C&AL: One of the themes permeating your artistic practice is your examination of afro-indigenous identity. How did you reflect upon this in your performance piece “Tupi Valongo: Cemitério dos Pretos Novos e dos Velhos Índios” (Cemetery of the New Blacks and Old Indians)?
Anita Ekman: Of the 10 million Africans who arrived in the Americas as slaves, 40% landed on Brazil’s Atlantic coast, which was occupied for thousands of years by the Tupi indigenous peoples. Valongo Wharf, in Rio de Janeiro, was the largest slave port in the world. Those who arrived dead or who died upon arrival were thrown upon the ground, into the Cemitério dos Pretos Novos (New Blacks Cemetery). But before it became the New Blacks Cemetery, that place was known as the Sambaqui do Propósito. Sambaquis, or shell middens, are human-made mollusk shell formations – the Tupi origin of the word sambaqui means “pile of shells” – that date back 6,000 years and extend along Brazil’s coast. Notice I’m not talking about 500 years, I’m talking about a practice that has been changing the Atlantic coast landscape for millennia. Recent archaeological works have found bones inside sambaquis, showing that they were used in funeral rituals. So if that place can be called the New Blacks Cemetery, it’s also the Old Indians Cemetery. We are on this land and the natives were just as enslaved and terribly decimated as the Africans. This has to be discussed.