Date of Submission

Fall 2021

Academic Program

Art History; Human Rights

Project Advisor 1

Katherine Boivin

Project Advisor 2

Thomas Keenan

Abstract/Artist's Statement

How can the lived experiences of enslaved women be understood and responded to given their overwhelming exclusion from the archives? In search of an answer, this paper considers Brazil’s history of slavery, in particular the legal ways in which it controlled the female body, in tandem with exploration of how artists have engaged this history, as in their use of fragmentation, which can be thought of as a sort of reenactment of the effects of chattel slavery, a form of resistance to oppression, and a reframing of racist discourse. For some enslaved women, traces of their lives are left in the registers of those in power. Nineteenth-century ethnographic photography catalogued physical aspects of enslaved women perceived as biological specimens. Brazilian visual artist Rosana Paulino’s intervention in these photographs, her refazimento or remaking, surfaces the interiority of the subject and demands an acknowledgment of her humanity. Partial records of the lives of some enslaved women exist in court documents, and point to the brutal effects of Brazilian laws and practices that sustained a slaveholding society. Even those aimed at eventual abolition regulated, legislated and partitioned the enslaved female body. The fragmentation of lives, bodies, and maternity is magnified by a distorted, incomplete archive. Within this paper, analysis and comparison of selected artworks offer avenues for imagining the lives of women who were marginalized by the institution of slavery in Brazil, and point to the need for artistic responses to archival lacunae.

Open Access Agreement

On-Campus only

Creative Commons License

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