Abigail Lapin Dardashti: Re-Constructing Blackness in Brazil

Abdias do Nascimento, Exu Black Power #2 (Homage to Ruben Gerchman), 1971

Abdias do Nascimento, Exu Black Power #2 (Homage to Ruben Gerchman), 1971

Re-Constructing Blackness in Brazil: Politics, Race, and Modernity in Brazilian Art and Architecture, 1950s-1980s

Starting in the 1950s, the Brazilian government positioned itself as a leading economic partner for emerging, independent African nations. Through officially-sponsored art exhibitions and academic exchanges, state assertions of “pure” Africanness denied the centuries-long development of Afro-Brazilian culture. Responding to the state’s essentialization of blackness, an emerging Afro-Brazilian civil rights movement not only exposed the country’s pervasive racial inequalities, but also developed an ethno-religious and cultural Afro-Brazilian identity. By depicting Afro-Brazilians, their religions, and their neighborhoods on a monumental scale in painting, sculpture, and photograph, visual artists challenged persistent stereotypical depictions of “blackness” as backward and folkloric. The connections between art-making, the civil rights movement, and official artistic exchanges with Africa have remained largely unstudied. Dardashti’s study positions artworks and exhibitions as both critical to the civil rights movement and fundamental in constructing the official discourse of Brazilian blackness. The project shows that visual constructions were essential to the broader socio-cultural project of defining blackness in Brazil in the postwar period. Even though black Brazilian artists are usually analyzed as discrete entities in the broader history of international exchange, Dardashti traces the stylistic changes in artworks that were produced not only in Brazil, but also in Senegal, Nigeria, France, Spain, and the United States. Through this global approach, she amends isolated studies on Brazilian blackness that to date have omitted international exchanges and contexts. Thus far, art historical scholarship has isolated black art in Brazil from the mainstream history of Brazilian art, and art history in general. This project seeks to break these divisions and rightfully integrate black artists into Brazilian art history.

Abigail Lapin Dardashti is a PhD candidate in Art History at the CUNY Graduate Center. She received her BA and MA in Art History from New York University. Her research focuses on formations of ethno-religious and racial identity in twentieth century art of the Americas, with a concentration on the Dominican Republic and Brazil. Her dissertation studies postwar black Brazilian art and its relationship to politics, modernity, and the public sphere. This research was presented at the College Art Association Conference in February 2016. Her work has been funded by the Mellon Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, the CUNY Graduate Center, and the New York Council of the Humanities and recently published in Border-Lines, Journal of the Latino Research Center, University of Nevada. As guest curator at Taller Puertorriqueño, she authored the forthcoming 2016 exhibition catalogue Unpacking Hispañola. Lapin is a Graduate Teaching Fellow at City College, CUNY. Born and raised in Paris, France and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, she is fluent in French, English, Spanish, and has advanced knowledge of Portuguese.


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