Thursday, May 31, 2007

Finally, another post for you guys!

Wow, it's been a long time, hasn't it? It said my last post was March 13th, and today is the 31st! I'm sorry for leaving everyone hanging, but nothing much has been happening around here lately. Everyone has been reading, writing, studying, writing some more, etc,. Which brings me to the point of this post.
This is a report I did for the Encontro I posted about earlier. We were all required to do something like this, and this is what I chose to do. I thought this might be interesting after looking at the differences between some of the descriptions used for slaves for sale in the US and Brazil. I thought it was pretty interesting, but it was hard to find a lot of stuff online, so I decided to use artwork from both countries. I didn't use any sources for this, I basically wrote what I could gather just from looking at the pictures.
Anyway, that's it for this post. I promise I'll post something much more exciting and interesting for everyone very soon. I'll find something to take pictures of or something like that. In the meantime, enjoy reading this, or in the very least, enjoy looking at the pictures. Peace out for now people.
By the way, don't forget... Policy Reform in Action here at Blogger.

Depictions of Slaves for Sale in American and Brazilian Art
Zachary J. Levine

For more than four centuries, both Britain and Portugal shipped slaves from all over Africa to destinations in what is now the United States and Brazil, respectively. At the same time slaves were being taken to the United States and Brazil, nationals from Britain and Portugal were immigrating to the United States and Brazil, in search of land and commodities. Britain and Portugal are separated by water, culture, and language, and as such it would be reasonable to expect that several forms of cultural expression would be expressed differently, including art.

There are many artistic depictions of the life of a slave: both on and escaping their plantation, farming, child rearing, dealing with their master’s, and up for sale at slave auctions. While slaves may have certainly appeared one way in reality, the depiction the artist provides may not always be accurate, as can be seen when comparing the artistic portrayals of Native Americans in the United States that were done by British artists to those that were done by Native Americans. And with the difference in culture, British artists may also have portrayed slaves for sale at auctions in a different manner than their Portuguese counterparts.

The question then, is what are the differences in portrayals of slaves up for auction, if any, and which may more accurately represent the reality of what was seen at slave auctions? Does one particular country put a particular twist into their paintings, trying to portray the scene as an event that was welcomed by slaves? Does one particular country show the slave markets as elaborate places, populated by many wealthy onlookers in well-constructed buildings when, in fact, it may have been the opposite? And even further, how are the slaves themselves depicted? Are they happy and smiling, or are they huddled in masses, barely clothed with fear in their eyes?

This drawing, from Brazil, shows a common occurrence at many slave auctions. Slaves were often sold, and sometimes valued less than, other material goods and crop items. In the background, a rather large and pompous looking man inspects with his finger the face of an African woman while her child stands by grasping her wrist, and in the foreground on the left, an Africa man sits amongst the many other goods being sold at the auction. Of course, the Portuguese men are almost all wearing high-hats and walking with their heads high, backs straight, and appearing exceptionally confident. The Africans being sold and inspected are wearing typical slave clothing, their faces show almost no sign of sadness – almost a lack of feeling – and the man on the left is hunched over, staring up at the auctioneer who, of course, is looking down at the paper, almost unable to even bear looking at the auction items, including the slaves. This is a fairly typical showing of the slave auction. Not entirely accurate, but the feelings given to the viewer accomplish are accurate, especially for the time. A white Portuguese man looking at this image may feel confident in himself that his people have accomplished such success, owning so many luxury items, including slaves. The sympathizer or African slave feels sad, empathetic, knowing or feeling how traumatic events like this had to have been. The facial expressions and psychology of the African slaves hunched over and looking up while the Portuguese men stand up straight with their heads high, and again, in the case of the auctioneer, staring down at the ground, high above the slaves being sold.

This drawing, from the United States, shows another stereotype of the African slave. He is dirty and savage, needing to be restrained and poked at and prodded. In this drawing, the blue-collar man to the immediate left of the slave for sale is showing off the strengths of this particular slave to the man seated on the left, smoking a cigar. Again, there are expressions on the faces of the two white men. The man to the immediate left is smiling, staring at the face of the slave. The man seated on the left is sitting up straight with his head high, looking at the man being presented before him. But looking at the slave, he almost appears to be a dead man, afforded barely any clothing and shackled at the wrists. His face shows no expression and his eyes seem to stare off into the distance.

This painting, from Brazil, is less exact than the previous drawings, but it shows an interesting idea that many people held during these times. The idea is that, although many people did not accept Darwin’s theory of natural selection at the time, it was an easy way to explain away the genocide, slavery, and imperialism being committed by these empires. Although these Africans aren’t going to be killed, they are being sold as if they’re animals. The one being inspected by the white man on the left is shown with a disproportionate body, slightly hunched over, with his face not even being shown. As usual, the Portuguese men are dressed in fancy clothing, smiling and expressing their emotions of happiness. The Africans on the left are kneeled over in a huddle, appearing as if they are primates. They are dressed in practically no clothing, putting the Africans not so much on par with chimpanzees, but more like jungle dwellers that lack the civilized thinking the dress themselves anymore than they appear. This is even more pronounced when standing by their extravagantly dressed and confident master’s.

