Johann Jacobs Museum
Seefeldquai 17
8008 Zürich
Tue 4pm-10pm, Sat/Sun 11am-5pm
Admission (adults over 25): CHF 7
+41 (0) 44 388 61 90

Coffee from Helvécia

African Brazil, St. Gallen embroidery and a modernist utopia

August 29, 2017 – January 28, 2018


Sunday, November 5, 2017, 3 pm

Conversation between Denise Bertschi and Roger M. Buergel

One of the 19th century’s largest coffee plantations, located in northeastern Brazil, was squarely in Swiss hands. Today’s Helvécia bears almost no traces of the forms of life and community it once gave rise to while the encounter between European migrants and African slaves or their freed progeny remains to be properly understood and digested. More than a hundred years later, another coffee plantation would become the setting for a social experiment: In the late 1930s, Brazilian architect and writer Flávio de Carvalho (1899-1973) founded an independent republic for “naked people” (i.e. those who reject categorization by social or ethnic affiliation, nationality, gender, etc.) at Fazenda Capuava.

The exhibition focuses on forms of community that emerge from migrant destinies, slavery, demand for goods, working conditions and utopian fantasies. Exhibits including Brazilian archival documents, watercolor paintings from Pinacoteca and artefacts from the Museu Afro Brasil in São Paulo, and a contemporary video- and textile piece by artist Denise Bertschi shed light on a key chapter in the history of Swiss colonialism and global interconnections.

«Bem Vindo a Helvécia», Denise Bertschi, 2017

Concept: Marcelo Rezende (Director of the Archive of the Avant-Gardes in Dresden) with Eduardo Simantob

In cooperation with

Supported by

Credit: Bosset de Luze, Fazenda Pombal, Colonia Leopoldina in Bahia, between 1820 and 1840, drawing watercolor on paper, 36,3 x 61,1 cm, collection of Pinacoteca do Estado de Sao Paulo in Brasilien, donated by Fundação Estudar, 2007