. Wooden benches surround the clearing and it was here I took up residence for the afternoon. Enveloped by dampened noises of the city, a light breeze rustling the trees overhead, children’s laughter echoing off the paths and a spontaneous thai chi class which broke out in front of me I was perfectly content to sit among the locals and ponder life. I had finally carved out time for stillness and all of the previous 7 weeks coalesced before me as thoughts and words poured from me filling the pages of my journal. After 3 hours of soaking up life on my bench, I realized I discovered the perfect start to Museum Week. This week was going to be about finding a stillness each and every day to fully experience the culture around me. Quite honestly, even if I had not visited a single museum the rest of the week, I unquestionably would have still deemed Museum Week a huge success.
Tuesday – Museu de Arte de São Paulo (São Paulo Museum of Art)
Fortunately I did make it to museums this week and Tuesday found me at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP). First off, this building is just cool (and yes, that is a technical architectural term). Secondly, I discovered when I arrived that Tuesdays are free. As I meandered up to the ticket counter the man sitting behind the glass just threw a ticket my way and flashed me a thumbs up. Talk about a sweet way to begin my first museum visit. I spent the next few hours navigating my way through the museum’s diverse collection thinking about how each artist used color, particular methods they used to move the audience’s eye around the painting and how they conveyed feeling through their work. One image in particular caught my eye and caused me to pause a little longer than the others.
It took me a second to realize why and then it hit me (thanks painting title!); this was a painting of the Salisbury Cathedral. When I was in England in May of 2012 I went to visit the cathedral as part of my trip to Stonehenge. These moments of connection are one of my favorite aspects about traveling. Here I was in Brazil looking at a painting by an Italian about a place I’ve been to in England. It’s like traveling somewhere and then watching a movie the next week that’s set in the same location and seeing places you recognize. Only this time it was with a 200 year old painting.
MASP had a particularly fantastic exhibition featuring many of the heavy hitters in the world of art and I spent the rest of my time there hanging with Picasso, Rembrandt, Modigliani, Monet, Matisse and Van Gogh among others. When the afternoon shifted into evening I left MASP to head over to the Schutz release event which was a good 20 minute walk from the museum. Walking through a small park across the street and down various streets of São Paulo I thought to myself just how beautiful of a day this was. I spent all afternoon consuming culture (for free!) and was now on my way to take pictures of a fun event for a few hours. Everything I hope my life can be about can be summed up by this day.
Wednesday – Parque Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires Park)
Yes, that is correct. On Wednesday I returned to BA to spend another afternoon/evening amongst the wooden benches and laughing children. My late morning and early afternoon were graced with lovely conversations with people from back home and by the time I finished them all up it was only a few hours from closing time for my planned museum that day. So I called an audible and went back to the park to finish up some thoughts I hadn’t fully seen through to their completion. Going back to BA the second time confirmed that this park was indeed a special place. The same level of calmness I felt during my first visit was still present and that stillness really allowed me to connect. I love this place.
Thursday – Museu de Arte Sacra & Pinacoteca do Estado de Sao Paulo
I made up for the lack of a museum Wednesday by fitting in two on Thursday. My first stop was at the Museu de Arte Sacra (Sacred Art Museum of Sao Paulo). This was a small museum in the Luz Monastery which contains one of the most important collections of sacred art accumulated by the Sao Paulo Archdiocese during the 20th century. The exhibits are housed in a collection of small rooms and a hallway which encircles a courtyard. While it was certainly interesting to see the evolution of religious artifacts I could only look at so many crosses, alter pieces, and small carved statues of saints before my mind began to wander. The building itself though had such a presence of calm about it (which I attribute to it being in a Monastery) and in the hallway, on every side of the courtyard were large open windows with perfect little bench seats.
As my interest in the artifacts waned I sat down in one of these seats and looked out on the courtyard. The hardness of the wood beneath me was softened by the warm sun, contrast of green grass and blue sky, and birds periodically diving in to the bird bath in the center of the square. I sat here for close to 30 minutes breathing deep the history of the building and the calmness of the square.
The afternoon ticked away and the museum’s closing time fast approached. I headed back to the entrance to pick up my bag and stepped out from the interior calmness of the monastery into the hustle and bustle of the busy street. My next destination, Pinacoteca do Estado de Sao Paulo was only a few blocks away and with the late evening sun on my face I began to make my way.
I arrived at the Pinacoteca do Estado de Sao Paulo around 5pm but needed to wait until 6pm to go in because on Thursdays it was free after 6 (smart planning Josh!). Luckily there was enough to keep me occupied as I waited. The museum is located within Luz Park and directly across the street from Luz train station. I had been warned before I left that morning that both the park and station were not exactly the safest places and I had to keep my eyes peeled for hookers, drug dealers, and transvestites. I did not find either to be particularly dangerous but like most train stations around the world, Luz station certainly attracted an interesting collection of characters. I walked around and through the station marveling at the 19th century architecture and the coming and going of trains.
I still had time to kill after the station so I sought out and found a nice bench in the park to sit and people watch. It was a very busy day in the park and a constant stream of people filed past my bench keeping my eyes entertained until it was time for my second free entrance into a museum this week.
The Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo is a huge and architecturally interesting building. Tons of exposed brick and steel, large open galleries, suspended bridges traversing expansive voids made the building almost more interesting than the art. But make no mistake, the collection at the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo is impressive as it is São Paulo’s oldest art museum and holds some of the most important and relevant pieces of Brazilian art. It was a fantastic experience to be exposed to such an onslaught of visually compelling art that I had never seen before. I may not have been familiar with many of the artists but I took notes on a few of my favorites and have added them to my cultural repertoire. Chalk up museums number 2 and 3 of Museum Week as a rousing success.
Friday – Museu de Arte Contemporanea (Museum of Contemporary Art)
Friday rolled around and the museum on my list for the day was the Museu de Arte Contemporanea. This is a HUGE museum. It is connected to the University of São Paulo and its impressive collection of over 10,000 pieces is housed in three separate buildings spread across the city. My destination for the day was MAC Ibirapuera, a 8 story building on the edge of Ibirapuera Park. As with most contemporary art museums, the exhibits explored many factions of the art world. It was a nice way to end Museum Week as many of the pieces here were in stark contrast to the more traditional pieces I saw earlier in the week. The pieces challenged my thoughts and in many ways helped many of the thoughts I had throughout the week crystalize into tangible elements I could apply to my life. Of course, this was one of my goals for Museum Week and I was happy to find I was successful in this endeavor.
Museum Week Conclusions
Overall, Museum week was an immense success. There are still more museums I want to visit (looking at you Museum of Image and Sound), but I made a huge dent in the list. The grand total turned out to be 4 museums, 2 parks, and 1 event photo shoot. I found my new favorite spot in all of São Paulo (Parque Buenos Aires) and for all my outings paid the equivalent of $1 for all four museums. I found moments of stillness each and every day and took in a lot of São Paulo’s rich culture. I also filled my journal with thoughts that have changed the way I view my life (and work) and ones I will carry with me for the rest of my life. While I know not everyone has the type of time I am currently enjoying to go visit a museum once a day, I hope the one thing you take away from this week of mine is the importance of setting aside time for yourself. Even if it is only once a week, it is important to create space for stillness and calmness to occupy your life, however it is you find it. I hope you all have a lovely week ahead and that you find your moments of stillness.
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