2016 - Ongoing
MÃE PRETA | BLACK MOTHER is an artistic research by artists Isabel Löfgren & Patricia Gouvêa that aims to trace the connections between motherhood and slavery in colonial times and the voices of Black women and mothers in Brazil today.
The research began in 2015 and with the grant we received from the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro in January 2016 we made our first exhibition. It was conceived especially for the Instituto de Pesquisa e Memória Pretos Novos (Institute for Research and Memorial of the Pretos Novos - IPN), a memorial site for slavery in Rio de Janeiro's now revitalized colonial port area where the archaeological site of the Pretos Novos Cemetery is located. Thousands of enslaved Africans who died after the transatlantic crossing were buried in this cemetery in very shallow graves from 1799 to 1836. IPN houses a memorial, a study room, a research library and an art gallery, the Pretos Novos Contemporary Art Gallery.
It is an homage to all the women and children buried at the site by addressing the iconography of "black mothers" (mães pretas), those enslaved women working as wet-nurses during colonial times. They breastfed their masters’ children and as such provided the most vital life support of the colony during the more than three centuries of slavery in the country. A pivotal character in the life of the colony, the wet nurse was at once the closest to the intimate life of the colonial family structure but also very often deprived of a family and children of their own.
The research addresses the status of black mothers first by selecting representations of motherhood and maternal relationships in the vast archives of paintings and engravings of daily life in the colony made by Jean-Baptiste Debret, Johann Moritz Rugendas, Joaquim Cândido Guillobel among others. With the photographic turn in mid-19th century, there are even more photographs of wet nurses in the negatives found in the Instituto Moreira Salles archive, as well as other collections.
By using optical objects such as magnifying glasses and lenses and also objects related to the African ancestrality, we highlighted the duplicity and complexity of the different relationships entertained by the wet-nurses with both the white children they took care of and their own children, causing a shift of perception that makes the mother the protagonist of each scene.
The archival research is counter-balanced by the video-installation “Modes of Speaking and Listening" that bridges the past and contemporary voices in the present time. In this art piece, seven contemporary black mothers give testimonials about maternity, memory, ancestry, invisibility and everyday struggles.
At the end of 2016 we received another grant from Funarte (part of Culture Ministry of Brazil) to take the project to São Paulo and São Luís do Maranhão, creating new works related to local slavery memory and the feminist resistance in past times and today.