The Metamorphoses

Madalena Schwartz
The Metamorphoses

11.04.21— 03.14.22
Gallery 3. Level 1

MALBA opens the exhibition The Metamorphoses, with a photographic essay of Madalena Schwartz (Budapest 1921 – São Paulo 1993) in which transvestites and cross dressers of the underground scene of São Paulo in the middle of the military dictatorship – the first half of the 1970s – are portrayed. This exhibition is a collaboration between MALBA and the Brazilian Moreira Salles Institute (IMS). This exhibit has previously taken place at the institute’s São Paulo branch.  

The exhibition also displays a brief overview of Latin American photography dedicated to trans life in that epoch, with works by different artists and collectives from Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and other countries in the region. All together there are 112 photos by Schwartz on view and more than 70 historical pieces, such as newspapers, films and other documents providing the context in which the photographer created her work.

Gonzalo Aguilar, member of the Artistic Committee of MALBA and professor of Brazilian and Portuguese Literature at the University of Buenos Aires, and Samuel Titan Jr., executive coordinator of the Moreira Salles Institute and professor of Literary Theory at the University of São Paulo, curated the exhibition.  

Starting point of the exhibition is Schwartz’s trajectory, whose oeuvre is being cared for by the IMS. The great Brazilian photographer was born in 1921 in Budapest and moved to Buenos Aires at the age of twelve. She grew up in the Argentinean capital, married and had two children. In 1960, just before turning 40, she moved with her family to São Paulo, where she opened a laundromat in the city center.

Her life would change when mid 1960s one of her sons won a photo camera in a television game show. Schwartz was directly drawn to the artefact and started to follow courses at the legendary Foto Cine Club Bandeirante. At almost 50, she started a new and surprising career, which transformed her completely, and showed her unique expressive being. 

This exhibition focuses on a very specific set of photos of Schwartz: previously published in the book Crisálidas (2012). These photos show the world of transvestites and cross dressers in the 1970s in the heart of São Paulo. The subject-matters are people she got to know in her daily life, from the streets between her laundromat and the Copan Building – an enormous skyscraper, designed by Oscar Niemeyer – where she lived with her family and had her studio.

Being a theater lover, Schwartz started portraying personalities, such as the members of the Dzi Croquettes group, singer Ney Matogrosso, actress Elke Maravilha and Argentine performer Patricio Bisso (also a neighbor at the Copan). At the same time she also started photographing lesser known personalities from São Paulo’s night life. Most of these portraits were made in her improvised studio at home, in an intimate atmosphere of mutual respect and collaboration.  

Aside from Schwartz’s photos, the exhibition features copies of avant-garde newspapers Lampião da Esquinaand Chana com Chana (of the gay and lesbian community of the time), film posters of for example La reina diabla (1974) and El beso de la mujer araña (1985), television clips and photos of personal archives, displaying a critique of the then current conservatism. Also on view is a map of the center of São Paulo, especially made for the exhibit, which highlights the spots in the city where this alternative lifestyle took place.

The curators comment, when asked about the political context in which Schwartz produced her images: “It was not just any moment in history, but the lead years of the Brazilian military dictatorship of general Emílio Garrastazu Médici. It was an epoch of oppression and violence, but paradoxically also a very fertile time: expelled from politics, protests were channeled in other ways, through the aesthetic, the way people behaved, the erotic. Madalena, with her photos, captured that tremendous explosion of color and utopian energy.”

Curators: Gonzalo Aguilar and Samuel Titan Jr.
The exhibition is organized in collaboration with the Moreira Salles Institute.

Madalena Schwartz

Budapest, 1921 – Sao Paulo, 1993

In 1934, after her mother passed away, Schwartz traveled with her father to Argentina. 26 years later, married with two children, she moved and settled with her family in São Paulo, Brazil, where she lived until her death. She started late with photography; she was almost fifty. She was a member of the Foto Cine Club Bandeirante and the so-called Paulista School, along with other photographers such as Marcel Giró, José Yalenti and Gaspar Gasparian. Schwartz began a series of portraits of personalities from the world of theater and television, such as singer Ney Matogrosso, and others less famous, known in the city’s nightclubs. She also portrayed Brazilian artists, musicians and intellectuals, such as Sérgio Buarque de Holanda and his son Chico Buarque, Clarice Lispector, Jorge Amado and Carlos Drummond de Andrade.

Connections with Latin America

The exhibition also enters into dialogue with similar underground scenes in Latin America, by showcasing photographs of transvestites and cross dressers in the 1970s and early 1980s throughout the region. Amongst others, images of Argentina’s Trans Memory archive and the Bolivian Quiwa archive are on display. These are two initiatives that rescue and re-evaluate trans memory through photographic archives and creating a vernacular through the image.  

This exhibition also includes works produced by established photographers, such as the Chilean Paz Errázuriz, the Mexican Adolfo Patiño and the Venezuelan Vasco Szinetar, as well as other important figures of the period, such as the Puerto Rican Mario Montez (captured by Hélio Oiticica and Leandro Katz) or the Cuban Phedra de Córdoba.


Accompanying the exhibition, MALBA will distribute the catalogue published by IMS, translated into Spanish, especially made for the occasion. The publication includes Schwartz’s portraits and the other images and objects on display. It includes texts by the two curators and Chico Felitti, Amara Moira, Rosane Pavam, Elias Veras, Martín de Mauro Rocovsky, Miguel López, Edgardo Cozarinsky, Beatriz Matuck, Tiê Higashi and João Silvério Trevisan.

Related Activities

Modera: María Amalia García
Jueves 4 de noviembre a las 18:00

Conferencia inaugural

Madalena Schwartz
Las metamorfosis

Los curadores Gonzalo Aguilar y Samuel Titan Jr. mantendrán una conversación pública sobre la carrera de la autora y los ejes principales que articulan el conjunto de fotografías presentadas.  

Participan: Gonzalo Aguilar y Samuel Titan Jr.
Modera: María Amalia García
Jueves 4 de noviembre a las 18:00