Note from BW of Brazil: Yet another example of “do-it-yourself” representation. These are the faces that we need to see more of and as about 90% of the faces featured in Brazil’s mainstream media look much more European than the actual Brazilian population, we always like to support alternative media that allow black Brazilians to shine. We are happy to feature this latest photo layout featuring everyday black Brazilian women. We hope to see more of this photographer’s work in the future. Representation, representation, REPRESENTATION!
Brasília-based photographer celebrates the power and beauty of black Brazilian women in the photo layout Superafro: The Power of the Black Woman
By Zeba Blay, Carolina Samoran and Hattie Collins
In the past two years the Brazilian journalist Weudson Ribeiro has documented the beauty of afro-brasileiras (Afro-Brazilian women), making spontaneous portraits of them within a project that is still ongoing. The result was published this month in the photo layout Superafro: O poder da mulher negra (Superafro: The power of the black woman).
The project, made with portraits of black Brazilian women, highlights women who affirm their blackness with pride, as a declaration of a political posture. “The goal was to document the beauty and diversity of women who carry negritude as an act of resistance,” said Ribeiro.
“But Afro-Brazilian women are gaining political voice. Social media helps to give minorities a platform to denounce the prejudice and to articulate and strengthen the resistance.”
Ribeiro, 24, is one of those creative souls capable of doing politics with art – or vice versa. Black and gay, he saw prejudice up close. To combat the problem, he went out to the streets of Brasília two years ago. He said he chatted with Afro-Brazilian women and asked to photograph them. “I approached anyone who seemed friendly to me. When she was interested, I sent her copies of the material. If not, I would move on. The photos of the blog are mostly people I had just met.”
In the beginning, the journalist photographed only lesbians. But a conversation with the ethnographer Yaba Blay inspired him to expand the project. The women are from Brasília, Goiás, Rio and São Paulo, in their majority. He approached almost all in the street, without much advanced notice. “I wanted to know how their experience of living in a sexist and racist society was,” says the photographer.
In most cases, the answer was something that, unfortunately, we are tired of knowing: the photos reproduced at length in magazines don’t reflect the beauty of these women. “They told me that they didn’t feel free in a society where they couldn’t fit the standard of beauty. Accepting their hair was the first step of their empowerment. Assuming negritude is a political act,” he says.
The consolidation of the layout also involves a process of self-acceptance and, especially, the deconstruction of prejudices that he himself was carrying.
My biggest objective is to document the beauty and diversity of women who carry negritude as an act of resistance. Layouts such as Superafro are able to open the eyes of society on issues that are often overlooked. If we can educate someone through this project, I’ll be happy. Thanks to works like this, I managed to undo prejudices, some internalized, which also cultivated.”
He has already photographed about 50 women for the project. But he still hasn’t stopped. “Superafro” continues to grow, fueled by beautiful women with whom the photographer meets around there.
Ribeiro is known for his images celebrating tupiniquim (Brazilian) queer culture. But with this latest project, he documents Brazilian women expressing sexuality and blackness as a political act.
Below is an interview with the photographer courtesy of the Vice website
VICE: Tell us a little about the project “Superafro” and what you wanted to document not only about black identity, but also Afro-LGBT women.
Weudson Ribeiro: With Superafro, I intend to show the diversity that exists within the Afro-Brazilian spectrum, celebrate the beauty of these women and, with any luck, contribute to the fight for freedom and equality through awareness of issues that affect the reality of black people in Brazil, since we live in a society shaped by racism, pigmentocracy, deprivation of rights and sexism. With the phenomenal rise of feminism among young women and greater access to information, thanks to digital inclusion, I see that women feel more encouraged to wear natural hair, to express one’s own sexuality and reject euphemisms used to treat African features as if negroid was a burden.
How did you find women for this layout?
It all starts with a good conversation. I go to the street every weekend and I approach anyone who seems friendly.
Where and how long were the photos were taken?
I live in Brasília – most of the personalities were photographed here. I met some of them during a trip to Rio de Janeiro. I started taking these pictures two years ago, but the idea of making them a portfolio came after a conversation I had with the American ethnographer Yaba Blay, whom I interviewed last year, when I worked in a local paper.
What do the women of your photos represent?
The women represent the resistance against the probabilities of a society of judgment. Personally I have known so many beautiful and intelligent black women it was a watershed. Being the only child of pais mestiços (parents of mixed race), I myself had difficulty understanding and accepting my own blackness. It is a problem that affects the vast majority of Brazilians, since our ethnic origins are quite mixed.
You say that these women assume blackness as a political act. Tell me more about that.
Caucasian features are the universal synthesis of beauty – this is what we learn from an early age. This notion impacts how blacks and whites perceive each other. Two years ago, I asked myself “How does this context affect the self perception of women?”. Since then, I met people who told me they feel harmed by an aesthetic standard that rejects them. Assuming their roots was the exit. I believe that the courage and confidence of these women can show others that ser negro é bonito (being black is beautiful), despite what the world has taught.
How has history fed some of the issues faced by black Brazilian women?
Brazil was the largest importer of slaves during the 1500s, the history of the country is well rooted in this experience. After El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala and Russia, Brazil is the country where most murders are committed against women. But the debate on violence against women cannot focus solely on domestic assault. There is also the question of the violation of the gender. Cases of corrective rape show one of the worst faces of violence against women in Brazil. Unfortunately, since the victims are blamed first, most known cases of sexual assault against lesbians are those in which they were exposed to HIV by their aggressors. Besides this, this is also has the experience of transgender women, who are not even recognized by the statistics – are minorities within a macro-minority. The good news is that the LGBT and black communities have increasingly unified themselves more lately.
Despite being a growing economic strength, the country is still plagued by a series of social and political problems; poverty, homelessness, corrupt police, etc. How does this affect the black gay community, and women, specifically?
The wage gap between white men and black women is huge in Brazil. Female workers are paid much less than white men of the same age and education level. Unemployment rates among white women are around 9%, while black women account for over 12% of the unemployed population. That says enough.
How do you expect that things can change and improve for young black Brazilian women and gays in the next decade, and how can these changes occur?
The Day of Black Consciousness has become increasingly popular in the last decade. In addition, a radical change took place in the Brazilian university system: a law passed in 2012 reserved 50% of vacancies in federal universities in Brazil for public school students, low-income families that are descendants of blacks or indigenous – which means more access to higher education. Women have become active in politics. There was a new wave of Afro-Brazilian pride. Homosexual couples can now marry and adopt children legally. There are a lot of political assholes who wants to fuck with the rights of these minorities, but after years of military dictatorship, I’m sure that the active work of feminists, artists, photographers and ordinary people will contribute to the struggle to end this history of oppression.
See more of Ribeiro’s work here.