The Transatlantic Thread – Guest Post by Dr Rosane Carneiro Ramos

(‘Sem titulo (Exu) – Divulgacao Masp’, por Maria Auxiliadora)

I have always had to allow my mind to be in a contemplative state to write. Any creative task of mine has always implied a meditative mind. Even better, an oblivious mind. That is why it was not a surprise when many years ago, reading Harald Weinrich for my Master’s dissertation I could learn about the potentiality of deep forgetfulness to creation. In Lethe: The Art and Critique of Forgetting the author shows how these two, the dialectical duo forgetting/remembering and creation are interconnected. If I use the Portuguese expression ‘o fio da meada’ (something like ‘a memory thread’) what comes to my mind is always Ariadne’s ball of thread, the one she gave to Theseus to escape the labyrinth in Greek mythology.

This loose association leads to another disjointed assumption: memory helps to escape. As remembering or forgetting, her twin sons (excuse-me, but memory is female). However, escaping from what? From whatever is needed. If it is to escape from the burdens in life, so be it. If it is to escape one’s own fate, it is still valid. And, if it is to escape an enforced silencing in order to fight injustice, excellent.

These two instances, remembering and forgetting, provide highly potent tools for changing destinies. Not for other reasons the archives are apparatus of power, allies of grand societal rulers such as governments, churches, privileged institutions. Official archives in their many and imposed forms decide what to remember and what to forget. In a very rough way, following this line of reasoning, they pretty much decide, then, whether we can escape or not. Nonetheless, are we prisoners?… I did not mean that, I do not remember why this thought is here – perhaps there is something about institutional power that impels us to escape.

This outward labyrinth I am taking you in is Água de barrela’s accountability. Eliana Alves Cruz’s work exposes this tension of memory very well, the remembering/forgetting role in how we deal with our fate. A fractured history which is still unfolding, the Afro-Brazilian past lingers in the present in Brazil like a wounded monster (a Minotaur may come to mind, that’s fine). However, this beast is still alive. And, we know, it is hungrier than ever. The merit of this book then is to offer us a thread. Less mythologically speaking, Cruz takes in the hands of her writing the determination of choosing what to remember or to forget, and how to remember or forget. The author’s decision to dive into her great-aunt memories as a schizophrenic and to collect and assemble, for six years, facts, objects, letters, and to revolve the cultural memories of so many peoples involved in the crossing of the Atlantic is admirable. As are the works of female Afro-Brazilian writers, artists, citizens who, in the last years, have voiced their challenges to past and present archives in order to create a fairer society.

As a student in life I can just consider Água de barrela a piece to be disseminated, to inspire generations, to contribute to the history we are building in Brazil and in the Lusophone Atlantic. The book comes to join this transatlantic movement of knowledge and creativity undertaken by many women lately, which includes the project Women of the Brown Atlantic. Eliana Alves Cruz’s work is necessary, as a chosen act of remembering the humanity we are made of. I hope that in this Memory Residency I am able to highlight this enough.

There could not be a better time to follow this thread.

Aula Aberta na Universidade do Porto e Workshop grátis em Lisboa

Queridxs leitorxs,

Há duas semanas a equipa do Mulheres do Atlântico Pardo encontrou-se para discutir o progresso do projeto. Foi fantástico poder reunir toda a gente e falar sobre o que já realizamos e o que queremos organizar para o futuro. Foi uma semana muito cheia, mas muito gratificante, durante a qual também inauguramos a Residência da Memória com a Dra Rosane Carneiro Ramos.

A Rosane irá em breve publicar um texto sobre a sua participação no projeto, portanto fiquem atentxs a este espaço!

Estamos agora a organizar dois novos eventos relacionados com o projeto. Um deles é uma aula aberta na universidade do Porto (10 março de 2020) dedicada ao tema ‘Maria Firmina dos Reis (1825-1917): a primeira romancista brasileira em diálogo com outras “mães” literárias do mundo luso-afro-brasileiro’. Em breve publicaremos mais informações sobre esta aula.

