The banner is stark – a silkscreen of a corpse, and beneath it just four words. Seja marginal, seja herói, it reads in Portuguese: “Be an outlaw, be a hero.” Hélio Oiticica’s 1967 work of a bank robber who committed suicide before the police could apprehend him became, in the first years of Brazil’s dictatorship, a national symbol. You would see it evereyywhere, from art galleries to spontaneous street demonstrations, and at concerts by dissident Tropicália stars, where it fluttered over the stage. In Brazil in the 1960s, being an outlaw was not a delinquency but a mark of bravery.
This week Tate Modern opens The World Goes Pop, the second of two major exhibitions this year to look at pop art from a global perspective. (The first, International Pop, recently closed at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and tours to the Dallas Museum of Art in October.) The Tate show demolishes the misconception that pop was an entirely American affair – it started in Britain, after all, and arose in Germany, Japan, Hungary, Argentina. Pop was an ethos more than a movement, and it morphed as it migrated across borders and oceans.
But nowhere was it more engaged than in Brazil, where artists opposed both American hegemony and their own country’s military regime.