Rogério Duarte, Design and Tropicália

Rogério Duarte, Marginália 1 , installation view at Museo Jumex. Photo: Abigail Enzaldo, Emilio García. Courtesy Museo Jumex.

Rogério Duarte, Marginália 1, installation view at Museo Jumex. Photo: Abigail Enzaldo, Emilio García. Courtesy Museo Jumex.

Everything that is manmade has been designed, and we all engage with design every day. We have opinions about what works and what doesn’t, about what we like and why. And we have all had deeply emotional reactions to design. Do you remember the cover of your first record, or perhaps the time when a designed object failed you, like a suitcase in the middle of a long trip?

I vividly remember many record covers from my childhood. The colorfully dressed Parches (children’s band from Spain that was a hit in Mexico in the early 1980s), and many of my mother’s records, including classics like The Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and the intriguing cover of Caetano Veloso’s self-titled first album.

Recently, thanks to an exhibition at the Museo Jumex in Mexico City, I learned that the cover for Caetano Veloso (1968) was designed by Rogério Duarte (1939-2016), a Brazilian designer, poet, and philosopher who was one of the founders of the Tropicália movement. Tropicália opposed the military regime that controlled Brazil between 1964 and 1985. One of the primary ideas behind Tropicália was the concept of antropofagia, the ingestion and re-appropriation of international cultural elements to incorporate them and adapt them to a Brazilian context. Seemingly opposing concepts were “ingested” and integrated, like rock-and-roll and traditional Brazilian music, high and lowbrow culture, the modern and the archaic, the ideas of individual and collective creation. 

Originally from Ubaíra in the state of Bahia, Duarte moved to Rio de Janeiro to study industrial design at the Escola de Belas Artes and soon began working with graphic designer Aloísio Magalhães. Among the earliest examples of his work are posters for Glauber Rocha’s films Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol (Black God, White Devil, 1964)—a film that has become an icon of Brazilian cinema—, and A Idade da Terra (The age of the Earth, 1980). He also designed the posters for Arnaldo Jabor’s A Opinião Pública (A Public Opinion, 1966) and Julio Bressane’s Cara a Cara (Face to Face, 1967). 

Among the many record covers that are credited to Duarte are Caetano Veloso’s Caetano Veloso (1968), and Qualquer Coisa (1975); Gilberto Gil’s Gilberto Gil (1969), Ao Vivo (1974), and Refazenda (1975); and Gal Costa’s Cantar (1974). Other examples of his design work include many book covers, a striking pattern for government vehicles in Salvador do Bahia (1985), and a great number of institutional logos. 

In 1965, during the time he was teaching design at the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro, and because he considered it to be of importance for a developing country, Duarte published Notes on Industrial Design. In that highly philosophical text, he explains his understanding of industrial design as “the creation of forms for mass production” and lays out his broad concept regarding who should be considered an industrial designer. 

According to Duarte, the profession should include “a singer who records an album or the creator of a soft drink recipe.” He also traces the history of industrial design back to the Great Exhibition of 1851 and what he considered to be the primary movements that influenced it, primarily Art Nouveau, the Bauhaus, and the Ulm School of Design. Without explaining these movements’ histories or theories, Duarte warns of their shortcomings and their often narrow ideas about the relationship between art and design. He also integrates the concept of antropofagia to industrial design, affirming that he trusted “our [Brazil’s] power to assimilate and transform influences; we trust our anthropophagy.”

And true to his word, upon close inspection, elements from all of these movements can be seen in Duarte’s work: the fluid and sinuous lines of Art Nouveau, the geometric elements and primary colors of the Bauhaus, and the symmetrical layouts with sans-serif typeface (Helvetica) of Ulm, mixed with a noticeable influence from contemporary art movements, such as Psychedelic and Pop Art.

Unfortunately, Duarte’s prolific career was severely stunted when, in 1968, he was arrested and tortured, along with his brother Ronaldo, for their opposition to the military regime. He was held at a psychiatric hospital until 1971. After he was released, he shied away from the public eye and retreated to a state of “insile,” joined the Hare Krishna, and studied chess.

Still, he was involved with several magazines including Flor do Mal, Navilouca, DIA (Desenho Industrial de Audiovisuais) and Desígnio, which deserve a more detailed analysis. However, as is the case with many designers from Latin America, examples and references to Duarte’s work are hard to find. If you would like to learn more about Rogério Duarte’s work, I encourage you to look for Marginália 1, the most comprehensive collection of his work, edited by designer Manuel Raeder and artist Mariana Castillo Deball, under the guidance of Duarte himself, and two books published by the fantastic (but now defunct) Brazilian publisher Cosac Naify, O design gráfico brasileiro: Anos 60 and Linha do tempo do design gráfico no Brasil.