A outra atividade é uma oficina a ser realizada em Lisboa no dia 28 de março 2020 no Centro de Inovação da Mouraria, dedicada ao tema: ‘Estórias pessoais e familiares sobre memória e mobilidade no Atlântico Pardo’. Para esta oficina, estamos à procura de participantes baseadxs em Lisboa e arredores que tenham experiência de mobilidade entre Portugal, Brasil e África lusófona e que estejam interessadxs em partilhar estas estórias num contexto informal e amigável na companhia de investigadoras e uma psicóloga que trabalham nos campos da memória, mobilidade e identidade no mundo lusófono.

A participação nesta oficina é inteiramente grátis para todxs xs que decidirem participar. A estrutura do evento é a seguinte:

Manhã:

  • acolhimento e café da manhã (oferecido pela organização)
  • apresentação do projeto e dos seus objetivos
  • leitura e preenchimento de formulários éticos
  • Q&A

Almoço (oferecido pela organização)

Tarde

  • mesa redonda com todxs xs participantes para discussão do tema da oficina (memória e mobilidade no Atlântico Pardo)
  • Pausa para café (oferecido pela organização)
  • entrevistas individuais com participantes que aceitarem tornar-se colaboradorxs do projeto

Se estiver interessadx em participar, por favor contacte-nos por email: a.m.d.martins@exeter.ac.uk

O workshop é financiado pelo Arts and Humanities Research Council. A Aula Aberta é  financiada pelo grupo Intersexualidades do Instituto de Literatura Comparada Margarida Losa.

Open Lecture at the University of Porto and Free workshop in Lisbon

Hello dear readers,

We can’t believe that February is almost over! A couple of weeks ago the advisory team of the Women of the Brown Atlantic met in Exeter to discuss the progress of the project. It was great to bring everyone together and to touch base about what has been achieved so far and what we are organising for the near future. Overall, It was a very ,busy but incredibly rewarding week, during which we also kickstarted the Memory Residency with Dr Rosane Carneiro.

 

Rosane will soon be blogging about her participation in the project as the Memory Residency holder, so watch this space for her take on Eliana Alves Cruz’s work!

We are now gearing up for two important project-related events. One is an open lecture at the University of Porto (10 March 2020), dedicated to the theme: ‘Maria Firmina dos Reis (1825-1917): a primeira romancista brasileira em diálogo com outras “mães” literárias do mundo luso-afro-brasileiro’. I will be posting more information about this lecture soon.

The other event is a workshop to be held on Saturday, 28 March 2020, at the Centro de Inovação da Mouraria in Lisbon, titled: “Personal and family tales of Memory and Mobility in the Brown Atlantic. For this workshop, we are looking for Lisbon-based participants who have a personal or family history/experience of mobility between Portugal, Brazil and Portuguese-speaking Africa, and who may be interested in sharing these stories in an informal and friendly setting, in the company of researchers and a psychologist who work in the fields of memory, mobility and identity in the Portuguese-speaking world.

This one-day workshop is entirely free of charge and will be structured in the following way:

Morning:

  • Refreshments, tea and coffee
  • Presenting the project’s aims and goals
  • Reading and filling in interview ethics forms
  • Q&A

Lunch provided

Afternoon

  • roundtable with all collaborators to discuss: the topic of memory and mobility in the Brown Atlantic; the topics to be covered in the individual interviews with collaborators;
  • refreshments, tea and coffee
  • individual interviews with those participants who have accepted to become collaborators in the project.

If you would like to take part, please let us know by email (a.m.d.martins@exeter.ac.uk).

The workshop is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The Open Lecture is funded by the research group Intersexualidades hosted by the Institute of Comparative Literature Margarida Losa.

 

Memory Residency 2020: Dr Rosane Carneiro researches Eliana Alves Cruz’s Água de Barrela (2015)

Feliz Ano Novo! Happy New Year!

The Women of the Brown Atlantic team wishes a happy, successful and healthy 2020 to all our readers out there!

We are delighted to announce that Dr Rosane Carneiro from King’s College London has joined our team as the Memory Residency Holder 2020. Dr Carneiro will spend a month at the University of Exeter doing research and networking with colleagues from Exeter. The Residency will also enable her to extend her collegial network in the South West through a visit to the Centre for Black Humanities at the University of Bristol.

