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Scandinavian culture in Curitiba: 365 hands - one for every day of the year

By Sol Biderman

The Jardim Bonânico glassed-in giant gazebo

Curitiba, capital of Paraná state, seems to attract Scandinavians, although the houses (largely unheated) are definitely colder inside than those in Scandinavia in winter and the weather outside is definitely hotter in summer. The city may attract Scandinavians partly because of its well organized town planning system where the high rises are restricted to a central axis leaving the rest of the city to low density houses and parks, and what parks: The Jardim Botanico with its glassed-in giant gazebo, the Parque da Opera, with its moat filled with giant carp, and Parque Tangua, which has one of the highest waterfalls of all the world's urban parks.

No doubt it is the expectation of cool weather and a stronger, more cohesive social network among the inhabitants that has attracted Swedes, Danes, Norwegians and other Northern Europeans to the town. The presence of Scandinavian companies such as Aker, Volvo and their systems partners, as well as the Norwegian Chamber of Commerce, gives the town a special Scandinavian flair, but no one can con- fuse it with Oslo or Stockholm-even when temperatures drop to zero centigrade and everyone can see their breath on a nippy morning as they hurry about bundled up in the so-called "moda cebola" (several layers of clothing which can be peeled off, like onions, if the weather heats up at noon).

One of the first Scandinavians of note (Leif Ericson did not sail this far south) to arrive was Alfredo Andersen, an artist who arrived towards the end of the 19th century and painted remarkable works for his time well into the 1930s. The Museu Alfredo Andersen (Rua Mateus Leme, 133), containing much of his work, exhibits leading contemporary international artists, and has become a focal point of the fine arts in Paraná and southern Brazil.

Two exhibitions exemplify the wide gamut of art the museum features.

Maria Heed finds hands esthetic forms of artistic manifestation. In fact, the theme of one of her exhibits was called "Mano Mani" at the Museu Alfredo Andersen (The hand signifies different things to different people in its different forms. It can be shaped into a "figa"-an amulet in the shape of a clenched fist, with the thumb clasped between the fore and middle finger-or with fingers straightened, it can ward off the evil eye in the form of the hand of Fatima in Islamic cultures).

Heed, the Swedish artist, exhibited 365 hands (one for every day of the year-except leap year) in cutouts of copper and iron. The metals received a chemical treatment and were exposed to direct sunlight, rainfall and seawater. The colors and tones obtained revealed the states of spirit or the conditions of each day of the year-whether the sky was cheerful or cloudy or half and half. Before entering this unique form of artistic manifestation, Heed used to concentrate on engravings, some of which were exhibited at the Art Museum of Gothenburg and Ystad, Sweden. But her year of living in Italy influenced her deeply. No doubt she saw the blue hand on white walls in Sicily warding off the evil eye-part of that island's Islamic heritage.

During her visit to Brazil, Heed welcomed the warmth of the people and the weather. "It is a country that has an exuberant nature and warm people. I feel at home here!" Her works exhibited in Curitiba included copper engravings, works in paper painted in watercolors and wood panels in which she used powdered paint pigments and turpentine. The themes include a blazing tropical sun, Brazil wood ("pau brasil") and the sword of St. George, a symbol of protection of Brazilian homes, as well as the araraucaria pines and pinions of southern Brazil.

Heed was born in 1954 in Gothenburg and began to be interested in design at an early age. She participated in her first group show at the Art Hall in Gothenburg in 1978. Since then, she has had more than 30 exhibits. Heed considers art a manifestation of recapturing ancient symbols. "With the speed of modern times, people forget old traditions," she said.

Another exhibit at the same museum resulted in similar new manifestations that strongly confronted traditional academic art by the São Paulo artist Eliana Borges with her work "Copyrightby!", presenting a type of biography of the artist relating situations where she portrays the interferences she encountered since she was a child.

In one of her works "Biography in 3 by 4," she presents a series of six photographs of hers, from her childhood to adulthood, placed in chronological order and accompanied by small bags of cloth which contain some references of her life, like a lock of hair when she was a child and the calendar of the year she was born. The lock of hair reminds one of the habit of Brazilians of cutting off a lock of hair of a loved one and guarding it in a locket and wearing it around the neck, like in the TV serial, "A Moreninha".

On top of the larger images, after they are printed on cloth, she covered them with a layer of parafin to which she applied black lilies. The white lilies, which in religious dogmas are the symbol of purety, are transformed into black lilies and signify exactly the opposite. These lilies represent external interferences that occur in her life.