DETROIT, Michigan — June 24, 2013 — The first major U.S. traveling exhibition of popular art from the Northeast of Brazil will open its U.S. tour at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit on August 15, 2013. This innovative exhibition — entitled Bandits & Heroes, Poets & Saints: Popular Art of the Northeast of Brazil — presents popular art (the art of ordinary people) from Brazil’s Northeast to tell the story of how European, African, and indigenous cultural traditions have interacted over a period of more than 500 years to form the distinctive culture of this fascinating area of Brazil.
Beginning with Portuguese colonial settlement that began in Brazil in the early-1500s (nearly a century before the first permanent British settlement at Jamestown), this exhibition brings to life the people, the captivating history, and the culture of the largest country in South America. Through nearly 200 works of art, visitors will learn about slavery in Brazil, about the plantation economy, about popular heroes and heroic acts of resistance in the face of adversity, and about the raucous escapades of legendary outlaws and bandits of Brazil’s “Wild West” — a history that inspires us us to think of parallels in our own history in the United States. Visitors will also encounter the widely practiced spiritual traditions that give meaning and cohesiveness to people’s lives in Brazil’s Northeast. Woodblock prints and carved wood figures of Catholic saints and forged iron symbols of African deities — called orixàs — introduce popular Catholicism and the ecstatic African-Brazilian religion called Candomblé. In the exhibition, life-sized mannequins of the orixàs wearing the colorful ceremonial vestments of Candomblé seem to dance in front of video footage of a Candomblé ceremony actually filmed in Bahia.
Bandits & Heroes, Poets & Saints is being organized in Detroit by Con/Vida — Popular Arts of the Americas in partnership with the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Exhibition curators — Marion (Mame) Jackson, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Art History, Wayne State University; and Barbara Cervenka, O.P.,Professor Emerita of Art, Siena Heights University — have traveled extensively in Brazil’s Northeast during the past 20 years. They have worked directly with popular artists and scholars in this poorest region of Brazil to organize this exhibition. “While the Northeast is materially poor compared to Rio and SÃ£o Paulo and the cities of the South of Brazil,” observes curator Cervenka, “the culture is vibrant and rich and filled with good humor. The Northeast is considered the historic and cultural ‘heart’ of Brazil.” The strong African presence in the Northeast of Brazil can be felt throughout the exhibit, especially in the percussive rhythms of its music. “Sound tracks and amazing video clips accompany the art and will linger in the minds and imaginations of visitors long after they leave this unusual and engaging exhibition” says curator Jackson. “All cities have their rhythms — but not all cities have such dramatic and percussive rhythms as Salvador and Detroit.”