Black Lives Matter. We stand in solidarity with those affected by generations of structural violence. You can help »

The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2021

All Issues
FEB 2021 Issue
Critics Page

The Originality of the Herd of Cannibals

Ler em portugues >>

Thays Berbe, <em>Embodiment</em>, 2017. Digital photograph. Courtesy the artist.
Thays Berbe, Embodiment, 2017. Digital photograph. Courtesy the artist.

Just like one makes pâté de foie gras, since I was a child I was engulfed in Eurocentrism. Did I choke or did I not choke, that is the question. They did not expect me to become anthropophagous, they imagined a banquet. At first the enemy forced me to eat its flesh in various rites of passage. From childhood to adolescence and through my adult life, I carried the heavy weight of displacement from an ideal, a hunger for respect, suffering from historic scarcity and spiritual malnutrition. I got sick of just swallowing (accepting) things and realized that I had to devour them. This displaced my stomach to a specific perspective, and only then could I digest the issues of the world and fly under the excess weight. What is cannibalism for some is inescapable for others. I understand that what Oswald de Andrade proposed—devouring the enemy and mixing it with primitivism—came out of a critical elaboration on culture. However, at the time, primitivism came out of anthropology of a racialist tradition. The primitive, in the sense of “origin” or “earlier times,” is simply my ancestry, my nature, the part of me that was missing, defending itself against the constant attacks on its very existence.

I never totally adapted to the colonizers’ culture. I inevitably recreated forms to interact with it. I destabilized it immediately simply by occupying spaces that were uncommon for Black women: literature and rooms for screenwriters. Reflecting on the dominant culture, the White Brazilwood, its phallic acts, its egocentric and normative virility, its laughable side, its ferocious and insufficient gestures, I cannot but admit that its best and worst sides also constituted me. I like to face my perspective as an advantage, not only to invert the signs that always attempted to oppress me. Historically, the emancipation of thought also depended on the capacity to assimilate perspectives that were absent from the dominant cultural and intellectual production of the time. I do not believe there is a more urgent discussion to dwell on. I cannot read a new and beloved philosopher without racializing him, without discerning how his privileges as a white man get in the way of his view, as well as revalidating a project of domination. I do not wish inertia on them, I wish for Black art and philosophy, refracting its perspective in a reserved space at the table that serves foie gras.

How can I be grateful for Oswald’s Manifesto Pau-Brasil (1924) in which he speaks of “the millionaire contribution of all errors” when those errors cost my indigenous and Black people their lives and dignity? How can I sidestep morbidity and, beyond denouncing our pain, connect with poetry of the day to day? By vomiting out truffles. For all of the errors I am the result of, I feel that I am living Oswald’s dream and my great-grandmother’s dream. Purging myself of the curse of experience of slavery, free to make my artistic, imagistic, and literary macumba magic, to transcend the imprisonment of reality, and to dream of not simply limiting myself to racial questions. 

Thays Berbe, <em>Maternity</em>, 2015. Digital photograph. Courtesy the artist.
Thays Berbe, Maternity, 2015. Digital photograph. Courtesy the artist.

I can make out several artistic displays with the great potential of their destructive force: they defend oppressed culture through critical, ironic, humorous, and grassroots reformulations. They are artists who work on the reinterpretation of supposed deficiencies as instances of superiority. MC Fioti, an ex-helper of a bricklayer, uses the “Partita in A minor” by Johann Sebastian Bach in a home-made production and presents “Bum Bum Tam Tam,” a hit in Brazilian funk. In this subversive appropriation, he accesses prominent spaces and big concert halls—I see that as an achievement in our socio-economic landscape. I watch videos of Carreta Furacão, a popular attraction in the interior of Brazil, where dancers from the periphery perform unusual steps and shake their tail feathers in a frenzy, dressed as characters from comic books, super heroes, classic Disney figures, and other references from pop culture. They do not take these franchises seriously, leading to laughter and contextual contrasts, and in them I see anthropophagy. Anthropophagy is also where Paulo Nazareth is. He left behind his job as a housecleaner to focus on plastic arts, and crossed Brazil on foot all the way to Miami and New York, photographing himself at different points along the way with signs that read “I clean your bathroom for a fair price.” Through this act, he put the effects of colonialism on the map of international art galleries. Alice Marcone, a Black trans woman writes and sings songs in the travanejo genre which mixes aesthetics from country music and queer Brazilian culture. MC Carol, a Black fat woman made a hit song called “It Wasn’t Cabral” denouncing the genocide of Native peoples. These are all attempts to radically amplify democracy, by capturing and revitalizing through a new approach to our intellectual, artistic, philosophical, and political production. They are artists that point to possibilities for rupture from the structures of conservative thought in various spheres, precisely at a moment in which Brazil still must scream for freedom of expression. Precisely when Brazil must fight the marches in favor of the military coup, which is far from secular. In short, a coup that coexists with a process of colonization that is ongoing and exterminates poor people, Blacks, Indigenous people, gays, lesbians, and trans folks and others. Anthropophagy is our artistic strategy for combat.

