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Fetishes and Monuments

Fetishes and Monuments: Afro-Brazilian Art and Culture in the 20thCentury

Roger Sansi
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Fetishes and Monuments
    Book Description:

    One hundred years ago in Brazil the rituals of Candomble were feared as sorcery and persecuted as crime. Its cult objects were fearsome fetishes. Nowadays, they are Afro-Brazilian cultural works of art, objects of museum display and public monuments. Focusing on the particular histories of objects, images, spaces and persons who embodied it, this book portrays the historical journey from weapons of sorcery looted by the police, to hidden living stones, to public works of art attacked by religious fanatics that see them as images of the Devil, former sorcerers who have become artists, writers, and philosophers. Addressing this history as a journey of objectification and appropriation, the author offers a fresh, unconventional, and illuminating look at questions of syncretism, hybridity and cultural resistance in Brazil and in the Black Atlantic in general.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-540-6
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction Culture and Objectification in the Black Rome
    (pp. 1-20)

    Salvador da Bahia,¹ once the colonial capital of Brazil, is nowadays the capital of Afro-Brazilian culture.² Some tourist brochures call it the ‘Black Rome’, ‘the biggest inheritor of African traditions out of Africa’,³ and ‘Cradle and home of African descendent traditions (including samba, capoeira and Candomblé)’.⁴ Candomblé in particular is often presented as the heart of this Afro-Brazilian culture.

    The origin of the term ‘Candomblé’ is unknown. It seems to have appeared in Bahia in the first half of the nineteenth century⁵ in reference to parties of slaves and freed slaves (sometimes in the plural, Candomblés), and also in connection...

  6. Chapter 1 ‘Making the Saint’: Spirits, Shrines and Syncretism in Candomblé
    (pp. 21-46)

    In 1983, Mãe Stella, head of the Candomblé house Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá, forbade ‘syncretistic’ spirits, like the Caboclo or Indian spirit, and all Catholic practices in her house, and retired all Catholic images from the shrines. This ‘revolution’ in values is the result of the influence of an intellectual tradition, Afro-Brazilianism, which has insisted on the Africanness of Candomblé, and the movement of ‘re-Africanisation’ that followed it, which seeks to eliminate all traces of syncretism from Candomblé practice.

    The following chapters will discuss more extensively this Afro-Brazilianist tradition and the re-Africanisation movement. But first, it is important to reflect...

  7. Chapter 2 From Sorcery to Civilisation: The Objectification of Afro-Brazilian Culture
    (pp. 47-64)

    The Candomblé of Bahia has been an object of knowledge and social enquiry for more than a century now. The tradition of studies of Candomblé, what Serra (1994) calls ‘Afro-Brazilianism’, has been based on a consistent basic assumption: the rejection of ‘syncretism’. The Afro-Brazilianist tradition has always been interested in ‘purely African’ cults, through which it has built an image of Candomblé as an African Culture, autonomous and in many ways separate from Brazilian society.

    In the previous chapter, I argued that this separation between Brazil and Candomblé denies the historicity of the latter’s ritual practices. However, this literature is...

  8. Chapter 3 From Informants to Scholars: Appropriating Afro-Brazilian Culture
    (pp. 65-82)

    Who tricked whom: the scholars or the sorcerers? Or in more theoretical terms: who objectified whom? Was it the Afro-Brazilianist scholars who wrapped Candomblé in the discursive formation of Afro-Brazilian culture? Or was it the Yoruba masters who convinced the scholars that their religion and their culture were purer, wiser and better than any other African culture?

    Whose agency do we recognise? Who made the first move? This seems to be the dilemma. But maybe this dilemma comes from a radical assumption: that all along, since the very beginning, there were two players. This assumption raises more questions that remain...

