Rio Museum on Fire

The National Museum of Brazil in Rio is on fire. I’ve never even been there, but I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach. The loss of all that artwork, particularly indigenous art, is devastating. In general, museums do a great job preserving cultural artifacts for the future, but when something like this happens, there’s the sudden tragedy of everything being in one place at one time.

Of course it’s not just Brazil, America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan destroyed so much of our shared cultural history. And corrupt organizations like Hobby Lobby have trafficked so much of that art removing it from public access and into the hands of collectors. And I’ve still never gotten over the Library of Alexandria, who knows just how faster our civilization could have progressed if all those irreplaceable manuscripts had not been lost.

The museum was part of Rio de Janeiro’s Federal University and received a total of $121,000 a year from the Education Ministry to cover all its expenses, the museum spokesman said. This year, as of April, it had received only $14,000. The museum recently signed a contract to get $5 million from Brazil’s development bank, but the fire came before any funds were transferred, the spokesman said. –The Wall Street Journal

I’m not the most familiar with Brazilian politics, so I won’t speculate much here, but I can’t think of a better icon for the need to fight corruption and repair the Brazilian infrastructure than this. Art is supposed to be the sum experience of a culture, outliving the culture even, and to have this much lost at once is intolerable. I hope the people of Brazil are able to use this as a rallying cry to demand the reforms necessary so that a fire like this…and the conditions necessary to cause it…never happen again.


A friend in Brazil sent this link which describes what was lost. The article is in Portuguese but you can use to translate it into English.


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