Race, Representation, and Agassiz’s Brazilian Fantasy


Thursday, April 1, 2021, 4:00pm to 5:30pm

This event is virtual and will be held in Portuguese with simultaneous English translation. To register, click here.

Speakers: Sandra Benites (Guaraní Ñandeva), Adjunct Curator of Brazilian Art, Museum of Art of São Paulo; Anita Ekman, Visual and Performance Artist; Christoph Irmscher, Director, Wells Scholars Program, Provost Professor, Department of English, Indiana University; Luciana Namorato, Associate Professor, Director of Portuguese, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Indiana University
Moderated by: Alejandro de la Fuente, Robert Woods Bliss Professor of Latin American History and Economics; Professor of African and African American Studies and of History, Harvard University

How do we confront the history and legacy of Louis Agassiz’s extensive archive of images of African and Indigenous Brazilians made in Manaus, Brazil in 1865 and housed at Harvard’s Peabody Museum? Five distinguished panelists reflect on the historical moment when these pictures were taken, discuss racist displays of Indigenous people in Brazil and elsewhere, and, by bringing to light respect for different epistemologies, explore ways to contend with them today. Panelists will be writer and historian Christoph Irmscher (contributor to the recent Peabody Museum Press book about Agassiz images, To Make Their Own Way in the World), Brazilian performance artist and photographer Anita Ekman, literary critic Luciana Namorato, and Brazil’s first Indigenous art curator Sandra Benites of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP).

Sandra Benites, a Guaraní Nhandeva woman, is the first Indigenous adjunct curator of Brazilian art at the Assis Chateaubriand São Paulo Art Museum (MASP). She is currently undertaking a PhD in social anthropology at the National Museum of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). She has a MA in social anthropology from the same institute. In 2018 she was the curator of the exhibition Dja Guata Porã | Rio de Janeiro indígena together with José Ribamar Bessa, Pablo Lafuente and Clarissa Diniz in the Art Museum of Rio (MAR). Subsequently, she has participated in a diverse range of cultural and educational events concerning the role of Indigenous women and Indigenous art in Brazil.

Anita Ekman is a contemporary Brazilian artist, photographer, and performer. Anita explores the representation of women and their role in art and the history of the Atlantic World through performances (using body painting) in archaeological sites. At the end of 2020, the American Online Magazine for the Photographic Arts—the Od Review—published the essay "On Anita Ekman’s Ochre,” written by Christoph Irmscher. The collaborative performance Tupi Valongo- Cemetery of the New Blacks and Old Indians was presented at the Goethe Institut’s Echoes of the South Atlantic Conference in Brazil (2018–2019) and Listening to the Echoes of South Atlantic in Oslo, curated by Selene Wendt, in early 2020. Currently, Anita is developing the project "Wombs of the Atlantic Rainforest" (2019–2021) supported by the Goethe Institut Ecos Fund (with Amilcar Packer, Sandra Benites, Carlos Papa, Cristine Takuá, Marcelo Noronha, and Freg J. Stokes), initially presented at HKW–Das Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin (2019). Anita Ekman’s first individual photography exhibition was Women of Samba–100 Years of Samba in 2016 at the Magnet Gallery in Melbourne, Australia.

Christoph Irmscher, a biographer and book critic, is Provost Professor of English at Indiana University Bloomington, where he directs the Wells Scholars Program. His biography Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science (Houghton Mifflin) was an Editors’ Choice of the New York Times Book Review. His homepage can be found at www.christophirmscher.com.

Luciana Namorato is Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Indiana University Bloomington, where she also directs the Portuguese Program. She is the author of Diálogos borgianos (published in Brazil), and the coeditor of Luso-Brazilian Literature in a Global Context, a special issue of Revista Moara (published by the University of Pará, Brazil), and Transatlantic Dialogues, a special issue of Revista de Estudos Literários (published by the University of Coimbra, Portugal). She also co-edited La palabra según Clarice Lispector: Aproximaciones críticas (published by the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, in Peru). Professor Namorato is currently researching the cultural exchange between Portugal and Brazil in the second-half of the nineteenth century, with a focus on the works of Brazilian writer Machado de Assis. She is also in the process of coediting a collection of essays in Latin American women artists, titled The Other Fridas.

Alejandro de la Fuente is a historian of Latin America and the Caribbean who specializes in the study of comparative slavery and race relations. Professor de la Fuente’s works on race, slavery, law, art, and Atlantic history have been published in Spanish, English, Portuguese, Italian, German, and French. He is the author of Becoming Free, Becoming Black: Race, Freedom, and Law in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana (Cambridge University Press, 2020, coauthored with Ariela J. Gross), Havana and the Atlantic in the Sixteenth Century (University of North Carolina Press, 2008), and of A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba (University of North Carolina Press, 2001), published in Spanish as Una nación para todos: raza, desigualdad y política en Cuba, 1900-2000 (Madrid: Editorial Colibrí, 2001), winner of the Southern Historical Association's 2003 prize for Best Book in Latin American History.” He is the coeditor, with George Reid Andrews, of Afro-Latin American Studies: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2018, available in Spanish and Portuguese) and of the Afro-Latin America Series, Cambridge University Press. Professor de la Fuente is also the curator of three art exhibits dealing with issues of race, and the author or editor of their corresponding volumes: Queloides: Race and Racism in Cuban Contemporary Art (Havana-Pittsburgh-New York City-Cambridge, Ma, 2010-2012); Drapetomania: Grupo Antillano and the Art of Afro-Cuba (Santiago de Cuba-Havana-New York City-Cambridge, Ma-San Francisco-Philadelphia-Chicago, 2013-16) and Diago: The Pasts of this Afro-Cuban Present (Cambridge, Ma-Miami, ongoing). Professor de la Fuente is the founding director of the Afro-Latin American Research Institute at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research and the faculty chair of the Cuba Studies Program, David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. He is also the senior editor of the journal Cuban Studies.

Presented in collaboration with Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology ,the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture, and the Afro-Latin American Research Institute (ALARI)