Before Oswald de Andrade, cannibalism was already present as a theme for some of the Francophone poets of Négritude, and in the aspirations of intellectuals in Mexico and other countries in Latin America. What we had in common was the experience of the enslavement of entire peoples, the cultural contrast, all in a time in which the French and British Empires portrayed people from all corners of the world as primitive. We were equally influenced by indigeneity and by Blackness, which are the core of anthropophagy. Even so, Oswald de Andrade’s manifesto did not manage to engage deeply with the racial question. “Tupi or not Tupi” is racial. What he calls the language of the people is actually “Black vernacular Portuguese” or pretoguês. Even as he was mild in his critique, Oswald de Andrade faced scorn, indignation, and disbelief. This was to be expected, because the group that opposes any new idea—any kind of change in the litany of common opinions—is always the same. This is the group that condemned Flaubert and Baudelaire, that killed Zumbi dos Palmares, that interrupted the performance of the play Calabar by Chico Buarque, that persecuted Rimbaud, tortured Dilma Rousseff, and still elects fascists. We know that there is racism in all spheres, even the most progressive ones, but a cohesive, openly racist, homophobic, and misogynous group exists that hates diversity. It gets its strength from these discourses that traverse centuries of history, seduced by the antiquated proposal of superiority that remains in full force in Brazil.

Initially, Oswald de Andrade was defeated. His nationalist “Brazilwood” model was not emphasized in the spheres of power in his time. Only a decade following his death, with the staging of his play O Rei da Vela (The Candle King) directed by José Celso Martinez Corrêa at the Teatro Oficina in São Paulo in 1967, did the circuit of tropicalism defend him. It was the tropicalists who won the battle initiated by Brazilwood modernism. We cannot forget that both the modernists and tropicalists, though they had Black and Indigenous culture as references for their aesthetics, were mostly led by whites. I am pointing this out because anthropophagy, as an organized movement, was always under the tutelage of a white elite. Because of a symbolism and structure that sustained it. It is with this lacuna in mind that we ought to look at the anthropophagy of today, and question the arts’ obsessive gaze, which legitimizes a movement through this white validation. Rather, the arts should promote Black and Indigenous people to occupy these spaces with autonomy.

Today there is not an organized group to artistically vindicate a new anthropophagous model. It is already built into our culture, but perhaps we are behind in defining the movement of “meditative reflux” in the productions led by Black and Indigenous artists. A movement that refuses the habitual conditioning of subalternity, of being an object of study, a secondary reference, usually shoved down our throats. The leadership displayed by these artists is the essential piece to arrive at a vanguard of contemporary thought that is honest: the rest is more of the same. I believe that this may set the stage for “Brancofagia” (an anthropophagy or cannibalism of whiteness), the hacking of the system for irremediable healing (for the good of whites themselves). All this so that one day we all may sit at the table, feeding new utopias.

Contributor

Thays Berbe

Thays Berbe (1985) is a screenwriter, visual artist and author. She is currently the recipient of a scholarship for the Master’s Program in Screenwriting at The International School of Film and Television in Cuba. She began her career writing for TV Cennarium Brasil and the channel E! Entertainment Television. Among other independent projects she wrote and directed, she was a screenwriter for the first and second seasons of the HBO comedy series Todxs Nós (All of Us), created by Vera Egito. She was also a screenwriter for the series Sintonia, created by Kondzilla and produced by Los Bragas for Netflix and was part of the team of screenwriters for the children’s series Nosso Mundo Zoo (Our Zoo World) by Natalia Maeda for Boutique Filmes for Discovery Kids, and the second season of As Five (The Five) created by Cao Hamburguer for Rede Globo. Berbe was selected for the first Black Brasil Art Biennial and published in the magazine O Menelick 2° Ato in its call for arts submissions. She is also the author of stories in the anthology Não Pretendia Criar Discórdia (I Did Not Mean to Cause Discomfort), launched by the Museum Casa das Rosas and the publisher Editora Giostri.

close

The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2021

All Issues