Video: Race, Representation, and Agassiz’s Brazilian Fantasy


How do we confront the history and legacy of Louis Agassiz’s extensive archive of images of African and Indigenous Brazilians made in Manaus, Brazil in 1865 and housed at Harvard’s Peabody Museum? Four distinguished panelists reflect on the historical moment when these pictures were taken, discuss racist displays of Indigenous people in Brazil and elsewhere, and, by bringing to light respect for different epistemologies, explore ways to contend with them today. Panelists are writer and historian Christoph Irmscher (contributor to the recent Peabody Museum Press book about Agassiz images, To Make Their Own Way in the World), Brazilian performance artist and photographer Anita Ekman, literary critic Luciana Namorato, and Brazil’s first Indigenous art curator Sandra Benites of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP).

Moderated discussion cosponsored by the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology and the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture with the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Harvard University, and the Afro-Latin American Research Institute at the Hutchins Center, Harvard University (ALARI) on April 1, 2021.

Related Book

To Make Their Own Way in the World  (Peabody Museum Press/Aperture 2020)

About the Speakers


Sandra Benites (Guaraní Ñandeva)

Adjunct Curator of Brazilian Art, Museum of Art of São Paulo

Anita Ekman

Visual and Performance Artist

Christoph Irmscher

Director, Wells Scholars Program, Provost Professor, Department of English, Indiana University

Luciana Namorato

Associate Professor, Director of Portuguese, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Indiana University

Moderated by Alejandro De La Fuente

Robert Woods Bliss Professor of Latin American History and Economics; Professor of African and African American Studies and of History, Harvard University


Sandra Benites, a Guaraní Nhandeva woman, is the first Indigenous adjunct curator of Brazilian art at the Assis Chateaubriand São Paulo Art Museum (MASP). She is currently undertaking a PhD in social anthropology at the National Museum of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). She has a MA in social anthropology from the same institute. In 2018 she was the curator of the exhibition Dja Guata Porã | Rio de Janeiro indígena together with José Ribamar Bessa, Pablo Lafuente and Clarissa Diniz in the Art Museum of Rio (MAR). Subsequently, she has participated in a diverse range of cultural and educational events concerning the role of Indigenous women and Indigenous art in Brazil. 

Anita Ekman is a contemporary Brazilian artist, photographer, and performer. Anita explores the representation of women and their role in art and the history of the Atlantic World through performances (using body painting) in archaeological sites. At the end of 2020, the American Online Magazine for the Photographic Arts—the Od Review—published the essay "On Anita Ekman’s Ochre,” written by Christoph Irmscher. The collaborative performance Tupi Valongo- Cemetery of the New Blacks and Old Indians was presented at the Goethe Institut’s Echoes of the South Atlantic Conference in Brazil (2018–2019) and Listening to the Echoes of South Atlantic in Oslo, curated by Selene Wendt, in early 2020. Currently, Anita is developing the project "Wombs of the Atlantic Rainforest" (2019–2021) supported by the Goethe Institut Ecos Fund (with Amilcar Packer, Sandra Benites, Carlos Papa, Cristine Takuá, Marcelo Noronha, and Freg J. Stokes), initially presented at HKW–Das Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin (2019). Anita Ekman’s first individual photography exhibition was Women of Samba–100 Years of Samba in 2016 at the Magnet Gallery in Melbourne, Australia. 

Christoph Irmscher, a biographer and book critic, is Provost Professor of English at Indiana University Bloomington, where he directs the Wells Scholars Program. His biography Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science (Houghton Mifflin) was an Editors’ Choice of the New York Times Book Review.  His homepage can be found at

Luciana Namorato is Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Indiana University Bloomington, where she also directs the Portuguese Program. She is the author of Diálogos borgianos (published in Brazil), and the coeditor of Luso-Brazilian Literature in a Global Context, a special issue of Revista Moara (published by the University of Pará, Brazil), and Transatlantic Dialogues, a special issue of Revista de Estudos Literários (published by the University of Coimbra, Portugal). She also co-edited La palabra según Clarice Lispector: Aproximaciones críticas (published by the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, in Peru). Professor Namorato is currently researching the cultural exchange between Portugal and Brazil in the second-half of the nineteenth century, with a focus on the works of Brazilian writer Machado de Assis. She is also in the process of coediting a collection of essays in Latin American women artists, titled The Other Fridas

