The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Art of “Popular” Brazil in Detroit

Dec 9, 2013

When you walk into the Detroit Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History galleries to view the Con Vida “Bandits & Heroes, Poets & Saints” exhibit, you walk into a world of color, music and diversity; a great place to be on a cold winter day!

Green, blue, pink, yellow; the brightly colored houses of villages and cities greet you from paintings on the wall. Dancing and singing in the streets and the faces of a diverse population greet you from a video; descendants of Africans, indigenous peoples, Europeans....

The exhibit explains that “popular art” in the exhibit is the art of ordinary people from the working class neighborhoods of northeast Brazil.

Whether you can spend a half hour or two hours, the exhibit has something to offer every viewer. It is well organized in one large room with multimedia presentations. There are slide shows, posters and explanations in bold color and print that divide the exhibit into bite-sized chunks easily digested.

The exhibit is rich in acrylic paintings, woodblock prints, wooden sculpture, papier mache puppetry and more, broken up into sections that highlight areas of northeast Brazil and subjects like Religion or Movements for Justice, Heroes, Bandits, and the Plantations.

There is a large section on art depicting the period of slavery in Brazil. The exhibit points out that five million Africans were enslaved in Brazil between 1500 and 1850 and shows through colorful art the history of resistance to slavery, oppression and poverty in general by the Brazilian population.

Bandits, Heroes, Poets, and Saints are all mixed up and portrayed through the eyes of artists reflecting perspectives of the popular masses, where a bandit may be a hero or a saint may be a bandit.

Oh, and leave enough time at the end of the exhibit to see the video of the artists themselves. So nice to see such a brilliant reflection of life from “ordinary” people like us!