Research Forum Visiting Curator Lecture

The 'Problem' of Race in Brazilian Painting, c.1870-1920

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

17.30 - 18.45, Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre

'black' grandmother with 'mulatto' daughter and 'white' grandchild
Modesto Brocos (1852–1936), Redemption of Ham, 1895. Oil on canvas. 199 × 166 cm (78.3 × 65.4 in). Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, Rio de Janeiro

Speaker(s): Dr Rafael Cardoso (Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro)

Ticket/entry details: Open to all, free admission

Organised by: Professor Caroline Arscott

The prevailing myth that Brazil's modernists of the 1920s discovered negritude needs to be addressed. A distinct upsurge in politically charged representations of black subjects was already noticeable in the 1870s, running parallel to contemporary debates on the abolition of slavery in the Empire of Brazil. By the 1890s, during the early years of the Republic, this trickle of images had swelled into a steady stream of paintings that posited the conflations between poverty and race, labour and progress, in terms of novel strategies of depicting landscape and genre. A new approach to painting, socially inflected and loosely aligned with Realism, came to the fore in the works of Almeida Junior, Modesto Brocos and Eliseu Visconti, among others.

During the early decades of the 20th century, painterly preoccupation with the disenfranchised population of African origin fed into important debates in literature and the social sciences, transforming a preexisting visual discourse into full-blown discussions of the 'problem' of race. Contrary to what is generally assumed, it was painting that led the way in problematizing the entrenched stereotypes that continued to be put forward in later years. The work of Arthur Thimóteo da Costa is particularly singled out, in this connection.

Rafael Cardoso is a writer and art historian, holding a PhD from The Courtauld Institute of Art (1995). He is the author of numerous books on the history of Brazilian art and design, the most recent of which are Design para um mundo complexo (Cosac Naify, 2012); Impresso no Brasil, 1808-1930: Destaques da história gráfica no acervo da Biblioteca Nacional (Verso Brasil, 2009); and A arte brasileira em 25 quadros (1790-1930) (Record, 2008), as well as three works of fiction. He is associated with the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, as a member of the postgraduate faculty of its Instituto de Artes. He is also active as an independent curator, having recently curated the major exhibitions Rio de Imagens: Uma Paisagem em Construção (Museu de Arte do Rio, 2013); From the Margin to the Edge: Brazilian Art and Design in the 21st Century (Somerset House, London, 2012) and Eliseu Visconti: A Modernidade Antecipada (Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, 2011).

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