Organized by Con/Vida – Popular Arts of the Americas, in partnership with The Wright Museum, Bandits & Heroes, Poets & Saints tells the story of how African, European, and indigenous cultural traditions have interacted over a period of more than 500 years to form the distinctive culture of this fascinating area of the largest country in South America. Brazil is home to one of the largest populations of African descendents in the world, with more than 75 million people. During the 16th through 19th centuries, an estimated 5 million Africans were brought over to Brazil into slavery, ten times the estimated 500,000 Africans that were brought to the United States. Currently, most of Brazil’s African population live in the Northeast of Brazil where centuries of African, European, and Amerindian cultures have mingled to create a mixture of conventions that help in shaping Latin American heritage.Exhibition curators Marion Jackson, Professor Emerita of Art History at Wayne State University, and Barbara Cervenka, O.P. Professor Emerita of Art at Siena Heights University, have traveled to the Northeast of Brazil during the past 20 years, working directly with popular artists and scholars to organize this exhibit. Cervenka observes, “While the Northeast is materially poor compared to Rio and São Paulo and the cities of the South of Brazil, the culture is vibrant and rich and filled with good humor. The Northeast is considered the historic and cultural ‘heart’ of Brazil.”
There is a strong African influence in Northeast Brazil’s percussive rhythms and music. “Soundtracks and amazing video clips accompany the art and will linger in the minds and imaginations of visitors long after they leave this unusual and engaging exhibition” says Jackson. “All cities have their rhythms, but not all cities have such dramatic and percussive rhythms as Salvador and Detroit.”
Bandits & Heroes, Poets & Saints includes nearly 200 works of art by more than 50 artists. Two eminent photographers, Adenor Gondim and Antônio Neto, have helped work on the exhibition, providing photos and video footage showing festivals, ceremonies, and pilgrimages. The exhibition is comprised of three segments that present the history and culture of Northeast Brazil through popular art. The first segment, The Land and its People, reflects on the history of slavery in Brazil, from the rich plantations that produced a wealthy amount of agricultural produce along the coast to the rugged landscape of the inhospitable dry backlands of the fugitive slave communities. The second segment, Expressions of Faith, explores the African-Brazilian religion of Candomblé which combines traditional African roots and Roman Catholicism, while also exploring the evangelical faith of the Northeast. In the exhibition, life-size mannequins of orixás (forged iron symbols of African deities) wearing colorful vestments of Candomblé can be viewed along with actual footage of the Candomblé ceremony in Bahia. The third segment, Poetry, Celebration, and Song, focuses on folk legends and popular festivals of the Nordestinos (People of the Northeast). Also featured in this segment is Literatura de Cordel (Literature on a String), which is a popular form of poetry, retelling stories and legends. These poems are produced by itinerant singing poets who sell their songs in small, inexpensive chapbooks in rural markets and fairs.
In conjunction with this riveting exhibition, The Wright Gala annual benefit takes place Saturday, September 28, 2013 and will provide an experience unlike any other, featuring Brazilian cuisine and entertainment, a four-course seated dinner in the Amazon, and a Brazilian dance party and celebration that gives new meaning to “Carnival.” Tickets for this black-tie event start at $300 and are available online at TheWrightGala.com or by phone at (800) 838-3006. Proceeds from The Wright Gala support the museum and its educational programming.
Bandits & Heroes, Poets & Saints: Popular Art of the Northeast of Brazil opens at The Wright Museum on August 15 in conjunction with African World Festival. The exhibition will remain on display until January 5, 2014, after which it will travel to the DuSable Museum, Chicago, Illinois; the Robert W. Woodruff Library at the Atlanta University Center, Atlanta, Georgia; and the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, Greensboro, North Carolina. Funding for Bandits & Heroes, Poets & Saints has been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Michigan Humanities Council, with additional support from Wayne State University, TechTown, and the Adrian Dominican Sisters. The exhibition is free with museum admission.