Alejandro de la Fuente is a historian of Latin America and the Caribbean who specializes in the study of comparative slavery and race relations. Professor de la Fuente’s works on race, slavery, law, art, and Atlantic history have been published in Spanish, English, Portuguese, Italian, German, and French. He is the author of Becoming Free, Becoming Black: Race, Freedom, and Law in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana (Cambridge University Press, 2020, coauthored with Ariela J. Gross), Havana and the Atlantic in the Sixteenth Century (University of North Carolina Press, 2008), and of A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba (University of North Carolina Press, 2001), published in Spanish as Una nación para todos: raza, desigualdad y política en Cuba, 1900-2000 (Madrid: Editorial Colibrí, 2001), winner of the Southern Historical Association's 2003 prize for Best Book in Latin American History.” He is the coeditor, with George Reid Andrews, of Afro-Latin American Studies: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2018, available in Spanish and Portuguese) and of the Afro-Latin America Series, Cambridge University Press. Professor de la Fuente is also the curator of three art exhibits dealing with issues of race, and the author or editor of their corresponding volumes: Queloides: Race and Racism in Cuban Contemporary Art (Havana-Pittsburgh-New York City-Cambridge, Ma, 2010-2012); Drapetomania: Grupo Antillano and the Art of Afro-Cuba (Santiago de Cuba-Havana-New York City-Cambridge, Ma-San Francisco-Philadelphia-Chicago, 2013-16) and Diago: The Pasts of this Afro-Cuban Present (Cambridge, Ma-Miami, ongoing). Professor de la Fuente is the founding director of the Afro-Latin American Research Institute at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research and the faculty chair of the Cuba Studies Program, David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. He is also the senior editor of the journal Cuban Studies


Good afternoon. My name is Jane Pickering and I am director of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. I'd like to start by acknowledging that the Peabody Museum and Cambridge campus at Harvard are located on the traditional territory of the Massachusetts people and we strive to honor this relationship in ways that are authentic and collaborative. Since the museum is currently closed, I come to you this afternoon from the Connecticut shoreline, the traditional lands of the Quinnipiac or people of the long waterland. 

I'm delighted to welcome you this afternoon to a program co-sponsored by the Peabody Museum, the Harvard Museum of Science and Culture, the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University, and the Afro-Latin American Research Institute at the Hutchins Center at Harvard University. This program is part of a series of talks around the recent publication, To Make their Own Way in the World-- The Enduring Legacy of the Zealy Daguerreotypes, from the Peabody Museum Press and Aperture. 

This multidisciplinary collaborative book concerns the images of Alfred, Delia, Drana, Fassena, Jack, Jem, and Renty, seven enslaved African and African-Americans who were photographed against the wall at the behest of Harvard Professor Louis Agassiz in 1850. 15 years later, Agassiz traveled to Brazil, where he commissioned photographs of dozens of unidentified Brazilians of Indigenous and African descent. These pictures are discussed in the book by Christoph Irmscher in his chapter "Mr. Agassiz's Saloon." 

Christoph's article and the images the jumping off point for today's event. A PDF of the article can be read and downloaded for free from the Peabody's website. It is now my pleasure to introduce Alejandro De La Fuente, Robert Woods Bliss Professor of Latin American history and economics, Professor of African and African-American studies and of history, and director of the Afro-Latin American Research Institute at the Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research at Harvard University, who will introduce and moderate our panel discussion. Thank you. 

Thank you so much, Jane, for your kind introduction. Welcome to everyone. Thanks also to the Peabody Museum for creating this opportunity to examine a singular moment in the history of scientific racism. A moment which highlights the importance of Latin America in the production of that knowledge. But also a moment that gives us the opportunity to think about the role that institutions of higher learning have played in the production of this knowledge in the past and in the present as well. 

I invite you all to learn more about our distinguished speakers by taking a look at the website for the event at the Peabody Museum, where their accomplishments are listed. I'm not going to read all that here again but I want to give you a sense of how the program will proceed. We will begin with a presentation by Professor Christoph Irmscher-- Director of the Wells program and distinguished professor in the Department of English at Indiana University, who will discuss his work on Agassiz's Brazilian images. 

Christoph is the author of a wonderful biography Louis Agassiz-- Creator of American Science, which was a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice. And as Jane mentioned, he also authored a wonderful essay in the volume that she referenced that deals precisely with the images that we are examining today. 

