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(PhD Studentship) ‘Our poor, beautiful and culturally rich country’: the contemporary challenge of Brazilian design

The deadline for this studentship has now passed.

An AHRC-funded V&A/Birkbeck CDP studentship, starting October 2014

Applications are invited for an AHRC-funded PhD studentship to undertake innovative research on contemporary design practice with a specific focus on designer-led community projects in Brazil. Focusing on the work of selected designers, the project aims to contribute to current research on contemporary design in a world in which the aesthetic experience associated with cultural specificity increasingly permeates consumption. ‘Translating the Brazilian identity into design is the most important challenge for us’, said Humberto, one of the renowned Campana brothers. ‘The challenge is to make a portrait of our poor, beautiful and culturally rich country.’

In a globalized and increasingly technological, virtual world, local, culturally distinctive artefacts are acquiring particular value. Brazil’s complex colonial past and rich history of European, Japanese and Middle Eastern immigration provides the Brazilian designer with a unique cultural baggage. Processes of emulation, destruction and learning form part of the creative and critical responses to exogenous influences that have informed the development of Brazilian products at different levels throughout the twentieth century, but it is from the 1990s that Brazilian designers were able to tap into the country’s rich traditions of craftsmanship, associating their practice with a more global view on product and furniture design. The contemporary challenge of Brazilian design goes well beyond making a ‘portrait’ of the country but utilizing design as a tool to initiate social and cultural change.

This interdisciplinary PhD project might focus on some of these key research questions:

  • How is ‘cultural specificity’ in Brazilian design currently valued by the international art world?
  • What are the tensions in the relationship between design and craft in Brazil in the context of contemporary global capitalism?
  • How can notions of authenticity, cultural heritage and identity be understood under the influence of global markets, aesthetics and agency?
  • How can the relationships between local, regional, national and global levels of interaction and translation in the making of innovative design products in Brazil be mapped out?
  • Where should the projects and products be documented and interpreted and in what form?
  • In what ways can the relationships above be translated into exhibition displays and inform museum collection practice and policy, and the V&A’s in particular?

This PhD studentship will be held at Birkbeck, University of London and the principal supervisor is Dr Luciana Martins, Director of the Centre for Iberian and Latin American Visual Studies (CILAVS). The second supervisor is Dr Jana Scholze, Curator of Contemporary Furniture at the V&A. The project will be supervised collaboratively, giving the students full access to curatorial expertise and networks in the V&A Museum.

It is envisaged that the student will engage with the V&A’s existing collections from twentieth-century and twenty-first century Brazil and undertake a period of fieldwork in Brazil (the form and duration will depend on the case studies selected). The student is expected to attend training and other activities the Museum organises for them, and will also be encouraged to spend some time working as a volunteer with a Department to gain additional work experience. The student will also contribute to the organization of a workshop with academics, practitioners and museum curators at the V&A in collaboration with CILAVS based on discussions about the last twenty years of rapid change in Brazil’s design industries in order to discuss issues of documentation, interpretation and long-term legacy.

The studentship funding is subject to final confirmation by the AHRC but will be fully funded for three years full-time (or five years part-time) and will begin in October 2014. It will cover tuition fees at home/EU rate and provide a maintenance award at RCUK rates (£15,863 per year in 2014/15). In addition the AHRC provides an extra £550 per annum for Collaborative Doctoral Award students, while the V&A provides additional financial support (up to £1,000 a year) to the student towards their travel and related research costs.

How to Apply

Applicants should have a good undergraduate degree and a Master’s qualification in Design History, Museum Studies, History of Art, Cultural Geography, Latin American Studies or other relevant discipline. Ideally, the student should have a good knowledge of Portuguese. The student will need to satisfy AHRC academic and residency eligibility criteria.

Applicants should complete the application form and send it to Anthony Shepherd, the administrator for the MPhil/PhD programmes in the School of Arts at Birkbeck College ( no later than 5.00pm on Friday 14 March 2014.

Please note, this form asks applicants to provide the names and contact details of two academic referees (including one connected to the applicant’s most recent qualification). Applicants must also ask these referees to submit their references commenting on the candidate’s suitability for the award by the deadline.

Interviews will be held at the V&A Museum, London on Friday 21 March 2014.

For questions, inquiries, or an informal discussion please contact Dr Luciana Martins