Monday 28 January 2019


By S. Williams

A right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, was inaugurated on Jan. 1 in Brazil, the fourth largest democracy in the world.
This divisive figure, considered by many to be misogynistic, racist and homophobic, garnered support through promises to deal with high-level corruption and a surge in violent crime. His election has sparked widespread trepidation internationally, but it has also created a strong determination to resist his bigoted attitude toward people of African descent and marginalized communities.
The resistance comes from women activists, indigenous peoples, the environmental movement, scholars and an array of artists, who are making their work speak for them. 
African art in Brazil.
The counter-narrative was already in the air during the 6th Brazil Africa Forum that took place last November in Salvador, capital of the northeast state of Bahia. The event coincided not only with the national Black Consciousness holiday in Brazil but a major exhibition of African art.
The forum, organised by the Brazil Africa Institute, brought together some 200 representatives from 38 countries for talks on "new strategies" between Brazil and African countries "to promote youth empowerment and sustainable development”, according to the organizers. 

The participants included students, academics, businesspeople, artists and diplomats from both sides of the Atlantic, who countered political extremist views.
The event also served to celebrate the ties that bind both sides of the Atlantic. During the closing session, Paulo Gomes, president of the Consultative Council of the Africa-Southeast Asian Chamber of Commerce, mentioned a project by Ghana’s president Nana Akufo-Addo called “The Year of Return”.
“The president of Ghana wants to make 2019 ‘The Year of Return’,” Gomes said. “We are going to ask all Afro-descendants to return to Africa so that we can do business.”
Reports by the site This Is Africa said that “Ghana is launching a series of programmes that seek to encourage people of African ancestry to make the ‘birthright journey home’ as part of ‘the global African family’”.
The site added that “in the 1820s and 1830s, the Tabon people, a group of African slaves in Brazil, returned to Accra after a popular slave rebellion. Their descendants have been fully assimilated into Ghanaian social and political life.”
A member of Ilê Aiyê.
Some Brazilians may answer Ghana’s call, but artists will also continue working throughout the “New World’ to carry on the fight against anti-Blackness and discrimination, say cultural observers.
Performing at the forum was the music and dance ensemble Ilê Aiyê, one of Salvador’s most popular bands and a group working to highlight Brazil’s African heritage.
The group was targeted by the police and the media during its early years (it was founded in 1974 by Antônio Carlos “Vovô” and Apolônio de Jesus in Liberdade, the largest black neighborhood in Salvador), but it now includes hundreds when it performs during Bahia’s carnival - with spectators singing along to songs that emphasize African cultural heritage.
(An estimated 60 percent of Brazilians have African heritage as more than four million people enslaved by Europeans, primarily the Portuguese, were transported to the South American country to work on sugar plantations and in mines.)
As the forum took place, African culture was also brought into focus by an exhibition of the Claudio Masella African Art Collection, which occupies three rooms at Salvador’s well-known Solar Ferrão Cultural Center. 
The exhibition consists of about 160 pieces from across Africa that was collected over 30 years by the Italian architect and businessman. Masella married a Brazilian woman, and three years before his death in 2007 the collection was donated to Bahia.
Other art venues that cast a light on the heritage of African-descended peoples in Brazil include the Museu Afro-Brasileiro, with exhibitions that inform visitors about traditions such as capoeira and Candomblé, the Afro-Brazilian martial art and religious tradition respectively.
Despite political rhetoric, the role of African cultural heritage in Brazil is undeniable, and a range of groups are resisting any attempt to belittle this presence. 
S. Williams is a traveling journalist. He contributed this article and photos as a “Letter from Brazil”.

Wednesday 2 January 2019


The world doesn't require another “best of” list, so we’re not going to compile one. What we wish to do instead is invite readers to check out a few of the great books we've read over the past year, written by both scholars and “creatives”. Some made for difficult, disturbing reading. All were invaluable.

Here we go (in no particular order):

From the Tricontinental to the Global South: Race, Radicalism, and Transnational Solidarity. Author: Anne Garland Mahler. Duke University Press.

Sing, Unburied, Sing. Author: Jesmyn Ward. This edition: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture. Edited by Roxanne Gay. This edition: Allen & Unwin. Features contributions from Claire Schwartz, Gabrielle Union, Ally Sheedy and Liz Rosema (a graphic story), among others.

Me and My House: James Baldwin's Last Decade in France. Author: Magdalena J. Zaborowska. Duke University Press.

The Colour of Shadows: Images of Caribbean Slavery. Author: Judy Raymond. Caribbean Studies Press.

Journal of a Homecoming / Cahier d’un retour au pays natal. Bilingual edition of the Aimé Césaire classic. Translated by Gregson Davis, with introduction, commentary and notes by F. Abiola Irele. Duke University Press.

Nourished Planet. Sustainability in the Global Food System. Edited by Danielle Nierenberg (co-founder of Food Tank), with the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition. Island Press.