The hybrid art of the Capulanas Black Art Company
by Elizandra Souza
Four black women, four stories fermenting, four bodies performing on the same stage: poetry, songs, gestures, restlessness and dances. This is the Capulanas Black Art Company, a “paulistafricano (Afro-Paulista)” (1) group formed by the actresses Adriana Paixão, Débora Marçal, Flávia Rosa and Priscila Preta, spawned in 2007, during a course of Communication of Body Arts, at PUC university in São Paulo.“(In college) there was a strong segregation, there were few black students and as we had dreams and common individual issues, we created a familiarity and a political articulation within the course,” recalls Adriana.
With the central purpose of a dialogue with society on the discoveries, anxieties and perceptions of black women, strengthening their real values in the face of stereotypes rooted in the national culture which underestimate the role of black women in society, in November 2007 during the Week of Modern Art of the Periphery, organized by Cooperifa, the group made its stage debut.
The name Capulanas refers to a cloth traditionally worn by African women to cling to the body, sometimes making a skirt, and also able to cover the torso, head, and bear the name of Capulana. Of a Tsonga origin (large population of African people in southern Mozambique), its use appears in the entire African continent. “We saw the design on the cover of the book Punga, that had a a strong woman with a gun in one hand and her son on her back. This issue of motherhood and independence. How can you to be a mother while also being independent? We note that the capulanas have a very important meaning in the lives of women. A woman in her elder phase, for example, has a trunk full of capulanas and the family history is told through these cloths,” said Priscilla.
Why a company of primarily black women?“In the society that we live the black woman is at the bottom of the social pyramid. That is our concern. So we decided to engage with society about it through our art”, declares Flavia.
In addition, all the groups that the actresses joined before the capulanas spoke about racial issues from the viewpoint of the man. “What we think has to go out of our mouths, the way we want. Zinho and Manuel (who are also part of the company) come to contribute and to play, but we don’t want to hear only what they (men) have to say, because everyone will only hear them,” Deborah says.
Adriana adds that “the group’s work is also aimed at making men rethink women in today’s society.
“All the things that black women have to carry inside our capulanas, the responsibilities, the transformations and reflections of our work. At the time of independence of some African countries, women printed political phrases against oppression, which has everything to do with what we want to show.” – Priscilla Preta
The representation of black women in Brazilian theater
“This exists; in the same condition on television and in the media as a whole. In the role of slave, maid, housekeeper, always subservient and submissive roles,” – Deborah Marçal
“The work of actresses like Zeze Motta, Ruth de Souza and others are proof that we have references and it’s not from today. But they have already done this work for many years they are not recognized.” – Flavia Rose
Currently, the Capulanas are traveling to various backyards of the outskirts of São Paulo with the show Solano Trindade (2) and His Black Poetry, from the Project Pé no Quintal (Foot in the Backyard), mediated by the Programa de Fomento ao Teatro da Secretaria Municipal de Cultura (Program for the Promotion of the Theatre of Municipal Secretary of Culture). The idea of bringing the play to the backyard is related to the fact that this is a living space of the target audience of the project, i.e. residents of the periphery that are able to consume very little culture, including theater.
The show, which also has texts of Elizandra Souza and other members of the company (who contribute with their experiences and narratives translating them into poetic form), portrays the strength of black women through the poetry of Solano Trindade, searching for ancestry in the popular Afro-Brazilian matrix. By means of the MC element, it also speaks to Hip Hop culture.
Source: O Menelick 2 Ato
1 – A person of African descent from the city of São Paulo
2 – Solano Trindade (1908-1974) was an Afro-Brazilian poet, folklorist, painter, actor, theatre performer and filmmaker whose poems and works dealt with specifically Afro-Brazilian themes. He is considered by many to be the most important black poet and purveyor of Negritude in Afro-Brazilian history and is often celebrated during Brazil’s Black Consciousness Month festivities.