This painting, from the United States, is also more figurative than exact. It shows another idea that many white Europeans had about imported Africans. The inspector at the auctioneer block is dressed in all white and has a very Christian appearance. White is often looked at as the color of purity and Christianity was the religion imposed upon all imported African slaves. The man on the stand is chained, showing the believed primitive nature of black Africans, and the women in line behind him are wearing only skirts, three of which are looking down towards the ground.

This painting, from Brazil, shows off an elaborate structure for its time, holding 22 African slaves up for sale and only two white men. One of the men is dressed very nicely, and the other shows an air of arrogance and wealth. He is larger than the rest, showing he has the money to eat good food, and he is sitting lazily in his chair with a gluttonous smile on his face, showing that despite his mannerisms, he does have money. Yet all of the black Africans in the painting are very thin, wearing practically no clothing, and generally look very malnourished. The children are sitting in a circle, looking almost like a group of small primate children, and up for sale is a small child. Generally, though, the setting of this painting shows off a much better selling environment than is portrayed in many other paintings and descriptions. It almost appears as if the sellers are taking great care of the slaves for sale, but it also shows another interesting detail: the level of control and power the white men felt they held over whom they believed to be much less intelligent and capable, despite the difference in numbers. The two men look to be divine figures, judging those before them, deciding who is worthy of serving the white man and who is not deserving of being in their presence.

This drawing, from the United States, is very interesting in comparison to the rest. The market where the slaves are being sold is a nice building with wood floors and walls, and there is no mud or other objects up for sale. It presents and inverse psychology compared to what it seen in other depictions – the white men are below the slaves, and the slaves are looking down at the white man. Several of the slaves are expressing an odd emotion given that they are up for sale – they are actually smiling. The African on the far right, even while being inspected by the elegantly dressed white man, is smiling while looking down at the inspector. The child near him is also smiling, as is the woman to hear immediate left. The slaves up for sale in this drawing are also dressed much nicer and are portrayed as being much cleaner than in other depictions of slaves up for auction. The expressions on the faces of the slaves for sale are surprising given that they know they are being sold, given that they know they are being inspected as if they are cattle or beef, and given that there is a sign for the future sale of slaves and one sign about preventing slaves from running away. This drawing is most interesting because it seems as if the artist is trying to present slavery is a brighter light. The white men are not doing the Africans any harm, they are actually being nice to the slaves, and the Africans are not too upset or depressed about being sold as property. In this drawing, it looks like they are almost happy to be able to serve their white masters.

It is hard to sum up the entire range of artistic depictions of slaves on the auction block and in the market with only three images from each respective slave-receiving nation. There are many things that could be written and researched about the images and the artists. Certain colors used or certain geometry or strokes may have a certain meaning to the artist and express a different emotion than meets the eye. The artist may actually support abolition and emancipation, or the artist may be the relative or beneficiary of, or may even himself be, the owner of slaves. Given these examples, though, it is easy to see that the images tell a story. The questions still remain, though. What exactly is the story being told by the artist? Why are certain people looking one way while others look one way? Why in this painting are slaves dressed as they are yet in another they are dressed a different way? Why are the slaves being depicted one way in the paintings and drawings of British artists, yet another way in those of Portuguese artists? The answers are there, and even more questions that can follow them.

Okay folks. Hopefully you enjoyed that. I'm not an artist or art critic, I just pulled from my knowledge of slavery in both countries and went from there. Again, I'll have some more interesting stuff soon enough.
We have only three weeks left here in Curitiba. Here is our itinerary after that.

22nd June: Bus to São Paulo. Probably be staying in the same hotel as last time, on Avenida Paulista.
25th June: Flight to Salvador. We'll be staying with either Marcos or Vanessa. Not sure yet. Hopefully we get a chance to go to the interior of Bahia for a couple days. Otherwise, I will reserve all that for next year as my graduation gift.
1st July: Flight to Rio. We'll be here for a couple of days. Hopefully I will meet up with Júlio again and he can show us around the "hidden" parts of Brazil. I'm really excited about the opportunity to see the parts of the city he knows.
3rd July: Flight to the US. We'll get to the US on the 4th. We'll fly from Rio to São Paulo, from São Paulo to NYC, then from NYC to Raleigh.

So there will definitely be some pictures from the previously described two weeks. So stay tuned for that.
Until next time! Peace in the Middle East, folks.

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