From Slave Ships to Galleries: representations and agency of colored people in the National Museum of Fine Arts’s Collection

This exhibition intends to show the various interpretations about colored people and afro-brasilian heritage and how these are part of nation building.

Máscara ritual by Grupo Cultural BeninMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

 The year of 2018 marks 130 of slavery abolishment.  Following this important date the National Museum of Fine Arts (Museu Nacional de Belas Artes) presents the exhibition From Slave Ships to Galleries: representations and agency of colored people in the Museum’s collection. The works are sectioned according to three major historical periods in which afro-Brazilian and nation building issues are intertwined in the making of a Brazilian national identity: Colonial and Imperial Brazil, the New State (Estado Novo) and contemporary Brazil. Racial and national identity discourses have been through many phases and forms according to different historical periods, going from slavery to whitening ideology, passing through the racial democracy myth and more recently multiculturalism. 

Igreja de São Cosme e São Damião em Igarassu (1637/1680) by Frans PostMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

The history of Black people in Brazil emerged in the XVIth century when thousands of people were forcibly brought to Brazil in slave ships and slavery became the main source of labor.

Vista de um engenho de cana de açúcar (1637/1680) by Frans PostMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

The first representations of Black people in Brazilian Fine Arts appear in the XVIIth century. These works reflect the perception of European travelers and artists in Brazil, some of who were commissioned to depict the so-called new land and customs.

These representations of Brazil continued into the mid-nineteenth century. The main objectives of the illustrations were to identify, classify, and map the Brazilian landscape and people. The depictions often blurred landscapes and people with visions of a natural, exotic and unknown world.

These artists’ works shaped the Brazilian imaginary about slavery in rural and urban landscapes in ways that projected Eurocentric views that idealized slavery.

Paisagem de Pernambuco (1637/1680) by Frans PostMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Frans Post an academic painter, designer and engraver was in Brazil from 1637 to 1644, following the scientific and military mission of the Dutch government in the northeast. During his stay he documented natural and human landscapes, battles and the national topography.
His work is considered a historical and artistic landmark since these are the first pictoric representations of Brazil produced within the national territory. Such pictoric representations were seen as a “portrait of reality”, different from the works produced in European Studios which were done based on traveler’s accounts.

The colonial images presented by the artist Frans Post, produced during the Dutch period in Brazil, characterize the pictorial landscape genre that in these pictures present the predominance of nature and its visual description of the sugarcane mills where enslaved blacks , who were subjected to exhaustive works, but were presented as objects of nature composing the landscape in their silences.
Beyond their aesthetic and artistic values Frans Post´s works compose today a visual memory of a bygone Brazil, providing thus an important source of research for various academic disciplines.

Engenho de mandioca (1892) by Modesto BrocosMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

“Slaves are the hands and feet of the master, because without them in Brazil, it would be impossible to develop and sustain the plantation economy."

André João Antonil

Dated from 1892, the painting presents the operation of a cassava flour mill. Despite being a record of the post-abolition period, the transition from enslavement to freedom was a gradual one in such a manner that blacks continued to be predominantly stuck to a rural way of life.

Um mercado na Bahia [do album] Cenas Americanas by Léon PallièreMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

O navio negreiro (1998) by Newton CavalcantiMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

As a counterpoint to such idealizations, this exhibition also includes works from the 20th century such as Navio Negreiro (Slave Ship) by Newton Cavalcanti and O escravo (The Slave) by João Batista Ferreira.

O escravo, João Batista Ferri, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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Redemption of Can (1895) by Modesto BrocosMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

“All Brazilians, even the fair-skinned ones, with blond hair, carry in their souls, or when not in their souls and bodies, a shadow, or at least a spot, of the indigenous or the Black”     

Gilberto Freyre

This canvas was used to showcase the paper presented by the physician and head of the National Museum (Museu Nacional) João Batista Lacerda, in the First Universal Race Congress in London, 1911. On the occasion Lacerda contended the racist belief, then widespread amongst scientists, intellectuals and the governing elite that Brazil would only become a civilized nation if became a white nation by means of miscegenation.
In Lacerda´s view this painting - in which a grandmother lifts her hands up in praise for her grandson, son of her mullato daughter and a white man, having turned out white - revealed the possibility of whitening in three generations. In Lacerda´s projection, gradually all mixed race and black people would be diluted in such a way that in 2012 nearly all of the Brazilian population would be white.

