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After Brazil unrest, painstaking effort to restore damaged treasures

"It was an extremely difficult job, emotionally exhausting for everyone and a great trauma," a museum worker says. ©AFP

Brasília (AFP) - Randall Felix delicately handles the wood on a 19th century chair whose armrest was ripped off when supporters of Brazil's' far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro stormed Congress earlier this month.

"The shock is great," the 63-year-old master craftsman at the Senate museum told AFP."It's all part of our life, so when we see that a piece has been treated like that, it's very difficult."

The chair on Felix's desk is just one of dozens of precious objects destroyed in the unrest, when on January 8, Bolsonaro backers ransacked the presidential palace, Supreme Court and Congress in Brasilia, refusing to recognize his election defeat.

The rioters destroyed priceless works of art, rare furniture that is part of the national heritage, and left the walls of the historic government buildings covered in graffiti messages calling for a military coup.

Damages inflicted in the riots total 18.5 million reais (around $3.5 million), according to government estimates.

'Sense of loss, of anguish'

Since then, employees who are usually busy with Congress heritage preservation have been hard at work trying to save the institution's priceless pieces of art and furniture.

In the museum of the Chamber of Deputies, Congress' lower house, several containers are filled with fragments of shattered vases and other objects, which now can only be identified thanks to old photographs.

Most of them used to decorate the iconic Green Room, where Brazilian lawmakers usually address the press and where several dozen items donated by foreign countries were on display.

"We grabbed flashlights and went to look for fragments.We had to do archaeological work in the middle of the rubble," said Gilcy Rodrigues, head of restoration at the museum.

After painstakingly identifying and cataloging the remains, Rodrigues and his colleagues got to work repairing paintings, tables, rugs, ornaments, and sculptures.

Rodrigues, who for 30 of his 58 years watched over the museum's assets, cannot hold back her tears.

"This is not our's our home," he said."This is what we do.We take care of the institution's assets.That's why we have a feeling of loss, of anguish."

60 percent restored

Thanks to their efforts, some 60 percent of the objects damaged in the Chamber of Deputies have been successfully restored -- though at a great cost to the staff.

"It was an extremely difficult job, emotionally exhausting for everyone and a great trauma," lamented Marcelo Sa de Sousa, who heads the Chamber of Deputies museum.

His colleague Ismail Carvalho, who is in charge of the Senate's restoration laboratory, echoes that view.

"It's more than aesthetics," he said."Suddenly, in an insane act, all our work literally went down the drain.It's very sad."

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