  9. Chapter 4 From Weapons of Crime to Jewels of the Crown: Candomblé in Museums
    (pp. 83-108)

    InRoutes(1997), James Clifford introduced the idea that museums could be seen as ‘contact zones’.¹ Discussing recent cases, Clifford sees how the objects of representation of ethnographic museums, the ‘natives’ themselves participate in the construction of the museums, in ‘contact’ with museologists. Sometimes this contact is friendly and constructive, for example, anthropologists asking Kwakiutl elders about the objects in their collections. At other times it is openly hostile or controversial, for example, in cases of exhibits of colonial history that are perceived by some communities (Afro-Canadians in the case discussed by Clifford) as offensive to their identity. Museums become...

  10. Chapter 5 From the Shanties to the Mansions: Candomblé as National Heritage
    (pp. 109-124)

    The process of ‘culturalisation’ of Candomblé has provided very specific objectifications, as we have seen in the previous chapter on museums. This chapter will address how Afro-Brazilian culture is objectified beyond the museum, in public places and monuments. More specifically, I will describe the process of revaluation of some Candomblé spaces in Bahia (theterreiros) as spaces of cultural heritage, that is, how they have become national monuments.

    A monument, according to my dictionary, is a ‘building, tombstone etc. erected to preserve the memory of a person or event; any building or erection of historic or artistic importance; something of...

  11. Chapter 6 Modern Art and Afro-Brazilian Culture in Bahia
    (pp. 125-142)

    The formation of Afro-Brazilian culture is the result of the century-long interaction between intellectuals and Candomblé leaders in Bahia. But these intellectuals were not only anthropologists. Although anthropology provided the discourse on culture, other figures in the cultural world, writers and artists, were often much more important to this process because of their public influence. The names of Jorge Amado and Carybé are better known and respected in Bahia than that of Roger Bastide.

    The emergence of modern culture, literature and the visual arts in Bahia is strictly linked to the appropriation of Afro-Brazilian culture by writers and painters like...

  12. Chapter 7 Authenticity and Commodification in Afro-Brazilian Art
    (pp. 143-164)

    In 2000, Brazil celebrated the 500th anniversary of its ‘discovery’. The celebrations were accompanied by bitter argument and scandals, except for one event that was extremely successful: the Mostra do Redescobrimento-Brasil 500 anos (Rediscovery Exhibition: Brazil 500 Years). This was a massive art exhibition that brought together the most important Brazilian visual art production from the country’s origins to the present day. The show was spectacular in all respects and of gigantic dimensions, occupying all the pavilions at Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo. The exhibition was divided into the following categories: ‘Indigenous art’, ‘Baroque religious art’, ‘Twentieth-century academic art’, ‘Modern...

  13. Chapter 8 Candomblé as Public Art: The Orixás of Tororó
    (pp. 165-184)

    So far we have described the historical process through which Candomblé has been objectified in museums, heritage sites, artworks and persons in Bahia, as Afro-Brazilian culture. In this concluding chapter, we will see the consequences of this process, its limits and contradictions.

    Nowhere are these contradictions more visible than in works of public art, monuments that claim to represent Afro-Brazilian culture. Since the 1970s, decorations and sculptures making reference to the Orixás have started to appear in the streets of Bahia. Some of the more famous and well known of these works are the Orixás that Mario Cravo made for...

  14. Chapter 9 Re-appropriations of Afro-Brazilian Culture
    (pp. 185-194)

    ‘Holy War in Bahia’ (‘Guerra Santa na Bahia’). This was the headline in the local newspaper, A Tarde , on 12 January 2003. The newspaper described the public reaction of Candomblé leaders to the attacks made by Pentecostals during IURD television programmes, in which Candomblé practitioners were exorcised. Bahian cultural institutions like the Center of Afro-Oriental Studies (CEAO) and the Cultural Council of the State of Bahia immediately expressed their solidarity with Candomblé and their rejection of the IURD. The director of CEAO, the historian Ubaritan Castro, said that some sectors of the Pentecostal churches were trying to destroy Afro-Brazilian...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 195-206)
  16. Index
    (pp. 207-214)