Cabanagem: An Undisclosed Story

Cabanagem, the first book of André Penteado’s series, Trail, Tracks, and Traces, is a journey through the Brazilian state of Pará seeking historical evidence of the 1834-35 Cabanagem uprising.

© André Penteado, from the book, Cabanagem

We frequently hear people concerned about the Amazon as a natural ecosystem which is currently being destroyed by human activities, as there was no natural impact before; no humans. This probably has something to do with the stereotype that the Amazon carries, maybe perpetrated by "the powerful", as a land preserved and ruled by natural laws where vast waters and deep forests are the policy makers for other natural species - like the island where trees fall but there is nobody to hear them.

But unfortunately the reality is different - communities and cultural groups have populated the Amazon throughout history: indigenous groups like cabanos (people living in shaks or 'cabanas') were 'coexisting' with African slaves brought by the Portuguese and English merchants, Mestiços (European and Native South American Amerindian blood only), masons, foreign catholic priests, politicians, Portuguese officers and soldiers. All of them taking part in conflicts over the land, but what do we know about this? Where have these events been written of? What do we know about the surviving communities, their homes or public figures? But most importantly, what do we know about their struggles?

© André Penteado, from the book, Cabanagem

Cabanagem, Penteado’s first book of his series Trail, Tracks and Traces, is a journey through the state of Pará, in the Brazilian Amazon, seeking evidence left by historical events in the present time about the Cabanagem uprising in 1834-35. It’s published by Magdalena Editions in an edition of 1,500 copies, half of which come in a green envelope and the other half in a red. It’s an archive envelope, acid free, made to maximise the content's life expectancy. It's made to last: to be available and remembered in the future. Inside, we find a two-book set, both perfectly bound, as well as an A2 newspaper page folded into A4 with a very interesting and informative article by the historian Magda Ricci, introducing us to the formation of the Amazon's population, the historical and cultural context of the Cabano movement, and its consequences and effects.

One of the books is smaller and has a red cover, like a Ultisol colour, commonly known as red clay soil, very characteristic of the Amazon. Inside, the photographer presents a series of portraits of the people he has met along the way, giving us an idea of the diversity of the inhabitants and their respective roles in this part of the globe (politicians, historians, farmers…). Hard flash is used to create poignant portraits - it's like crime photography but made before the crime has happened.

© André Penteado, from the book, Cabanagem

The other book has a green cover: it’s a forest green and that’s what you find when you first open it. Full bleed images of the forest, page after page, as if we were walking into the wild; into the unknown. When we thought there was nothing else but branches and trees, we find a door at the end of a staircase with the walls covered in red which resonates as the bloody traces of a massacre. The next image is indoors, probably in an official building. Two extinguishers and two flags: of Brazil and Pará. That’s a statement. One of the most meaningful beginnings I have seen in a while.

By this stage of the book, I am totally hooked and I want to see more. Penteado wanders through different locations while creating a very powerful visual language made out of metaphors - he uses images of nature and other scenes like churches, secret masonic places, archive interiors, official buildings… details such us crucifixes, red lines, broken catholic statues, filing cabinets… These traces build a very dramatic image about human absence. There are also many doors and stairs: the author invites us to go through them. These narrative elements, sometimes overused by photographers, are smartly used in this book to create tension and mystery of what we would find if we continue walking.

© André Penteado, from the book, Cabanagem

On the other side of these doors or staircases, we find the evidence of a massacre, images of corpses with pixelated faces laying on the floor. They seem to be sourced from contemporary newspapers. A strategy used by the author to emphasise the relationship between past and present events and how the cabano reality is still taking place. As Magda Ricci said "the reinterpretation and their counterpoints demonstrate that the violent and grandiose explotation of the Amazon still persists."

Both books function as individual entities, perfectly supporting each other to tell the story. André Penteado successfully communicates that cabano goals are re-edited to contemporary versions of social and political struggles: he makes a brave statement about how the Amazon history has been written or, better said, has been omitted. It’s great to see when a book works on all levels: the images, the design, the edit and sequence, the production, the complementary text… this is a complicated story, but the author has been able to interpret it in a brilliant manner.


Cabanagem by André Penteado

Published by Editora Madalena // Editor: Iatã Cannabrava // Design: Atlas // Printed in Brazil by IPSIS

Height: 30.5 cm (green book) / 25 cm (red book) // Width: 25 cm (green book) / 21 cm (red book)

Number of pictures: 90 (green book) / 26 (red book) // Number of pages: 152 (green book) / 56 (red book)



André Penteado is a visual artist based in São Paulo, Brazil, working primarily with photography and video. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Alejandro Acin is director of IC-Visual Lab, an organisation based in Bristol (UK) that aims to promote and produce contemporary photography through a series of events and commissioned projects. IC-Visual Lab organises Photobook Bristol, an international festival for photobooks. He also works as designer and editor at ICVL Studio. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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