The DuSable Museum of African American History

Bandits & Heroes, Poets & Saints: Popular Art of the Northeast of Brazil

Bandits & Heroes, Poets & Saints: Popular Art of the Northeast of Brazil

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. These traditions form a distinctive culture of the fascinating area of the largest country in South America. Brazil is home to one of the greatest populations of African descendants 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 by slavery, ten times the estimated 500,000 Africans brought to the United States. Currently, most of Brazil’s population lives 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 Emeriti of Art History at Wayne State University, and Barbara Cervenka O.P Professor Emeriti of Art at Siena Heights University have traveled to the Northeast of Brazil during the past 20 years, working directly with traditional artists and scholars to organize the exhibition. Cervenka observes “While the Northeast is materially poor compared to Rio and Sao Paulo and the cities of the South of Brazil, the culture is vibrant and rich filled with good humor. The Northeast is considered the historical and cultural heart of Brazil.”

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Bandits & Heroes, Poets & Saints includes nearly 200 works of art by more than 50 artists. Two eminent photographers Adenor Gondim and Antonio Neto have helped work on the exhibition, providing photos and video footage showing festivals, ceremonies, and pilgrimages. The exhibition spans three segments that present the history and culture of Northeast Brazil through traditional art. The first segment, The Land and Its People, reflects on the history of slavery in Brazil, from the rich plantations that produced a substantial 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 Candomble which combines traditional African roots and Roman Catholicism while also exploring the evangelical faith of the Northeast. In the exhibition, life-size mannequins of prixas (forged iron symbols of African deities) wearing colorful vestments of Candomble can be viewed along with actual footage of the Candomble ceremony in Bahia. The third segment, Poetry, Celebration and Song, focuses on folk legends and traditional festivals of the Nordestinos (People of the Northeast). Also featured in this segment is Literature de Cordel (Literature on a String), which is a traditional 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.



Funding for Bandits & Heroes, Poets & Saints: Popular Art of the Northeast of Brazil is made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Michigan Humanities Council with additional support from Wayne State University, Tech Town, and the Adrian Dominican Sisters. The Chicago presentation is supported by a CityArts Grant from the City of Chicago, Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events. For more information on the exhibition please call 773-947-0600 or visit our website at The DuSable Museum of African American History gratefully acknowledges the Chicago Park District’s generous support of the Museum.