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.

Rainbows

 

We see rainbows only when the sun is behind us and the water drops in front of us. Therefore, in the face of the great anonymity of the oceans, rainbows remind us of the specific contours of individual experience and memory. The methodological move proposed in this project privileges the bodies and experiences of black women whose material and temporal situation positions them between the water and the sun. Women who have departed but not arrived, who have spent their lives circulating both physically and imaginatively, and who are consistently neither here nor there: how have their experiences been remembered and imagined, across time and space, by black women and white men who write, theorise and act in Portuguese? Women of the Brown Atlantic provides an innovative set of conceptual, theoretical and methodological tools for addressing this question. It investigates how black women’s experiences of mobility in the Brown Atlantic, from slavery to present times, have been remembered by both black women and white men, in-between African, Brazil and Portugal, with particular emphasis on how the relation between real experiences of mobility and their imagination and theorisation may be traced.

Our partnership with Papo Preta

We are proud to announce our partnership with PapoPreta, a therapeutic project focused on the health and well-being of black women. 

Throughout the course of this project, we will be gathering perspectives, opinions and experiences of those with personal or artistic connections to an Afro-Brazilian popular saying that has travelled from Africa to Brazil: “If you walk under the rainbow, you run the risk of changing your sex.” Participants will be invited to contribute their own impressions, ideas and opinions about this saying in particular, and about mobility and memory in the Brown Atlantic in general. Taking part in this project may, therefore, elicit memories of geographical and emotional displacement, as well as experiences of gender identity and sex realignment fraught with anxiety, trauma and stress. These risks may become greater in the context of Brazil’s current political climate, where the rights of LGBT, Indigenous and Black groups are under direct threat by Jair Bolsonaro’s administration.

The Women of the Brown Atlantic project aims to create a safe space to share experiences of gender identity, sexuality, and memory making.  In order to protect our participants, we will not only guarantee their full anonymity or pseudonymity if required, but also provide specialised support via our partnership with PapoPreta, a therapeutic project focused on the emotional and psychological health and well-being of black women. Papo Preta will provide specialised support to our participants whenever it is needed, both before and/or after the interviews. 

About the project

There is a Brazilian saying that goes like this: 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 the 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. The movement of running after and walking under the rainbow is depicted in the work of two key Afro-Brazilian women writers, Carolina Maria de Jesus (1914-1977) and Conceição Evaristo (1946-). Ana Maria Gonçalves (1970-) also engages with Oxumaré’s narrative in her work. These writers’ distinct literary engagement with the rainbow forms the theoretical core of this project, which aims to develop a new framework for claiming under-theorised gendered and queer memory sites of the Brown (or Lusophone) Atlantic by introducing the potentially field-changing metaphor of the rainbow. The rainbow, which constitutes the conceptual centre of this project, is understood as bringing forth an understanding of the past as an improbable threshold that cannot be crossed but only precariously pursued.

In tackling black women’s long-term omission from critical paradigms, the project considers the ways in which black female mobility in the Brown Atlantic has been remembered and imagined, in literature, by black women and white men. The innovative methodology will question sharply defined national, sexual and racial boundaries, favouring transnational ways of remembering and imagining movement. Furthermore, the emphasis on imagination will upset the linear patterns of the diaspora by exploring unpredictable, “blue skies” routes beyond origin-destination travelling. These correspond to routes of memory arising from serendipitous imaginary journeys that, in their refusal to be easily archived, render today’s theoretical emphasis on space, archives and traceable movement accountable for their power over memory. Finally, by using the rainbow as a theoretical lens, the project will examine theories and cinematic performances that travel (literal travelling of people and ideas), and diaries, novels, short stories and letters (travelling of stories).

The expression “Brown Atlantic” was coined in 2004 by Miguel Vale de Almeida to describe the world created during the Portuguese Empire (Almeida 2004, 2005). This project draws on Almeida’s expression in order to examine the real (physical) and imagined (literary) mobility of black women in the light of the rainbow story.

Research will be discussed with scholars from a variety of disciplines at international conferences and in the context of a scholar in residence programme to be inaugurated at Exeter. The output of a monograph will make a major contribution to studies of the Lusophone Atlantic and Afro- Brazilian literature. Collaborations with the Museu Afro-Brasileiro in Brazil and the Núcleo Museológico de Lagos in Portugal will lead to knowledge exchange and provide material for the development of a Video Book of Mobilities, an interactive Map of Mobilities and an artistic exhibition, designed for the wider public.

This project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), under the Leadership Fellows Early Career programme (grant reference: AH/R004978/1), and is hosted at the University of Exeter.