In 2015, when participating in a group exhibition in Rio de Janeiro, visual artists and researchers Isabel Löfgren and Patricia Gouvêa came across a copy of the print Negras do Rio de Janeiro (c.1835) by German painter Johan Moritz Rugendas (1802-1858). The scene in question, on the door of the Rio gallery, depicted two black women. One of them, barefoot, was carrying a basket of fruit on her head and her son on her back. The other, dressed more sophisticatedly, was sitting next to a trunk and with an open book, and might even be a teacher.
The image by Rugendas, a reflection of the complex chain of relationships within the black community of slave-owning nineteenth-century Brazil, inspired the two artists to research motherhood during slavery, as well as the role of black women in the history of Brazilian society. This developed into the exhibition Mãe preta (Black Mother), the result of two years of research by the pair and which opened in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, travelled to Belo Horizonte and São Paulo, and can be seen until February 9 at Chão SLZ, in São Luís do Maranhão.
Past and Present
Divided into eight series, the show transits between past and present. “The issue of racism is part of Brazilian society and I believe that we have to view this as something historical, not circumstantial,” Löfgren said in an interview. “By understanding the historical condition of black women in Brazil as free-born women who were then enslaved and later freed in Brazil (and, in our case, understanding this trajectory through images from historical archives, through the lives of black heroines, and through the stories of living black mothers), we can find some new keys for thinking about how Brazilian society is made up, and why certain structures persist.”