By Bamuturaki Musinguzi
Published April 9, 2014
A multi-media exhibition exploring the cultural relationship between Afro-Brazilians and Africa has just wound up in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.
Tilted “Africa in Brazil, Brazil in Africa”, the exhibition focused on images, memories and cultural relations of the Africa and Brazil, the South American country with the largest number of afro-descendants outside sub-Sahara Africa.
The trans-Atlantic slave trade forcefully uprooted hundreds of people from Africa between the 16th and 19th centuries and planted them in the two American continents and Europe. But the diverse traditions, cultural practices and rituals of these people persisted throughout the slavery period, developing and mingling with the cultures of their new home. This resulted in the emergence of what would become afro-American cultures: from afro-Brazilian music and dances such as samba and maracatu to traditions and rites such as capoeira and candomble and to literature, photography and paintings.
These cultural interfaces between Brazil and Africa are not only objects of academic historical discourses but also subjects of artistic approaches. They raise questions of identity and belonging and reflect on fantasies and dreams.
For many afro-Brazilians, their African roots are a major element of their identity, yet this “Africa” is a vague idea, only reflected in the colour of their skin.
The ‘Africa in Brazil, Brazil in Africa’ exhibition, held at Kampala’s Ugandan Museum February 18 – March 13, 2014 and featuring the work of four artists from Brazil, South Africa and Uganda, tried to capture images, imaginations, memories and relations between Brazil and Africa. This could have been a starting point from which to explore Black-African cultural influences worldwide.
The Goethe-Zentrum Kampala and Ugandan German Cultural Society-organised event showed works from four artists in different media: Guma (Brazil), Claudio Manoel Duarte (Brazil), Kitso Lynn Lelliott (South Africa) and Bruno Ruganzu (Uganda).
Ruganzu had a mixed media installation titled ‘Africa is Soil’. It is made of card board papers shaped in three African maps, black and white cloth with all types of Ugandan soils.
He said the installation is based on his experiences as an African in Brazil where he travelled to in 2013. But Ruganzu’s own images of Brazil were shaped early by the adoration of Brazilian football players such as Ronaldinho. He said Afro-Brazilians were introduced to him during primary school, learning about the slave trade and colonisation of Africa.
“The images and thoughts of what transpired during the largest movement of Africans as they were forced to work in sugarcane plantations has been explored in many forms such as documentaries and fictional movies but none has brought to me the feeling of Brazil than the first time I stepped in Brazil in 2013,” Ruganzu said. “Ubuntu (humanism or we are one) was the greeting I interacted with while greeting afro-Brazilians and thus the discussions that transpired were more on their dream to visit Africa (motherland). My installation is inspired by the trip to Brazil and is an artistic view or ethnographic representation detailing a conceptual approach on which areas in Africa were mostly affected by movements of Africans.”
He observed that while the majority of youth in Uganda in particular and Africa in general have the desire of migrating to Europe and North America, afro-Brazilians have the desire to visit Africa and connect to what was once their motherland. Afro-Brazilian culture has positively impacted on Brazil as a country through elements like the capoeira dance that has widely spread across the world.
Ruganzu says he did not feel like he was out of Africa because of the similar forms of spirituality, tools and cultures that he experienced while in Brazil.
His installation—Africa is Soil—could be appreciated as an artistic and ethnographic representation, detailing a conceptual approach on the different areas in Africa and how they were affected by the movements of Africans worldwide. Nowadays the “Afro” is not only due to the forced movements from centuries ago, but is also to the syncretism of cultures that can be observed.
“I have called my installation ‘Africa is Soil’ because our world has soil nearly everywhere. We don’t need borders in Africa, especially the ones created by colonialism. All we need is freedom of expression and movement. We need to move beyond these borders and not be restricted to tribal areas,” Ruganzu told ArtMatters.Info.
Kitso Lynn Lelliott had a video installation titled ‘Transatlantic Saudades’, an experimental documentary project engaging what can be perceived as a reflective ‘off’- mirroring between Bahia (Brazil) and South Africa.
Through a series of vignettes that create a matrix of associations between image, time, sense and memory, ‘Transatlantic Saudades’ reflects this saudades, engaging how Bahia remembers Africa evoking a sense of interconnectedness across the Atlantic Ocean, a body of separation and linking.
