Journey to the roots of black Brazil: Afro Brazil Museum is essential to understanding a country where 51% of the population declares itself black or brown

Acervo Museu Afro Brasil - nelson kon 3

Note from BW of Brazil: After having visited a number of cities throughout Brazil, I knew I needed to spend more time in the city of São Paulo rather just stopping there on my way to a connection flight. True, I had actually spent a few days there in 2003 on a multiple city trip that also led me to Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and also Salvador, Bahia, the city where my desire to know more about Brazil began nearly two decades ago. But like a trip to another megacity, economy-driving metropolis in the Americas, New York, two days is simply not enough time to really see a place like São Paulo. So when I finally decided the time was right to spend some time in SP, I wanted to make the most out of my trip. And so it was. 

So, in November of 2008, I stayed about three weeks in Sampa, as SP is known, and the city didn’t disappoint me. I did everything I put on my agenda. It was the Month of Black Consciousness, so I saw a number of seminars devoted to Afro-Brazilian History. I attended the yearly Day of Black Consciousness March. I went to the Troféu Raça Negra award ceremony, and I must say, of all of the years I have attended this event the promoted as the ‘Black Oscars’ the 2008 edition had to have been the best I’ve ever seen! I visited the famous 24 de Maio shopping center, Avenida Paulista, Ibirapuera Park and some of the greatest used album stores in the country. And one of the most memorable moments of that trip was a visit to the Museu Afro Brasil, the Afro Brasil Museum.

Having visited a number of Afro-oriented museums in the US (Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore), and one in Brazil (Salvador), I was really looking forward to going to the one in SP. And the place didn’t disappoint. I’ve been there a number of times over the years and I always leave telling myself that with all of the enormous photos, statues, art and books, I need to plan a whole day to really take it all in. The museum brings to life so much of the black Brazilian story that I first began learning at the end of the year 1999, in the pages of Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience. Of course, photos are not allowed, so enjoy the few featured in the article below. And if you happen to be planning a trip to São Paulo and you have a thirst for Black History, DO NOT MISS Museu Afro Brasil! Check a few of the photos below. 


Journey to the roots of black Brazil

The Museu Afro Brasil (Afro Brazil Museum) is essential to understanding a country where 51% of the population declares itself black or brown

By Camila Moraes; photos by Nelson Kon and Henrique Luz

Replica of a slave ship in the Afro Brasil Museum of SP

A tour of the Museu Afro Brasil (Afro Brasil Museum) thrills those who are open to knowing Brazilian roots. With more than 6,000 works spread over 7,000 square meters, this is the largest museum in the country dedicated to Afro-Brazilian culture, based in the Padre Manoel da Nóbrega Pavilion, in the middle of the green of Ibirapuera Park, in São Paulo. There, national icons like the writer Machado de Assis, the abolitionist Luiz Gama and the guerrilla Carlos Marighella earn faces. And, to the surprise of many today, they are black faces.

Acervo Museu Afro Brasil - Nelson Kon

Visited by just over 180,000 people in 2015, the museum was founded in 2004 by the Bahian artist and researcher Emanoel Araújo, who, by the way, donated 5,000 pieces of his personal collection to the institution’s permanent collection. In addition to paintings on the wall and sculptures and objects spread over three floors of long-term and temporary exhibitions, the institution also includes the Ruth de Souza Theater and the Carolina de Jesus Library, which houses around 10,000 items – several of them on slavery and abolition – and it’s a dose of emotion aside.

Acervo Museu Afro Brasil - HENRIQUE LUZ

“As it is not a museum of celebrated works, but that reveals the great importance of this Afro-descendant Brazil combining art, history and memory, it generates a great commotion,” says its founder.

Acervo Museu Afro Brasil - nelosn kon

Contrary to what one might think, it is not a ghetto space, nor is it dedicated to Africa. Its proposal is to uncover the black portion, which today totals 51% of the population in Brazil, of the national mixture, even if it establishes a bridge with the rest of the world.

Acervo Museu Afro Brasil - Nelson Kon 2

“I think that the Museu Afro Brasil is the greatest achievement of blacks, not only Brazilians, but of all,” says Vera Eunice de Jesus Lima, daughter of Carolina de Jesus – author of Quarto de despejo – Diário de uma favelada, a visceral first-person account about the fight against hunger and misery in the favela. “Because there you can buy what blacks do. You see blacks in architecture, blacks in literature, blacks in the theater …” continues the Portuguese teacher in an interview presented at the entrance of the library.

Carolina de Jesus and her Quarto de despejo.
Carolina de Jesus and her Quarto de despejo.

The story of her mother, told through newspaper clippings, photographs and documents, opens the way for the permanent exhibition with the emotion that will accompany the visitor to the end. Carolina lived in the Canindé favela in São Paulo, was a collector and wrote about the daily life of her community in notebooks she found in the garbage. In 1958, she was discovered by journalist Audálio Dantas, who helped her publish her diary. Quarto de despejo came out in 1960, it was translated into 13 languages and sold 100,000 copies that year – the same that famed Brazilian author Jorge Amado sold at the time.

Acervo Museu Afro Brasil - nelson kon 4

The visit continues, with paintings by nineteenth and twentieth-century black painters such as Arthur and João Timótheo da Costa and Emmanuel Zamor, photographs of artists who have captured Afro-Brazilians with their lenses, such as Madalena Schwarz and Pierre Verger, portraits and texts about actors and actresses such as Grande Othello and Ruth Rocha, trophies of futebol players like Garrincha and Pelé and songs of singers and composers such as Ismael Silva and Paulinho da Viola. To this block of redemption, follows a reflection, with the replica of a slave ship accompanied by reports on the slave trade from Africa to Brazil, which lasted 400 years. There is also a wide wing on religiosity, candomblé and capoeira, another on cultural expressions such as maracatu, and thus more than 500 years of another history passing before your eyes.

Acervo Museu Afro Brasil - Henrique Luz 2

“Since its founding, more than ten years ago, the Museu Afro Brasil has had the purpose of showing who was black and who is black,” says Emanoel Araújo to EL PAÍS. “One of our missions is to redeem the history and memory of those who were forgotten or are little remembered by the official history,” says the director, who left the direction of the Pinacoteca before embarking on this project. This happens without the present being left out, especially in the temporary exhibitions, which may or may not talk directly with the central proposal of the museum.

rea externa do museu, no Parque do Ibirapuera - Nelson Kon

Amongst the recently inaugurated are the exhibitions of the São Paulo artist Caíto (Cúmulo), with 20 unpublished pieces, and the photographer Rodrigo Koraicho (Devoção), who uses a theme related to the museum’s proposal – religiosity – to show the beliefs of regions of India and Nepal. The tip is to invest some time to see it all calmly. Taking advantage of the tour, the return on the deconstruction of stereotypes is guaranteed.

SourceEl País Brasil

About Marques Travae 2895 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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