Abaporu (1928) by Tarsila do AmaralMALBA – Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires
Abaporu—a word in the Tupí-Guaraní language that means “man who eats man”—uses the colors of the Brazilian flag to represent an inward-looking humanoid creature with giant feet next to a cactus and a sun.
Though Tarsila affirmed that the origin of this fantastic being lies in the stories she would hear as a child in a rural estate, the influence of avant-garde artists—among them Aragon, Arp, Artaud, Brancusi, Breton, and Rousseau—is patent.
Oswald de Andrade, the artist’s husband, drew inspiration from this powerful image when he wrote the Manifesto antropófago, an essential document of Brazilian modernism.
De Andrade’s manifesto claims that Brazilian identity resides in the matriarchy of Pindorama (“earth good for planting”) and in the practices and customs of the Indigenous peoples that lived in what is today Brazil before the Portuguese arrived.
The colonizers, with their rationalist patriarchy, eradicated crucial aspects of tribal culture such as life in community and deep ties to nature.
Abaporu revalorizes the nature-being of that immemorial land irreparably corrupted by “civilizing” logic. It is a supremely mythical creature native to a primitive and magical Brazil.