We will then hear from Professor Luciana Namorato, who is associate professor and director of Portuguese in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Indiana University. Luciana is a scholar of literature, of Brazilian literature, and she will discuss stereotypes of African and Indigenous Brazilians in fiction published between the 1850s and the 1890s, as well as works that challenged those stereotypes. 

We also have with us today two speakers who are joining us from Brazil, Anita Ekman, who is a Brazilian visual and performance artist, and Sandra Benites Guarani Ñandeva, Adjunct Curator of Brazilian art at the Museum of Art in Sao Paolo. The first indigenous art curator in Brazil. Anita and Sandra will push our conversation in other interesting directions beyond the Agassiz's photographic saloon. 

They will discuss the rainforest images of Indigenous and mestiza women in addition to the long and complicated history between Brazil and the United States, which is a history that, of course, has been mediated by the kind of gaze, the racialized gaze, the work of Louis Agassiz illustrates and represents. After the presentations, we will reconvene to have a conversation with our speakers and to take questions from the audience. With that, I am delighted to welcome my colleague, professor Christoph Irmscher. 

Thank you so much, Alejandro. I want to start out by thanking a number of people. Jane Pickering, director of the Peabody Museum, Ilisa Barbash, Kate O'Donnell of Peabody Press, the staff of the museum, and Diana Munn for allowing me to be at this event. This is really a dream come true for me. When I wrote this article, I was hoping that we would be able to have a conversation like the one we are about to have today. 

It's a very, very important moment, I think, in the history of these photographs. I came to Louis Agassiz many years ago because of my interest in the history of natural history. I first started working with the Zealy daguerreotypes in the 1990s. I will share my screen now. 

In the 1990s, when I was writing my book, The Poetics of Natural History, it was then that I discovered the glass negatives of the Brazilian people, the people of Manaus, photographed by Louis Agassiz in 1865. I wrote about them in Poetics of Natural History but also in my later biography of Louis Agassiz. 

I thought about these photographs for a long time and they've inhabited my dreams and not the good ones. I'd like to give you some context as a basis for our discussion today. Louis Agassiz, shown here on the cover of my biography, as he wanted to be seen, explaining science to the masses, a blackboard behind him, left Boston for Brazil on April Fool's Day, 1865. That's exactly 156 years ago to the day. 

His party, his team, included his wife Elizabeth, who ended up writing about the trip, and several assistants. Among them, a recent Harvard graduate, Walter Hunnewell, and a current student, the young William James, later known as the psychologist James. The expedition was financed by a Boston businessman, Nathaniel Thayer. It was a last ditch effort for Agassiz to salvage his life's work against the unrelenting pressure of Darwinism. 

But he had another personal reason as well. His first published book, his dissertation in fact, was prepared entirely from preserved specimens written in Latin, written in Munich. It was about Brazilian fish. In fact, fish that he had never seen alive, that he'd only seen in jars, preserved. 

The Thayer expedition was the fulfillment, for him, of a lifelong dream of the much awaited opportunity to see, in their natural habitats, those fish he'd only known as dead specimens. He also hoped that collecting fish in the massive Amazon River basin would provide him with the facts that he needed to refute Darwin. He wanted data. He wanted facts that showed that all living things stayed in their assigned places. A fool's errand, of course, but he was still holding onto it. 

As far as Agassiz was concerned, nothing in nature traveled. A principle that he also applied to human races, which you considered biologically distinct, with the white race considered to be superior to all others. In 1865, Brazil, the world's last country to allow slavery, was the ideal playground for Agassiz's racist views. While he claimed he had never supported slavery, he deeply believed in segregation. He figured that Brazil a country that allowed, as he saw it, racial mixing going on unchecked, was the ideal place for him to investigate that. 

The Zealy daguerreotypes are one of a kind images because they're daguerreotypes. But photography had progressed rapidly since 1850, when Agassiz had those taken. He had abandoned some of his reservations against the technology. He started out in reel, working with a professional photographer, Augusto Stahl, who was too good an artist, too good a photographer, too attuned to the individuality of Black people that he photographed to meet Agassiz's needs. He would allow his subjects to turn away from the camera. To look down or up, which made them more than just ethnographic objects, even though he did comply with Agassiz's instructions. 

