The late Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer was illuminated by that which we call talent. Were it not for his immense talent in imagining how to use an empty space to construct human dwellings, he would not have had the recognition that he received during his lifetime and that will continue throughout history.
He would not have created works of recognized genius, however, had he not used his talent in an innovative manner, breaking with old standards, dreaming of forms seemingly impossible to construct, those capable of surprising anyone who saw and used them or lived in them.
That innovative, imaginative talent would have remained undeveloped were it not for his perseverance, not possessed by all talented people. Years of labor were necessary to transform his dreams into works.
Chance also favored the creation of the myth. Were it not for the coincidence of being a contemporary of ex-President Juscelino Kubitschek and the existence of the national will to construct a new Brazil, a new Capital, using what existed in the architectural vanguard — something that was also happening at the time in music and film — he would have been a great architect but not “The Architect of the Century.”
Life, outside of his work, was also fundamental in the consolidation of his prestige. Had he died soon after the construction of Brasília, he would have been a good architect, but he would not be the mythic figure consecrated today. Niemeyer lived a long time and discovered how to use his force of character to confront life’s impediments. He confronted dictatorships, the loss of friends, incomplete projects. He demonstrated solidarity and coherence and these qualities aided in constructing the myth.
Had he not learned to read, write, count and do math, however, none of this would have happened. Without schools and teachers throughout his life, Niemeyer’s talent would not have flourished. Niemeyer was the contemporary of many talented people who were denied the opportunity to flourish, geniuses who could have developed their talent had they been given the chance offered only by schooling.
Throughout our 200 years of independence, due to slavery, exclusion and the absence of equal opportunities for each Brazilian, we suppressed millions of great professionals and hundreds of potential geniuses through the lack of quality schools that would have given them incentives and helped them to develop their personal talent.
At the moment in which all are bowing before Niemeyer’s genius, anyone who knew him knows his political posture, knows that he would like, in his honor, for Brazil to do what it has refused to do for centuries: to extend to everyone the opportunity that he had, to create an educational revolution assuring the chance for each child to be a Niemeyer.
The best way to venerate Niemeyer is to remember the other Niemeyers who did not flourish.
It is painful to lose Niemeyer with all his talent, but that, after all, is everyone’ s destiny. More painful still is the knowledge that we are missing the chance to create other Niemeyers because in life they were not stimulated to flourish. Let us pay homage to a genius by doing whatever is necessary to avoid impeding others from flourishing.
Cristovam Buarque (CBUARQUE@senado.gov.br) is a professor at the University of Brasília and a senator (PDT-DF).
Translated by Linda Jerome (LinJerome@cs.com).