Black Art in Brazil: Expressions of Identity

Black Art in Brazil: Expressions of Identity

Black Art in Brazil: Expressions of Identity

Black Art in Brazil: Expressions of Identity


"Cleveland successfully problematizes the term Afro-Brazilian art as a category, challenging many assumptions about black art in Brazil specifically, and in the African Diaspora more broadly."--Heather Shirey, University of St. Thomas

"An insightful and clear discussion of the world of contemporary black art in Brazil. Cleveland's handling of the ways and means through which these artists deal with artistic production and its intersection with broader sociocultural and racial matters is spot-on. This is an important contribution to Afro-Brazilian studies."--Anani Dzidzienyo, Brown University

For decades, Afro-Brazilian art was primarily associated with religious themes. However, developments in the national discourse on race, ethnicity, and black art in the latter part of the twentieth century have produced a shift away from sacred symbols to art more representative of the complete Afro-Brazilian experience.

In this book, Kimberly Cleveland analyzes how certain modern and contemporary Brazilian artists visually convey "blackness." Through the work of Brazilian artists from different parts of the country who utilize a wide range of media, including photography, sculpture, and installation art, Cleveland investigates how each artist articulates "blackness" through his or her unique visual vocabulary and points out the ways it reflects their lived experiences.

By examining how these artists explore their African cultural heritage, Cleveland reveals the many diverse ways artists confront social, economic, political, and historical issues related to race in Brazil. Most important, Black Art in Brazil highlights how the markers of black art and culture in Brazil have continued to grow and diversify.


At a 1997 gallery talk in London, a young Black British woman
asked Yinka Shonibare if he had a problem with being black. He
replied that he didn’t have a problem with being black, but he
did have a problem with other people’s ideas of what being black
should mean for his work. (Hynes 2001, 65)

This encounter involving British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare speaks to this book’s core question: What does black art look like? the relationship between race and art is relevant to production from various parts of the world. However, the way that discourse on racially based artistic categories has evolved, as well as the implications surrounding race-related artistic terms, often differs from one country to the next and even between regions. Art institutions, critics, art historians, and curators are highly influential in shaping public understandings of the correlation between race and art. of particular importance is an audience’s expectations of what black art should look like, which may trump the artist’s attempt, if any, to express blackness in his or her work. the fact that some artists embrace race-related labels while others reject them reflects the diversity of artistic creativity and identity around the world.

With regard to Brazil, the relatively recent interest in black art prompted anthropologist and curator Marta Heloísa Leuba Salum, at the turn of the twenty-first century, to state that “Afro-Brazilian art [was] a contemporary phenomenon” (2000, 113) (italics are mine). Her characterization is not wholly surprising given that most black Brazilian art falls into an interstice between studies of Modern and Contemporary Latin American art history and African art history, the latter of which has only gained international momentum and serious academic attention since 1950. One could easily argue that the relatively embryonic state of discourse on black Brazilian art, increasingly discussed as “Afro-Brazilian art” nationally and internationally in the past few decades, is an indication of both its perceived value to national artistic production and Afro-Brazilians’ largely subordinate position in Brazilian society. Regardless, such cursory hypotheses do not begin to address a . . .

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