Zeca Ligiéro & Denise Zenicola's Performance Afro-Ameríndia

Ligiéro, Zeca and Denise Zenicola, ed. Performance Afro-Ameríndia. Rio de Janeiro: Publit Soluções Editoriais, 2007. 115 pages.

The volume entitled Performance Afro-Ameríndia (2007) presents a broad range of emerging scholarship from Núcleo de Estudos das Performances Afro-Ameríndias (NEPAA) in the graduate school of drama at the University of Rio de Janeiro. Founded in 1998 by Zeca Ligiéro, artist, author, and professor at Uni-Rio, the NEPAA produces conferences, forums, theatre, and publications aimed at increasing visibility of African and Indigenous expressive cultures in the Americas and performance studies as a theoretical lens through which to study them. The book is divided into two sections: "Performance Ameríndia" and "Afro-Brasileira," both of which feature short papers that were presented at the IV Colloquium of NEPAA entitled Memory and Identity (Memória e identidade). Ranging in topic from body painting, ceremonial games, and theatre to pedagogy, dance, hip hop, and visual art, this vast web of Afro-Amerindian cultural expression inspires the work of these scholars, and the ongoing search for common threads that join them.

One such thread pulls together these performances as both the means to restore cultural memory of the past, as well as a continued exercise in dealing with the shifting terrain of modernity, specifically cultural formations of state. Anna Maria Pereira Esteves describes such practices in Kaipó body painting in juxtaposition to the state, where tensions between both consent and resistance to national integration result in deeper and more complex ways of reaffirming collective identities. In Luiz Guilherme Veiga de Almeida’s study of the Meso-American ball game ullamaliztli, the overlapping relationship between war, play, and the sacred render the performance of the ball game central to the existence of the state. Performance as central to the state contrasts perhaps most appositely with Denise Mancebo Zenicola’s discussion of malandragem in the popular dance, Malandros e Mulatas. Zenicola theorizes a performance aesthetic whereby the “malandro” and “mulata” are symbolic figures that contest official discourse through specific forms of embodiment and mobility across race and class divisions in the national sphere.

One of the valuable contributions of this volume is the attempt to resituate ethnography as a study of continuums and movement enacted on the streets, in theatres, in the public park, in the school patio, and on city walls as both local and global enunciations by performers of Afro-Brazilian and/or Indigenous descent in the Americas. Movement also implies that things bump up against each other whereby these art forms express an assemblage of collective behaviors in consort or frictionand—and sometimes both.

In a study of Indigenous cultural performance in Rio de Janeiro public schools, Jussara Trindade Moreira critiques the pedagogical methods of presenting “Brazilian Indians” as national subjects in, for example, “Dia do índio (“Day of the Indian”) events. For Trindade, the question of what qualifies Indigenous practices as “Brazilian” often misses the point. Instead she argues for situating indigeneity as cultural encounters, or “collective mobilizations” (37). Trindade calls for increased visibility of Indigenous cultural performance as well as for conceptually emphasizing indigeneity as social practices or processes.

Trindade’s call to recognize indigeneity as a “mobilization” is taken up in the second half of the book on performances by Afro-descendents in essays by Marcos Serra, Claudio Alberto dos Santos and Zeca Ligiéro. Several of these authors are also practitioners, offering an insightful reconnaissance of the ways these performances produce ethno-cultural meanings empirically and also methodologically. One essay that speaks to movement explicitly is Dos Santo’s study of “Dança moçambiqueira” (Dance of the Mozambique), performed annually near the city of Uberlândia west of Minas Gerais in Amazonian (Northern) Brazil during the Festa do Rosário. According to Dos Santos, the body never moves as a one-dimensional block, it is necessarily multidimensional, producing opposition among its parts. Space is considered equally complex in the variety of locations in which the dance takes place, from streets to community centers, on stages and in living rooms. Dancers occupy what is described as a transcendental space “in its totality” – including the “creation of symbolic space, sacred space, hierarchical space, spaces within spaces and spaces that involve or are related to all participants including the audience” (89). The volume itself is analogous to the movement of such polyrhythmic, multi-dimensional bodies. Most readers will not find this unsettling as long as they are not banking on a given answer to the question “What is Ameríndia?”

Zeca Ligiéro anchors the volume with the idea that many art forms of the African diaspora convey “visual rhythms and ancestral patterns”: he mentions hip hop, rap, grafitti art, religious practices, music and visual art forms specifically. For Ligiéro, two Brazilian artists of African descent most vividly recreate these integrations of visual art, music, and performance: percussionist Naná Vasconcelos (a performer, composer and inventor of sound) and Bispo do Rosário (an assemblage-artist of objects, words, symbols).

If there is a shortcoming in this book, it is the fact that there was no introduction. Nevertheless, the work of these artists and authors effectively push scholars to recognize the intersections of visual culture, mobilities, and performance as epistemologies. This contribution helps further the discussion on systemic relationships within a variety of ethno-cultural performances in the Americas.

Translations from the Portuguese are the author's.

Angela Marino Segura es una estudiante posgrado de Español y los Estudios de Performance a la Universidad de Nueva York. Sus investigaciones tratan de la teoría de performance, teatro, festivales, políticas y fiesta popular de las Américas. Estudió la danza, teatro y filosofía a la Universidad de Wisconsin-Madison y fue una escolar de la beca William J. Fulbright (1998-1999) de performance y literatura dramática en Caracas. Recibió su maestria de los Estudios Latinoamericanos a la Universidad de Nuevo México (2006), en donde organizó un festival internacional de artes, LaVoz: Festival de las Américas en 1998 y 2000. Últimadamente, Marino Segura está escribiendo su tesis doctoral sobre la política y performance en la Revolución Bolivariana de Venezuela. También es colaboradora continuosa del Instituto Hemisférico.



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