Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Anna Indych-López

Committee Members

Marta Gutman

Katherine Manthorne

Joshua I. Cohen

Edward J. Sullivan

Roberto Conduru

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Africana Studies | Architectural History and Criticism | Art and Design | Fine Arts | Latin American Languages and Societies | Latina/o Studies | Painting | Printmaking | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | Religion | Sculpture


Latin American art, Brazilian art, Afro-Brazilian art, African diaspora, Transnational, International


Two competing artistic representations of Brazilian blackness emerged from 1966 to 1988. The first began in 1966 when the Brazilian government positioned itself as a leading diplomatic partner for newly independent African nations by showcasing black Brazilian art in West Africa. Through exhibitions, the Brazilian Foreign Ministry aimed to highlight the country’s presumed homogeneous identity and absence of racism. The second definition arose through the work of artists inspired by U.S. social rights activism, who founded Brazil’s civil rights movement in 1975. Brazilian artist-activists combined symbolism from U.S. Black Power, African liberation movements, and Afro-Brazilian culture to denounce racism in Brazil and promote a transnational black identity. By drawing on local images of Afro-Brazilian religion, state-sponsored and activist artists redefined blackness both nationally and internationally through their engagement with a dynamic global network of diasporic artists, institutions, and governments.

My dissertation examines how Afro-Brazilian artistic production took shape transnationally amid the tensions between cultural diplomacy and black activism. I argue that artworks—including painting, sculpture, and photography—art criticism, and exhibitions articulated new notions of Afro-Brazilianness in conversation with culture and politics in Senegal, Nigeria, and the United States. While, previously, the Brazilian government and elite had dismissed Afro-Brazilian religious iconography as an exoticized representation of popular culture, the confrontation of state-sponsored and activist art in the 1960s to 1980s resulted in the elaboration of a modern Afro-Brazilian fine art, shifting the nature of modernism in Latin America through a transnational dimension focused on the African diaspora rather than Europe. Afro-Brazilian religious symbolism coalesced with geometric abstraction as well as Pop art, which were developing simultaneously in Brazil and elsewhere. Such imagery thus served to represent Brazilian modernism within a divisive political milieu, suggesting either the absence or presence of racism in Brazil. In particular, I focus on works by Rubem Valentim; Heitor dos Prazeres; Agnaldo Manoel dos Santos; Abdias do Nascimento; Mestre Didi; Januário Garcia; and Emanoel Araújo; as well as exhibitions curated by Clarival do Prado Valladares; Mestre Didi and Juana Elbein dos Santos; and Araújo. By studying the manifestations of the debate between the state and activists in Afro-Brazilian art, my dissertation incorporates a previously marginalized Afro-centric perspective into Latin American art history and contributes an international vision to the study of African American and Latinx art.

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