Família de pretos by Inês Correia da CostaMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888 but ex-slaves were denied access to education and landownership. In addition to exclusionary policies that produced harsh economic conditions, blacks were also socially excluded and faced severe racism. The governing elites and intellectuals considered blacks and mestizos, then more than half of the population, a hindrance to the development of a civilized Brazil, because racist theories of the time considered blacks and mestizos less fit for civilization than whites.

Mother Mary (1945) by Orósio BelémMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

In the 1930's, the advent of the modernist movement and the work of cultural anthropologist Gilberto Freyre, The Masters and the Slaves (1933) brought a new perspective on racial issues that transformed negative views about blacks and mestizos.

This new celebratory viewpoint on miscegenation in which Africans, Portuguese and, to a lesser extent, Indigenous cultures represented Brazil’s harmonious racial and cultural melting pot was framed as the triumph of the Brazilian nation. Racism, nonetheless, did not disappear, at the same time that the state-sponsored cultural sphere celebrated Black culture and integrated it into Brazilian national culture, civil and social rights for Blacks were far from satisfaying.

Bastiana (1941) by Nicolina Vaz de AssisMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Cabeça de negro (1943) by Hostílio DantasMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Creoula (1940) by Margarida Lopes De AlmeidaMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Pretinha (1942) by Jorge CamposMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

O anoitecer by Carlo CrepazMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Cabeça de preto (1929) by Lasar SegallMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Canavial (1940/1950) by Cêurio de OliveiraMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Leônidas da Silva, o Diamante Negro (1938) by Martins RibeiroMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

The great football player Leonidas, known as “Black Diamond” played in the Brazilian Team in the 1934 and 1938 World Cup. From the 1930s’ onward football became a national emblem and was also framed as a space where afro-Brazilian cultural contribution could be acknowledged. The Brazilian way of playing football “art-football” (futebol arte) had, according to the anthropologist Gilberto Freyre, African characteristics.

Futebol (1948) by José Borges da CostaMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Futebol: Fla - Flu (1975) by DjaniraMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Vida cotidiana by Percy LauMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Lavadeiras by Percy LauMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

A paz dos humildes, Fernando Lamarca, 1961, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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Negras baianas, Percy Lau, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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Baianas na ciranda (1998) by Léa Dray de FreitasMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Saudades da favela (1937) by Salvador Pujals SabatéMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Estudo para o cartaz da peça teatral "Orfeu da Conceição", de Vinícius de Moraes , (1956) by DjaniraMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Maracatu (1973) by Manuel EudócioMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Composição, [do álbum] "Sete lendas africanas da Bahia" (1984) by Carybé, Hector Júlio Páride Bernabó, ditoMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

As comadres/ série Motivos do folk-lore brasileiro, Alfredo Volpi, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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Cena em paisagem do Paraná, Franz Krajcberg, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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Retrato de Firmino Monteiro by Emma MourouxMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Autorretrato (1919) by Artur Timóteo da CostaMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

“As long as the black man is among his own, he will
have no occasion, except in minor internal conflicts, to experience  his being through others.” 

Franz Fanon

Natureza-morta (1891) by Estevão SilvaMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Estevão Silva was the first afro-Brazilian artist graduated by the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts (Academia Imperial de Belas Artes) during slavery times. He became famous for his still-life paintings. He had teachers such as the artists Vitor Meireles, Agostinho da Mota andJules le Chevrel. In the art critic, Italo Campofiorito´s view Estevão Silva staged the first Happening in Brazilian art by placing real fruit behind his canvas so as to allow their scent to be felt. His still-life paintings were considered so realistic that according to the art critic Gonzaga Duque one could feel the fruit´s aroma and texture. Feeling that he was wronged Estevão Silva refused the prize he had won in the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts exhibition in 1979, this led him to be suspended for a year from the course. He was also a teacher at the Liceu de Artes e Ofícios.

Rosas (1880) by Leôncio VieiraMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

The long journey faced by artists of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, such as Estevão Silva, Leôncio Vieira and writers such as Machado de Assis e Lima Barreto are examples of loopholes in the rigid structure of the Brazilian slave society of the 19th century.

Natureza-morta (ameixas), Leôncio Vieira, 1880, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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Paisagem do Rio de Janeiro (1881) by Firmino MonteiroMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Brazilian racial and social hierarchies dictated access to artistic fields and recognition within them. Important aspects of the careers of Black artists are featured here, showing prominent aspects of their works and lives.
We can observe on the bottom right corner

the sentence: "Querer é poder" (When there is a will there is a way).

