Brazil National Museum, once home to some of the oldest artifacts ever found in the Americas, tragically burned to the ground last week. It was an institution whose merit and relics were as crucial to Brazil’s cultural landscape as those that we might find at the the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the American Museum of Natural History. The loss of so many irreplaceable, precious pieces of history broke the heart of the Brazilian community.
The space left vacant by the losses in the fire is immense in both tragedy and scope. The New York Times reported that Luzia, a reportedly 11,500 year old fossil of a woman’s skull and one of the most ancient fossils of human remains in existence, might have been destroyed in the fire. Furthermore, audio recordings and archives of indigenous languages no longer spoken were presumably lost in the fire as well. The value of these objects and artifacts is incomparable — their contribution not only Brazilian society, but also to the greater world of artistic and scientific research, cannot be overstated.
It seems impossible to think about New York City without thinking of museums such as the Met — they are an iconic part of the city we call home. Yet we often consider these museums and similar institutions as just the background of our campus. So many culturally significant artifacts and art pieces are located just miles from NYU, and we should take Brazil’s misfortune as a lesson on how to make the very best of our privileges while they still exist.
I know it may seem a bit pretentious calling people out for not appreciating museums enough. I cannot count the number of times during my freshman year that I dreaded going to the Whitney Museum of American Art or the Natural History Museum for yet another seemingly pointless assignment in my Cultural Foundations class. But I never once remember being worse off for going to said museums. If anything, I enjoyed my time observing the priceless works of art surrounding me. Each one honed a different emotion that I otherwise would have probably never felt while doing homework. The art moved me in ways I didn’t anticipate. There is nothing quite like trudging up the grandiose steps of the Met for the first time, and the experience made me all the more grateful for the ability to go to school among so many iconic institutions.
Art is inspiring. It is a form of expression that is unique and irreplaceable. Those of us who aren’t artists or historians should try to remember that every once in a while. Go to museums. Go with your family, with a friend or alone. Go after your busiest day of the week or on a lazy Sunday. Make an entire day of it or spontaneously take the next train to the closest gallery you can find. The impact art has on us may last forever, but its canvases might not.
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Email Melanie Pineda at [email protected]