Brazilian photographer Francisco Valdean walks the streets with a cardboard box under his arm. Printed in capital letters on the box’s lid is the acronym for the Maré Traveling Museum of Images: MIIM. During the week, Valdean mostly takes his museum to students at schools inside and outside the Maré Favela complex, in Rio de Janeiro, and on weekends, he opens the museum at bar tables. Valdean takes a notebook from inside the box, where each visitor records their name and the date. He then gives a guided tour, presenting the museum’s three permanent exhibitions: mini slide viewers, photographic negatives, and stories of community life in Maré, all curated by Valdean, MIIM’s creator, director, guide, and curator.
To facilitate viewings of the negatives, Valdean carries a small light-box, but visitors can also view them using a cellphone screen. Images in the mini slide viewers fascinate children and teenagers unfamiliar with this photographic medium, while simultaneously stirring feelings of nostalgia among their elders who have used the device in the past. The images reveal the history of Maré, from the community’s formation in the 1940s, to today. MIIM tells residents important stories, such as the picture of former Maré resident Marielle Franco, the Rio city councilwoman and activist, who was photographed by Valdean in 2018, three months before her assassination.
Internal and External Agents
The MIIM collection is not yet complete, but Valdean expects to have about 100 images in each of the exhibits. After launching in 2019 with a simple, modest post on the photographer’s Facebook page, the museum had increasingly attracted the attention of interested visitors. Everything about MIIM shatters the museum concept, fostering visitor encounters and facilitating, with stories narrated through images, the circulation and exchange of experiences in the Maré community. And for anyone who may have doubts, this museum inside a cardboard box it to be taken very seriously.
MIIM is the result of Valdean’s daily encounters as a resident of the community, his work as a photographer and his academic studies — Valdean has worked for years discussing the ways images about Maré are produced by internal and external agents. The MIIM collection brings together old and recent photographs about the culture, daily life and politics of the 16 favelas that form Maré, a territory occupied by over 140,000 inhabitants. Maré also has the largest number of museums in a favela in Brazil (and probably in the world). There are a total of three museums in Maré, two of which are linked to local NGOs: the Museu da Maré opened in 2006 as a traditional (brick-and-mortar) museum and the Maré a Céu Aberto (Maré Open Air Museum), which is an experiential museum currently under development.
MIIM, however, is a different kind of museum in the sense that it goes to where the residents are. “It’s a roving museum,” says Valdean. The experience of roving around has marked photographer Valdean’s own story in many ways. One was when he moved as a teenager from Cachoeira Grande, a village in the interior of Ceará, to Rio de Janeiro; the other was his job as a street hawker in downtown Rio before enrolling in university.
MIIM’s impact has encouraged residents to revisit their own personal archives and memories. Valdean says he has come to realize that “every person has their own ‘museum’”. During a visit to MIIM, one student at a Maré public school stated that his “grandmother is a museum.” Despite the student’s joking tone, the statement reveals that the experience of visiting MIIM provokes a rediscovery of the word “museum” and its space.
Orality and Memory
MIIM makes visitors question what a memory device or space is, and provokes a certain awareness in residents about their role as a living museum and guardians of the memory of their community, something Malian writer Amadou Hampatê Bâ brings up in discussing orality and memory of African traditions. Valdean, in turn, takes photography as a memory device and, through that, establishes a dialogue with MIIM visitors where the individual memories of each person — guide and visitor — meet the collective memories of Maré.
Francisco Valdean studied photography at the Escola de Fotógrafos Populares. He has a bachelor’s in Social Sciences and a master’s degree in Visual Anthropology, both from the State University of Rio de Janeiro. He is currently a PhD student in the Arts at the same university. Part of his work as a photographer and curator is described on the site “Escritas Visuais” (Visual Writing): http://franciscovaldean.com.br/
Miriane Peregrino is a researcher, journalist and cultural producer. She holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and she is currently conducting a research residency at the University of Mannheim, Germany.
Translated from Portuguese by Zoë Perry