During her stay at Exeter, she will pursue a research project dedicated to the theme: Re-Colouring Stories Through Oral Memory in Água de Barrela (2015)’ by Eliana Alves Cruz. She will explore how the author uses her schizophrenic great-aunt’s oral memories to unveil her personal, family history, and Afro-Brazilian experience more broadly.

How can oral memories support the reconstruction of Afro-Brazilian history and challenge the paradigm of the archive?

This study contributes to the aims of the Women of the Brown Atlantic project as it questions the usefulness of the archive as a universalised metaphor for the storage of memory, and it explores alternative methodologies to reveal untold black stories in Brazil.

The Memory Residency with kickstart on 10 February 2020 and extend for a period of 30 days. Towards the end of the Residency, Dr Carneiro will offer a seminar on Cruz’s award winning historical novel. All are welcome to attend!

We couldn’t be more excited to welcome Dr Carneiro to Exeter and wish her all the best for her research time in the South West!

Memory Residency 2020 call is now closed

After several days of feeling under the weather with a nasty cold, I’m finally feeling better, and it’s great to be back to the Women of the Brown Atlantic project!

Thank you so much for the applications submitted for the Memory Residency 2020, which came from Brazil, Portugal, Austria, the US and the UK! It’s amazing to see so much transnational interest in the project. Thank you also for your personal messages of support and encouragement. It makes all the difference to know that the project makes sense to people out there, and that it poses valid questions about the world we live in. Special greetings also to our readers from the Netherlands, Germany, Mozambique, Finland and France!

This week started very well, with news that my article ‘Teresa Margarida da Silva Orta (1711-1793): a Minor Transnational of the Brown Atlantic’ will be published, hopefully before Christmas, in the forthcoming issue of Portuguese Studies. This article arose from the International Conference of Transnational Portuguese Women Artists held at Wadham College, Oxford, 16-18 March 2017, organised by Cláudia Pazos-Alonso and Maria Luisa Coelho. It was an absolute honour to be asked to take part in this conference, and to speak about an eighteenth-century woman’s experience of mobility in the Brown Atlantic. It was also the first time I offered a paper that was related to this project, and I have very fond memories of the event.

The “Women of the Brown Atlantic” project: visions of the impossible

This post was originally published on the brand new Exeter Language & Culture Blog, to celebrate Black History Month.

 

I’ve always felt slightly anxious in Brazil, as if I had arrived there too early, knowing too little, feeling too much (guilt? fear? love?). The trips started during my PhD at the University of Manchester, which was dedicated to studying Lusophone African literature alongside Portuguese literature. One thing I remember from those years is the flow of African-centred material, both in Portuguese and in translation, that came from Brazilian academia. It was (and continues to be) overwhelming. I soon realised that one had to travel there, attend conferences, meet experts and fellow students, writers and poets, because Brazil was completely unavoidable if you were researching Lusophone Africa.

Portugal was important too, but in another, less urgent way. Going to Brazil to discuss Lusophone African cultures and literatures was very much like trying to look in three different directions simultaneously. It was often intellectually stimulating, and certainly extenuating. I had first noticed Brazilian constructions of blackness, brownness and whiteness back in Portugal, through popular culture and telenovelas, but this was the first time I was experiencing these being projected onto me, a white Portuguese young student who knew way less than she thought.

In my first visit to Brazil, back in 2006, I, like many tourists, stopped in the street and bought a painting from a black street artist, Vitorino, which now adorns my office wall. The work depicts a bahiana woman sitting down on a stool, her head and torso turned to the left. Next to her is what I later learned to recognise as a tabuleiro filled with acarajés. At the time, I didn’t know that eight years onwards I would be writing about this very Afro-Bahian street-food, and that the project would lead me to conceive of another project on memory and mobility in the Brown Atlantic. The flight from Lusophone African literature, the subject of my PhD thesis, was already on its way. It began with the buying of this painting.

