On Wednesday afternoon, about 15 students and faculty gathered in the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery Lab for a talk by Luciane Ramos Silva, co-editor of O Menelick 2o Ato, an editorial project in Brazil aiming to highlight Afro-Brazilian artists, thinkers and perspectives. In her talk, titled “Voices of the Black Press in Times of Social Cleavage in Contemporary Brazil,” Silva discussed racial disparities and the importance of a platform for Black creators in Brazil.
Silva began by describing Brazil demographically, explaining Brazil faces many issues of inequality despite its racial diversity.
“54 percent of Brazil’s population is Black, but it has one of the worst statistics in racial disparities in terms of education, employment, living conditions,” Silva said. “It has some of the worst statistics in terms of death of young Black men, of mass incarceration against Black men, of sexual violence against Black women, opportunities for Black students in universities, et cetera.”
Silva noted Black people have a long history in Brazil due to the Black diaspora, the global displacement of people of African descent due to slavery between the 1500s and 1900s. According to Silva, having a space for Black culture is necessary in order for Black people to contribute to conversations about this diaspora.
“What is the meaning of diaspora as a Black Brazilian, or a Black American, or Black African?” Silva said. “Art is a way to approach the struggle of Black people in Brazil, and how our experiences connect with other narratives of the Black diaspora … In an unequal society, culture is a basic need. Art is a demonstration of the possibility of society.”
Silva then presented on the work of O Menelick 2o Ato. According to Silva, the independent magazine is the only printed media in Brazil specifically focused on Black culture and creators. Started in 2010, O Menelick 2o Ato publishes articles, essays, artist and activist profiles, poems, photographs and illustratrations of and by Black artists.
According to Silva, more than 40,000 copies of O Menelick 2oAto have been distributed in São Paulo, its base of operations, and throughout Brazil, as well as internationally in the U.S., Europe, Asia and Africa.
Silva explained O Menelick 2o Ato is a non-profit organization that distributes copies of the magazine for free in order to reach a wider audience.
“We distribute for free, because the community that we focus on, they don’t have money to pay for a magazine,” Silva said. “We work mostly through public grants … we apply for private grants … We have a community of writers and thinkers (who) believe it is necessary to do this work. Sometimes we have to put in money ourselves.”
Though print editions are more expensive than online media, Silva expressed O Menelick 2o Ato is committed to publishing in print.
“The capacity to read and understand and really learn with the page is very much different from online,” Silva said.
Silva explained the name of O Menelick 2o Ato translates to “O Menelick Act 2” in English and is a tribute to O Menelick, the first Black journal in Brazil established in the 1915 which closed in the mid-1900s when it was unable to sustain production. According to Silva, this is an acknowledgement of the history of Black press in Brazil.
In 2018, O Menelick 2o Ato was selected as a Prince Claus laureate, a Dutch award established in honor of Prince Claus and supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. According to a report from the Prince Claus Funds Committee, O Menelick 2oAto was honored for its work in increasing Black representation in Brazil, among other reasons.
To end her talk, Silva expressed her belief in the power of art to shape culture.
“Even though Black (people) are more than 50 percent of the population, Blacks are othered in Brazil,” Silva said. “But we still fight as our elders, mostly because we believe in the power of the creative imagination … As an artist and anthropologist, it makes me comfortable to communicate that culture and art is a way to experiment and feel and develop critical perceptions about society.”
Frieda Ekotto, professor of comparative literature and Afroamerican and African studies, attended the event. Ekotto said in an interview with The Daily after the event that the work of O Menelick 2o Ato is important as it serves as an archive of Black thought and expression.
“This is a place where we can collect and excavate knowledge,” Ekotto said. “And that knowledge is not there. There’s a need to document this history, Black culture, Black arts … It’s extremely important that other generations will go back to the archive to see that this work is being done.”
Fifth-year LSA student Janaya Livingston heard about the event through her Portuguese course and said Silva’s talk helped her better understand concepts from class.
“I’m interested in the Black presence in Brazil and Argentina — that’s what the course is about — and this provided an opportunity to hear about that in person,” Livingston said. “I learned a lot about arts and culture in Brazil, and to be able to compare that to the Black experience in the United States and how we disperse our art and culture, not that she specifically talked about that, but to be able to make those mental comparisons, it was very interesting.”
The organizer of the event, Rackham student Marisol Fila, met Silva through her dissertation research, which centers around Black digital press in the 21st century in Portugal, Brazil and Argentina. According to Fila, she organized the event to promote awareness of Black media in those three countries and to foster cross-cultural discussion.
“I strongly believe my work is not only in terms of academic research, but it has to engage with a broader audience and make visible the work many groups, artists and collectives are doing,” Fila said. “I really believe building bridges between work that is being done in Brazil with an American audience to bring different voices into different contexts for discussion is very important.”
The event was co-sponsored by the Romance Language and Literatures Department, African Studies Center, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies – Brazil Initiative – Women’s Studies, and Institute for Research on Women and Gender.