The Art of Memory: São Paulo's AfroBrasil Museum

Sunday, January 9, 2011: 9:30 AM
Room 310 (Hynes Convention Center)
Kimberly Cleveland , Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA
On November 20, 2003, Black Awareness Day in Brazil, Sao Paulo's politicians and general community came together to celebrate the creation of the city's AfroBrasil Museum by municipal decree. The founding of this institution is one of numerous steps the government has taken since 1988, the country's centenary of the abolition of slavery, to re-examine and re-contextualize the role that Africans and African-descendants have played in Brazilian history. More than just a space for art exhibitions, according to the visitor's guide, this museum “aims to tell an alternative Brazilian history. . . to deconstruc[t] an image of the black population constructed from a historically inferior perspective” and to “transfor[m] it into a prestigious image founded on equality and belonging.” Through an overview of the institution's successes and failures since it opened in October 2004, and using as its evidentiary base interviews with Brazilian scholars and artists, including the museum's director, Emanoel Ara˙jo, I explore the complex entanglement of art and politics that is the AfroBrasil Museum. This paper attempts to answer the questions: How does this museum function as a heuristic tool for making the memory of slavery public in Brazil? What role does this institution play in local, national, and perhaps even transnational, representations of the history of slavery? What were the political stakes involved in creating this institution? Lastly, as per the director's statement that the AfroBrasil Museum “has a commitment to history, to memory and, most importantly, to the self-esteem of many Afro-Brazilians who do not know who they are”, has this institution succeeded in its goal to present a revisionist view of slavery in Brazil and its aftereffects?
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