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The Evolving Image of the Baiana and Black Female Identity in Brazil

Wednesday, April 5 at 4:30pm

Allen Memorial Art Building, Classroom 1 87 North Main Street, Oberlin, OH 44074

The Evolving Image of the Baiana and Black Female Identity in Brazil

Presented by Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies Heather Shirey of the University of St. Thomas, Saint Paul, Minnesota

Contemporary Brazilian artists such as Helen Mozão and Thais Muniz use photography and performance to engage with the complex history of representing Black women from Bahia. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, African-Brazilian women from the northeastern state of Bahia served as powerful spiritual leaders in their communities, and many of the same women worked as urban vendors of food and goods. These women, known as Baianas, were frequent subjects for studio photographers, and historic photographs of women of Bahia were typically labeled not with the name of the sitter, but with a “type,” the “Baiana,” thus erasing individual identity and referencing instead an established racial and social hierarchy.

Over time, the image of the Baiana came to serve as a symbol of regional and national identity, as seen in the work of documentary photographer Pierre Verger as well as in Carmen Miranda’s constructed Hollywood persona. Thus, black female bodies have been situated in a complicated position in relation to notions of race, ethnic identity, and beauty in the dominant culture. Many images of the Baiana evoke—often uncritically¾a past that was defined by racial oppression and gender inequity, and problematically seize upon this as a key component of Bahia’s contemporary identity.

Exploring over a century of photography, film, and performance, this lecture analyzes the constructed image of the Baiana and the shifting meaning of this image in relation to black identity and structures of power.

This event is presented with support from the Art History Baldwin Endowment.

Event Type

Arts, International/Cultural, Lectures/Symposia/Workshops


Academic, Africana Studies, Art


Free to the public

Contact Person

Matthew Rarey

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