Revolução Periférica

The statue of Borba Gato on fire in São Paulo, 24 July 2021. Photo: Rafael Vilela

“It was a hot day in São Paulo on Saturday and, on a busy intersection in the southwest of the city shortly after midday, it got hotter still. Under bright sunlight, a truck pulled up, its box trailer piled with car tyres. A group of around fifteen people, wearing balaclavas, proceeded to lay them at the feet of the statue of the 17th-century settler Borba Gato. In a carefully coordinated operation the pyre was then set alight: huge flames and great clouds of thick black smoke engulfed the ten-metre figure, captured by a professional photographer and videographer. Uploaded within minutes, all against the backdrop of the anti-Bolsonaro protests currently sweeping the country, Brazil’s first foray into the global statue wars was soon making the inevitable noise on social media. An Instagram account of a group calling themselves Revolução Periférica (Peripheral Revolution – a reference to the disenfranchised of the city’s outer suburbs), who seem to be the authors of the action, acted as a digital hub from which photos and video clips were endlessly shared. By Sunday the pictures had made it to most of the newspaper front-pages too; inside politicians, activists and art historians offered their opinions.

Manuel de Borba Gato was a Portuguese bandeirante – the name for the fortune hunters that came to Brazil from Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He and his family cast thousands of indigenous Brazilians into slavery; many índios were taken away from their own lands and put to work on a vast estate that lay where the São Paulo district of Pinheiros now stands, a little north of the statue commemorating these violent exploits. Like most of these buccaneers, Borba Gato also acted as a quasi-military force for the Portuguese state, forcing indigenous resistance into submission, often exterminating whole populations if necessary.”