Brazil... the name alone conjures images of the Amazon rain forest, Corcovado towering over Rio de Janeiro, and Carnival. But our preconceptions don't do justice to this immense country, which is the fifth largest in the world, both in terms of geographical area and by population.
Which brings us to our newest exhibition. Opening its U.S. tour on August 15, 2013, the evening before African World Festival, is Bandits & Heroes, Poets & Saints: Popular Art of the Northeast of Brazil. We at The Wright are thrilled to partner with Con/Vida – Popular Arts of the Americas, the organizer of this exhibit. Through nearly 200 works of art, visitors will learn about slavery in Brazil, the plantation economy, popular heroes and heroic acts of resistance in the face of adversity, and the raucous escapades of legendary outlaws and bandits of Brazil’s “Wild West” - a history that inspires us to think of parallels to our own in the United States.
As the singer, songwriter, and activist Caetano Veloso, a native of the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia, wrote in his 2002 memoir, Tropical truth: a story of music and revolution in Brazil:
"The parallel with the United States is inevitable. If all the countries in the world today must measure themselves against 'America,' position themselves in relation to the American Empire, and if the other countries in America have to do so in an even more direct way - comparing their respective histories to that of their stronger and more fortunate brother - Brazil's case is even more acute, since the mirror image is more evident and the alienation more radical. Brazil is America's other giant, the other melting pot of races and cultures, the other promised land to European and Asian immigrants, the Other. The double, the shadow, the negative image of the great adventure of the New World. The sobriquet ‘sleeping giant,’ which was applied to the United States by Admiral Yamamoto, will be taken by any Brazilian as a reference to Brazil..."
The parallels don't end there. When one thinks of the enormous cultural and societal impact that 500,000 enslaved Africans have had on the evolution of the United States of America, just imagine an influx of 5,000,000 – the number of enslaved Africans brought to Brazil during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. A recent headline in the Guardian declared, "Brazil comes to terms with its slave trading past." It was the last country in the Western hemisphere to abolish slavery, on May 13, 1888. Brazil's last census, in 2011, showed that brancos (whites) accounted for less than half the population for the first time since the 19th century.
This “sleeping giant” is waking up; the Brazilian economy is the world's sixth largest, and one of its fastest growing major economies. The eyes of the world will be on Brazil as it hosts two of the most prestigious international athletic events - the World Cup in 2014, and the Summer Olympics in 2016.
"From the depths of the dark solar heart of the southern hemisphere," we can learn much about this parallel society, with its rich amalgamation of humanity, a cultural stew that has created its own sophisticated artistic traditions, rhythms and history. How will you explore Brazil? We hope you'll join us to find out, because it will be a fascinating journey. Um beijo!