Note from BW of Brazil: “Do you know a black woman architect? Have you ever worked with one?”, asks Gabriela de Matos in a video for a project created to bring more visibility to black women architects and to help them connect with others in a field overwhelmingly dominated by white males. “I don’t know exactly when this lack of representation started to bother me, but I believe it was during my undergrad, in the beginning of undergrad. I didn’t have black professors and the influences of African architecture or black architecture in Brazilian architecture weren’t even mentioned.”
As it’s only been about a decade since black Brazilians have been able to enter institutions of higher learning in large numbers, there have been a number of reality checks that come with these accomplishments. One is that within colleges and universities, depending on the area of study, black Brazilians can still find themselves being the only black person or one of the very few present in a particular course. Two, often times when they enter into highly prestigious areas, they are sometimes greeted with surprise, discomfort or even hostility as others make their feelings known that blacks “don’t belong” in these courses.
When affirmative actions programs first began providing access for more black students in Brazilian colleges and universities, society’s first reaction was outright rejection and claims that education standards would somehow decrease with the entrance of tens of thousands of black and poor students. Later, as black students began to prove their ability to achieve at the university level, the idea that black students should be expected to major in certain areas took hold, leading to reactions of surprise when Afro-Brazilians were majoring in and becoming professors in areas of the exact sciences.
The third realization is that, as Afro-Brazilians are still new to some of these majors, and the student bodies of these areas remain very white, it will be nearly impossible to see a black professor giving classes in these particular areas. The fourth is that once they get past the first three reality checks in simply entering the field, they will find very few black people working in this field, which can be even more so if they are black women. The fifth realization is that, regardless of what Brazilian society preaches, once black people obtain educations and prove their capabilities, they are not automatically welcomed in their chosen areas nor does the racism “that doesn’t exist” suddenly evaporate.
These are some of the realities that black Brazilians continue to deal with, which is why initiatives such as the black women architects campaign are becoming increasingly common among black Brazilian professionals. Self-segregation or racist you say? Well, if such barriers weren’t created and enforced at every step of the path of success, perhaps people wouldn’t feel the need to connect with others like them. Throughout human existence, we have always felt the need to connect with others with whom we have things in common. I never hear anyone saying that Brazilians who come to live in the United States are being segregationist when they choose to live in communities where there are other Brazilians. It makes the transition jus a little easier, gives them a certain level of comfort and perhaps diminishes feelings of loneliness. The same is true for any group of people, especially if they find themselves being minorities in any particular situation….like being black, female and an architect.
“Black Architects”: The Search for Racial Equity in Architecture
Through the publication Revista Arquitetas Negras, the project seeks to map and bring visibility to the production of black Brazilian architects.
In order to create visibility for the production of black Brazilian women architects, Minas Gerais native Gabriela de Matos and Recife native Bárbara Oliveira conceived, in 2018, the project “Arquiteta Negras”. The aim of this initiative is to map the production of these architects and create a platform for both research and contracting to reduce racial and gender inequality in architecture. The first action to reach this goal is the publication of the magazine Arquitetas Negras vol. 1, the first magazine with content designed and produced by black Brazilian women architects.
The theme of the magazine revolves around the theoretical, philosophical and critical production developed in the work of interior design, architecture and urbanism. The content was collaboratively constructed through a call for projects that was open from August 21 to September 21, 2018. In an interview with A CASAA, a Florianópolis architecture site, in February, Gabriela says she posted a form on Facebook to survey the number of people interested in the project before the announcement, and was surprised by the engagement.
“At first, we launched a form in an organic way on Facebook and, to our surprise, it was shared 900 more times,” explains Gabriela. And the result was even better: “Today we have just over 330 forms, but we are still mapping. When we arrived at this contingent of black architects registered on our platform, we thought: ‘Why then aren’t these architects i in the exhibitions?’, ‘Why aren’t they in the magazines?’ and ‘Why are they made invisible?'”
Scheduled for release in the second half of 2019, Revista Arquitetas Negras vol. 1 is being produced through crowdfunding after project approval in the Negras Potências edict.
Negras Potências is a partnership between the crowdfunding site Benfeitoria, the Fundo Baobá (Baobá Fund) and the Movimento Coletivo. The initiative opens an edict for black women who want to run projects of economic empowerment, combat violence or foster education and culture. The selected are part of the Benfeitoria platform, open to receive contributions. For every BRL 1 raised, the Movimento Coletivo invests another BRL 2, tripling the investment potential.
After two months of funding, the project was able to raise the full target for publication, with 283 supporters. All the collection will go to funding the production of content, magazine layout, printing and distribution of the material. In addition to the articles selected through the edict, the magazine will also feature content from invited architects, such as Stephanie Ribeiro (São Paulo), Tainá de Paula (Rio de Janeiro), Joice Berth (São Paulo), Patricia Silva (Bahia).
In the project’s video, Gabriela de Matos points out that the lack of black representation in architecture has been noticed since the beginning of the formation of the architects. “This lack of representation began to bother me at the beginning of my undergraduate degree. I had no black professors and no mention of influences from African architecture or from black architecture in general.”
“I noticed that this restlessness of mine was constant. The other black architects also felt invisible in our profession. That’s why I decided to create this network of black architects and draw from them actions that could minimize racial and gender discrimination in architecture. “
About the reality of these professionals (also common to other black women), Gabriela comments: “Most of them had great difficulty entering the architecture school, which is common for the black population in Brazil. Many only succeeded through affirmative policies such as quotas. And when they got in, they had difficulty staying, sometimes because they had to work to pay for the course or buy materials. We have received reports from women who had to go to college before and only then have the means to work and pay for architecture school.”
Recently, the panel “Black Female Architects – An Experience of Representation in Brazilian Architecture and Urbanism”, by the creator of the project, Gabriela de Matos, was accepted at the IV Cham International Conference, which will take place in July, in Lisbon, with the theme Inovation, Invention and Memory in Africa. In 2018, Gabriela and Bárbara Oliveira were invited to talk about the “Arquitetas Negras” at Casa Vogue Experience, Casa Vogue’s workshop and lecture event.
Information from CAU BR