Traffic of Influence - Brazil
Black Mother's Crowning
Installation on the Mãe Preta statue at Historical Centre of São Paulo
São Paulo, 2019
Photos: Antonello Veneri
I wanted to crown the Black Mother to evoke more attention to this symbolic figure, to dress her head as a Preta Velha, and to pay honors for her representation as a respected matriarch.
The Monument to the Black Mother represents all the Black women who, during and after the slavery period, acted as wet nurses and caretakers of the white children of their masters and employers. The existence of the monument is due to the Black organizations from São Paulo that, in the 1950s, claimed a space for Black memory in the city of São Paulo.
I used the fabric Samakaka, bought on the way to the performance in the Republica neighborhood from Mama Nossa Cultura, a Senegalese merchant woman who moved to Brazil 14 years ago. She has a stall in this area chosen by many African migrants and refugees to trade their goods. According to the National Secretariat of Justice, 4,785 Africans sought refuge in Brazil in 2017, and Sao Paulo is one of the most popular destinations. It's been 161,000 refugee requests in Brazil since 2010. The year with the most requests was 2017, with 33,866, of which at least 4,785 were made by Africans.
Coming from Angola, Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among other nations, many brought colorful fabrics and traditional masks with them, which they began to sell in the streets that for a century had teemed with Italian, Spanish, Lebanese and Japanese immigrants" according to BBC News.
Mama Nossa Cultura is a Black Mother, who chose herself to move to Brazil. She lives another experience from the one coined by the term, that has deep colonial roots, softened by romanticization of colonial history in Brazil. I consider her a Black mother because more than her birth kids, she calls most people she makes a connection with daughters and sons. She also wears fabric crowns, known in Senegal as moussor. She calls herself Mama Nossa Cultura, that means Mom Our Culture.
The Black Mother monument, by sculptor Júlio Guerra, was built as part of the commemorations of the IV Centennial of the City of São Paulo, in 1954. It was placed next to another big symbol of black memory in the city, the Church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Pretos, in Largo do Paissandu, where it remains until today.
Starting in 1960, with the help of Afro-Brazilian religion followers, began celebrating the Black Mother's Day by holding festivities around the statue, laying flowers at the statue's feet. This attitude still occurs today, and offerings of flowers, cigarettes, and notes with requests are made in front of or on top of the statue, which made the image an evocation of the Preta Velha (purified deities of old Africans who were mostly enslaved who died on the log or of old age).