According to Lelliott, Saudades means something along the lines of nostalgia, sadness without melancholy, reminiscence and impatience. In her installation Lelliott speaks of colonisation and the trauma it left behind. She creates a story about a person from Africa who ends up far away from home – across the oceans and is missing home, which is impossible for him to reach.
In her works, Lelliott explores the omitted narratives of history, the topics of memory and oblivion. Her art consists of documentaries, short and full length films and video installations. She has participated in many international film festivals.
Lelliott said her work tends to play around ideas of ‘ghosts of the past as they linger in the present.’ The past and the present live in a complex relation to one another, never really distinct but rather, they cut across, shaping and re-shaping one another.
“The positions of marginality we experience today and the boundaries and demarcations we live through—physical and ideological—were formed through our collective and intermingling pasts. The past informs the present as the present constantly acts back on the past, in dialogue, negotiation and re-negotiation,” Lelliott argued.
Guma’s coloured photographs captured the afro-Brazilian reality in the peripheries of Sao Paulo through three of his works: ‘Território Gira’, ‘Morada’ and ‘Eu Africanizo Sao Paulo’.
In the essay, ‘Morada’, Guma shows an insightful view to the everyday life of the people of Pirajussara in Taboao da Serra, in the periphery of Sao Paulo. This photographic view goes beyond the colourful and glamorous facade of Brazil showing a rather ignored and unknown side of the metropolis of Sao Paulo.
The periphery of this city, with more than 20 million of inhabitants, is home to migrants and families that originate from the deprived areas of the Brazilian northeast who hope to make a better living by settling around the city with the strongest economy of their country.
Guma introduces us to the people living in those improvised areas of Sao Paulo, in which the afro-Brazilian culture is expressed and lived in many ways.
‘Morada’ started as collaboration between the friends Guma and Allan da Rosa, two inhabitants of Pirajussara that wished to capture the life and homeliness of the peripheral Sao Paulo and to tell the story of its inhabitants – of their own people. Through photography and poetry, they created a story told from an honest and internal perspective.
In ‘Terriório Gira’ (The Territory Spins), Guma looks at the movements of an African matrix that pulsates at the peripheries of Sao Paulo, the culture that influences and designs the economic and ecological developments, the imageries of human geography as well as the popular and institutional education of the city.
The project compiles a wide range of photographs taken within the last four years by one who is a player in the roda (the circle that is characteristic for most afro-Brazilian cultural manifestations as Capoeira), a sole that steps on the floor of the quintal (literally meaning backyard and as such “hidden in the back”), a hand tuning the berimbau (a bow-instrument) and an iris taking a closer look at the turns around the corner and the drumming of the humble temples.
Guma’s essay, ‘Eu Africanizo Sao Paulo’ (I Africanise Sao Paulo), is a photographic essay showing portraits of members and activists of the Black Movement of Sao Paulo.
Having grown up in the periphery of Sao Paulo, Guma gives an insightful view through his photographs, approaching the nowadays reality of those peripheral neighbourhoods and slums, the life of those people, his people.
What they have in common is a distant connection to the African heritage – as in many other countries the poorer peripheries of big metropolises as Sao Paulo are inhabited mainly by black people. But that connection is not only visible through the colour of their skin and the structure of their hair; their culture is much more intertwined with the ‘Black Continent.’
Through various approaches, Guma observes the “Afro” in his Brazil, pointing at the sometimes hidden beauty and richness of the periphery and giving an image of the images and imaginations of that ‘Africa in Brazil.’
Claudio Manoel Duarte had video clips as a musical cartography of the Reconcavo Baiano in the northeast of Brazil. The Reconcavo Baiano is a multi-musical landscape known as the cradle of the afro-Brazilian culture. The videos tell stories about the local, independent scene of the small town, Cachoeira.
The diversity of the soundscape goes over religious choral and philharmonic brass orchestra up to samba-rock, jazz, rap, and pop. The do-it-yourself videos are done with digital tools in order to avoid costly productions and to produce and spread audio-visual documents outside the structures of the music business. The main objective of Duarte’s project is to produce an online collection of video clips with musical artists of the Reconcavo Baiano.