Paisagem de Niterói, RJ (1880/1888) by Firmino MonteiroMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Paisagem do Rio de Janeiro, Pinto Bandeira, 1884, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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Uma chácara em Niterói, RJ, Pinto Bandeira, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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A lição (1895) by Rafael FredericoMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

In a society dominated by racial prejudice, a few enslaved individuals and mestizos managed to develop an artistic career. An artistic career could be built in some cases through patronage. These artists had to cleverly craft patronage relations that allowed them to develop their artistic gifts and occupy social positions usually inaccessible to people of color, whether enslaved or free.

Retrato de Arteobela Frederico, filha do artista, Rafael Frederico, 1895, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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Modelo em repouso, Artur Timóteo da Costa, 1900/1922, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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Arthur Timoteo da Costa was born six years before the abolishment of slavery. His older brother was the artist (painter and decorator) João Timóteo da Costa. Early on he became an apprentice at the Mint of Brazil and began to work with the set designer Orestes Colliva. This experience was crucial for his artistic production. He joined the National School of Fine Arts (Escola Nacional de Belas Artes) in 1894 where he conquered a Prized Scholarship to study in Paris. He was invited by the Brazilian government to adorn the Brazilian Pavilion of the International Exhibition in Turin in 1911 along with his brother and the painter Rodolfo Chambelland. The technical handling of his work in his later years is considered pre-modernist. In this self-portrait in 1919 the artist had already some health problems, he died at age 40 in a Mental Health hospital in Rio de Janeiro.

Vem Cá Totó, Cencinho, Inocêncio Alves dos Santos, dito, 1977, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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Chácara do Amor, Cencinho, Inocêncio Alves Dos Santos, dito, 1982, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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Colheita de flores (1972) by Maria Auxiliadora SilvaMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Maria Auxiliadora come from a poor family and was a self-taught artist. Belonging to an artistically talented family she was the oldest of eight siblings. Her difficult childhood meant that she had to quit school at an early age and work as a house maid and an embroiderer with her mum. Her artistic work took place from 1967 to 1974. In 1968 she joined the Embu das Artes Artistic Group created by the black playwriter Solano Trindade and geared towards afro-brazilian themes. From the State of Minas Gerais she migrated to São Paulo at age three and claimed that having no memory of Minas Gerais she painted the reminiscences of her mother´s stories about harvestings and mid year Parties (Festas Juninas). She developed a relief technique with the use of hair. According to Mario Schenberg the exquisite colorful and rhythmic creation in Maria Auxiliadora´s art is remarkable.

Parque, Júlio Martins da Silva, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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Duas fases, Júlio Martins da Silva, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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Even though the twentieth-century artists exhibited in this nucleus had more career opportunities than those of the nineteenth century, the use of patronage strategies continues as an important factor for the development of their artistic careers. Late twentieth-century artists, arguably, have greater autonomy in their artistic works.

Nossa Senhora da Ajuda, no cacau, Nice Nascimento, 1983, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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Secretário do rei, Ticumbi da Conceição da Barra, Nice Nascimento, 1982, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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This work depicts the king´s secretaryone of the caracters of the Ticumbi theatrical dance. This type of Congada takes part in the north of the Espirito Santo state and consists of a danced play in which two kings, King of Congo and King of Bamba dispute which one will throw a party in honor of Saint Benedict, a black saint. Guilherme Santos Neves, a folklorist, highlights the African origins of this theatrical dance.

Argolas entrelaçadas, Fernando Diniz, 1997, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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O pedinte, Agnaldo Dos Santos, 1961, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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This sculptor received the International Prize in Black Sculpture in the First World Festival of Negro Arts, Dakar, 1966. He was from a poor family and began his artistic education as Mario Cravo Junior´s assistant (Salvador, Bahia, 1923). His work presents striking influences by African themes that he got to know through a book of photographs on African themes left by Pierre Verger in the studio where he was an apprentice. According to the art critic Clarival do Prado Valadares his work should be seen as an original expression coming from his own unique style, rather than related to some kind of regional African style.

Escultura ritual, Grupo Cultural Yorubá, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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Ibejí, Grupo Cultural Yorubá, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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Ogó de Exu: bastão cerimonial, Grupo Cultural Yorubá, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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Composição abstrata, Rubem Valentim, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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Abapatá, Emanoel Araújo, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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Não acho crime neste homem, Manuel Messias, 1980, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
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Composição abstrata (1973) by Emanoel AraújoMuseu Nacional de Belas Artes

Credits: Story

Das Galés às Galerias: representações e protagonismos do negro no acervo do MNBA

Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
31 de maio de 2018 a 27 de novembro de 2018

Curadoria
Ana Teles
Cláudia Rocha
Edson Nobrega de Souza
Eloísa Ramos Sousa
Reginaldo Tobias de Oliveira

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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