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.