I can see it now, how the act of buying reified my own whiteness in Brazil, directing my research in certain ways at the expense of others. As I witnessed, in the Brazilian conference halls, what I often perceived as the idealisation of Africa and its re-inscription on the body through clothes, jewellery, hairstyles, music, and food, I experienced my own Portuguese whiteness on the street as a reified experience. Or better put, I experienced myself reifying my whiteness with my habits, my purchases. Me witnessing my whiteness take up space before me, filling my luggage in the airports of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, and later Salvador da Bahia, Santa Catarina, Minas Gerais.

I would not want “Women of the Brown Atlantic,” the new project driving my research, to take off without being calibrated by these reflections, because it is, in many ways, the culmination of my early journeys through the Brown (and Black) Atlantic(s) – Portugal, UK, Brazil, Mozambique, USA, Italy – ten years of travelling, crossing borders, meeting people, learning and (mostly) unlearning about black and white histories, trying to work out how to write, how to be a feminist, how to think about this world’s (neo)colonialism, racism and sexism, how to talk about Africa (which eventually became the title of one of my undergraduate second year modules!), how to engage with Brazil, and finally, how to look at Portugal afresh.

Women of the Brown Atlantic: Real and Imaginary Passages in Portuguese 1711-2011” is a project concerned with the (in)visibility of black female mobility and memory in the Brown (i.e., Portuguese speaking) Atlantic. One way in which it encourages new engagements with black history is by questioning the usefulness of the image of the archive as a universalised metaphor for the storage of memory. Is the archive metaphor adequate to theorise black female memory of the Brown Atlantic? If this memory is grounded in the invisibility/silencing of black women, is it adequate as a universalised memory metaphor per se?

With these two questions, the project aims to revise the use of the archive metaphor, and its historical complicity with the maritime, from the specific viewpoint of Lusophone black women and white men’s engagement with remembering as a creative process. The notion of memory as archival is often permeated with assumptions about (maritime) archives as neutral storehouses that hold the past and future and are thus able to mobilise a totalising interpretation of the past. However, as record keeping systems, archives are not neutral, but active storehouses where power is negotiated, contested and confirmed. “Women of the Brown Atlantic” develops a new framework for claiming under-theorised gendered and queer memory sites of the Brown Atlantic by introducing the potentially field-changing metaphor of the rainbow, derived from an Afro-Brazilian popular saying: “if you walk under the rainbow, you run the risk of changing your sex.”

In Brazil, the image of the rainbow is tendentiously associated with Orishá Oxumaré, the male-female snake-like God of movements and cycles in the Candomblé Afro-Brazilian religion (Verger 2002), who holds the power to change people’s sex. This project takes Oxumaré’s symbol, the rainbow, arguably queerer than the rainbow flag of the LGBT movement, so as to revise the use of the archive metaphor and its historical complicity with the maritime.

I draw on established Afro-Brazilian writers (Carolina Maria de Jesus, Conceição Evaristo, Ana Maria Gonçalves, among others), all of whom have engaged with Oxumaré’s symbol in order to write about and remember pasts of slavery and poverty, but also to discern where their hopes and desires for the future may lead. In their stories, attempts to walk under the rainbow are akin to small exercises in hope(lessness). To chase the rainbow is to be forever in the middle of an impossible journey. This chase could be described as a disruptive journey to “somewhere free of the signs for the body” (Dianne Brand, 2001), since it requires the chaser to be willing to literally lose her body as she knows it, to open it up to new (sexual, gendered) possibilities other than arriving at the other side.

Similarly, the rainbow, as an unreachable arc presiding over ambiguous, hybrid and conflicting sites of identification and memory making, demands that literary critics, historians, film scholars and artists fully engage with the possibility of failing to produce the memory that the rainbow incites.

It is from this improbable, indeed impossible, location that I aim to develop a framework for claiming under-theorised memory sites of the Brown Atlantic beyond forms of spatially bounded memory. The rainbow, and the Brazilian saying linked to it, constitute the conceptual centre of this study, bringing forth an understanding of the past as an improbable threshold that cannot be crossed but only precariously pursued.