Poet, Prophet, Patron of Military Service or Activist? Who decides the fate of a bust?
Texto: Karen Steinman Martini. Modelagem 3D: Beatriz Barbosa de Lima, David Atalla Aly, Laura Sayuri de Haro, Nathan Lavansdoski Menegon, Roberta Kimberly Calandrine Azevedo dos Santos, Rodrigo Simões Ferraz do Amaral. Pós-Produção: Luís Felipe Abbud, João Generoso Gonzales.
The bust of Olavo Bilac is a sculptural fragment of the Monument to Olavo Bilac. Paulista, in 1922, in celebration of the Centenary of Independence, it was dismantled in 1936 ahead of road works on the site. The work, by the Swedish sculptor and professor at the Lyceum of Arts and Crafts William Zadig, was commissioned by the Academic Center XI de Agosto, with support from the Liga Nacionalista and the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, in honor of the poet shortly after his death (1918). He honored the so-called ‘prince of poets’ with a set of sculptures celebrating his most famous poems: Escoteiro [The Scout], Beijo eterno [Eternal Kiss], Pátria [Homeland], Pátria e família [Homeland and Family], Via Láctea [Milky Way], O caçador de esmeraldas [The Emerald Hunter] and A tarde [The Afternoon]. At the top sat the bust of Bilac himself.
Commissioned for the celebrations of the Centenary of Independence, the monument is part of a period called by a chronicler of the time, remembered by Nicolau Sevcenko, as ‘statuary fever.’ For the bust, the Swedish sculptor depicted Mr. Bilac in action; known as the prophet of activism, he was conceived with the raised arm of an orator. The pedestal is replaced by a large mass, which takes the place of a high rock, which figures modeled in homage to the author’s poems ‘Pátria’ [Homeland] and the collection of sonnets ‘Via Láctea’ [Milky Way] climb up. Around his monument there were reliefs depicting decisive moments in the history of Brazil, in which the masses acted as the main protagonists.
In its original configuration, on the Belvedere on Avenida Paulista, the monument had a great aesthetic and symbolic impact. This setting was important for the official celebrations of the city, committed to forming a new identity linked to modernism. To this identity, Bilac assumed a central role in a narrative constructed to demonstrate a vigorous effort for a transcendental conquest, in his civic and engaged role in the set of nationalist reforms in force. In 1915, Bilac spoke at the Largo de São Francisco Law School, in São Paulo, defending a program to reform national political practices through education, compliance with electoral rules, guaranteeing the integrity of the vote and the implementation of mandatory military service. This inspired the creation of patriotic associations, including the Liga Nacionalista [Nationalist League] and Liga da Defesa Nacional [National Defense League].
Nicolau Sevcenko describes the Dia da Bandeira [Flag Day] celebrations as a ceremony held at night. Starting at Praça Antônio Prado, in which a procession, or march, of people singing hymns, headed to Avenida Paulista. Its apotheotic end took place in front of the monument to Olavo Bilac, with a privileged view of the city below and a fireworks show. Sevcenko states that ‘Bilac’s evolution from poetry to action and the way in which he was thereby transformed into an idol of the new generation clearly reveal what this process of cultural change consisted of.’
After a brief period in which the monument was praised, however, there was a campaign against it. There are several records that describe the monument as ‘ugly.’ Such as Álbum Iconográfico da Avenida Paulista [Iconographic Album of Avenida Paulista], by Benedito Lima de Toledo, and the dossier ‘Exame res non verba,’ published by the newspaper A Gazeta, which defended its demolition. In February 1935, the newspaper Gazeta announced the removal of the monument to Olavo Bilac from Avenida Paulista due to urban construction, an action which was celebrated by the newspaper: ‘The gesture of Mayor Fábio Prado only deserves applause (…)’. The monument’s several bronze pieces were then separated and taken to storage in Várzea do Carmo. According to Benedito Lima de Toledo ‘like Tiradentes, Olavo Bilac was dismembered.’
The Bust of Olavo Bilac then remained at the Depósito for fifty-two years, until it was reinstalled on Avenida Sargento Mario Kozel Filho, in 1988, near the Círculo Militar in Ibirapuera, in 1988, by Jânio Quadros in his second term as mayor. For its installation, a new pedestal was commissioned, which elevates Bilac’s figure to a scale that distances him from eye level, however, not with the monumentality of his position in the original monument. The implantation emphasizes the independent character of the work, showing no signs that it originally belonged to a sculptural set. The area in which it is installed is fenced, belonging to the Southeast Military Command (II Army), keeping passersby at a distance. In 1988, a marble plaque was installed next to the monument on which Bilac is described as the patron of military service and prince of Brazilian poets.
The installation of the work was announced by the Folha de São Paulo newspaper at the time, along with the reinstallation of the statue of Apóstolo São Paulo [St. Paul the Apostle]. In the article ‘Prefeito devolve dois monstromentos a SP’ [Mayor returns two ‘monsterments’ to SP], the role of the private sector in financing restoration work and the conservative character of both figures is highlighted, announcing that the measure favors the revision of concepts around monumentalization in the city. Also according to the newspaper, ‘the disbelief in the artistic value of all the pieces, united or separated, of the monument to Olavo Bilac (…) seems unanimous, but its importance as signs – the same for the Greeks and Trojans, the military of the II Army that get the bust or the law students that get the Beijo Eterno – seems out of the question.’
On December 16, 2020, the Bust to Olavo Bilac was restored, being inaugurated in celebration of the Day of the Reserve. The commemorative date was instituted in 1939 by Getúlio Vargas on Bilac’s birth date, ‘to remember the importance of the role of each Brazilian before the Nation,’ as stated in a publication by the Military Command of the Southeast. At that time, the plaque installed by Jânio Quadros was replaced by a new marble plaque. It still maintains his title as patron of the Brazilian military service, as well as the description ‘poet and journalist, composer of the Bandeira Anthem and founding member of the Academia Brasileira de Letras.’
In its relocation, from its original placement in a sculptural set composed of various figures representing both Bilac’s literary works and civic activities, to the municipal warehouses, and finally to the fenced area in the Southeastern Military Command, the figure of Bilac himself is associated to different signs and claims, in which the very form of interaction with the monument, from an affective point of view and as a reference of the subject in the urban space, is metamorphosed.
- Giselle Beiguelman. Da cidade interativa às memórias corrompidas: arte, design e patrimônio histórico na cultura urbana contemporânea. Tese de Livre Docência apresentada à Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo da Universidade de São Paulo, 2016.
- CMSE homenageia reservistas com busto de Olavo Bilac, Patrono do Serviço Militar. Página Oficial do Comando Militar do Sudeste, 16 de dez de 2020.
- Douglas Nascimento. Monumento a Olavo Bilac. São Paulo Antiga, 28 de mai de 2015.
- Prefeito devolve dois monstromentos a SP. Folha de São Paulo, 20 de abr de 1988.
- Fanny Tamisa Lopes. Cenografia e paisagem urbana: um estudo de caso na cidade de São Paulo. Dissertação apresentada à Universidade Estadual de Campinas, 2012.
- Nicolau Sevcenko. Transformações da Linguagem e Advento da Cultura Modernista no Brasil. Estudos Históricos, Rio de Janeiro, vol. 6, n. 11, 1993.
- Thaís Chang Waldman. Entre batismos e degolas: (des)caminhos bandeirantes em São Paulo. Tese de doutorado. Universidade de São Paulo. Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas, 2018.