Agassiz changed gears. His travels in search of natural history specimens did lead him to Manaus in the fall of 1865, very much a frontier town at the time. That's when he began a different set of photographs, taken by a complete novice, Walter Hunnewell. 

The sessions took place inside a dilapidated courtyard of a former government building, a treasury building. One can see the crumbling walls, the debris on the ground, the rocks and the weeds. As one continues to look at those photographs, the space becomes more familiar. One recognizes the stone ledge that's in all of these images, or many of them. A window, the rickety chairs, which Agassiz has introduced for size comparisons. 

Hunnewell was not very good at what he did. Wet plate photography requires prepping the plates right before the image is taken, immediate processing afterwards. Unlike the Zealy daguerreotypes, these photographs were taken with Agassiz present. One can imagine him barking orders at the former student, which naturally would have made the young man nervous. 

One of the images shows Hunnewell's thumbprint. Others show that he'd forgotten to coat the entire image, which shows how rushed he was. Take a look for comparison at the photograph of Agassiz himself, the official one, looking confident, hand in pocket, something like the Arc de Triomphe in the background. What a difference between him and the naked woman forced to expose itself outdoors to the camera right in front of two sweating men, Hunnewell and the imperious Agassiz. 

I do think we can see Agassiz walking into at least one of the images. We don't quite know how Agassiz got these men and women to pose for him. At least some of them would have been enslaved so would not have come voluntarily. Others seem to have been attracted by the novelty of the enterprise, as Elizabeth Agassiz claimed. But whether they actually knew, going into these sessions, they would eventually have to undress completely is an open question. 

The faces of some of the sitters do convey how awkward they must have felt once the process was underway. Hunnewell photographed them all. Men, women, young and old, children. There are over 120 negatives. Some stand, some sit, some lean, some stare, some blink, some frown. One woman is holding a baby. 

This was one of the hardest writing assignments I've ever had. As I say in my essay, the Hunnewell images don't allow us the aesthetic escape hatch that maybe Zealy leaves us, that maybe Stahl also gives us. Which is probably by one reason why artists have been less interested in them today. 

With these images, one can never ignore the sordidness of the situation and of the intent. We can never forget that these people are nude and that they were made to be so because Agassiz hoped to find evidence of their biological inferiority. He wrote about that topic in an appendix to the book that Elizabeth published about the trip. 

It is heartbreaking to see Agassiz's models arrive in their Sunday best at the beginning of the sequence, then to see them entirely naked at the end. To Agassiz and maybe Hunnewell, the men and women of Manaus were nothing but pieces of animated flesh. 

I want to say how beautiful they are. How strong, how brave, how fierce. But I'm also conscious of any attempt to find agency or a silver lining helps justify the process. Like the daguerreotypes, Hunnewell's negatives sat mostly unused after Agassiz's returned. With the exception of perhaps the portrait of this woman, who showed up in a woodcut in the French translation of Elizabeth Agassiz's book about the voyage. 

The fish specimens Agassiz brought home, thousands and thousands of them, proved to be not much more useful. It was simply too many of them. My museum overflows, wrote Agassiz a year later. I want to end then with a photograph of what is likely some kind of piranha collected by William James and preserved in a jar at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. 

That photograph was taken by the wonderful photographer, Massachusetts photographer, Rosamond Purcell, in which she makes that dead fish come alive and swim again. A wonderful exhortation to take what Agassiz left us and transform it too. I must confess that I myself have found that last part very hard to do. 

Which is why I'm so excited today to have three wonderful colleagues, three wonderful women here to guide me and all of us, maybe to that place. It is my great pleasure now-- I'll stop sharing my screen. --to introduce my colleague, Luciana Namorato. 

Thank you so much, Christoph. I'm going to share my screen too. Good afternoon, everyone. First of all, I would like to thank the organizers of this event and congratulate everyone involved in this much-needed volume. I would like to start with some points raised by the essays in this wonderful book, To Make Their Own Way in the World, and by Christoph's essay, "Mr. Agassiz's Photographic Saloon." 

The points I want to make are-- I will do it very quickly so we can get into the Brazilian literature, which is the focus of my conversation today. First of all, many of the essays highlight the need, the importance, of adding a context to the Zealy daguerreotypes. A context that was very cruelly absent when the images first appeared more than a century and a half ago. 

The other point is a question that resonates throughout the volume. What to do after the recognition that it's impossible to undo the evils of the past? When we think about looking at these photos, both the Zealy daguerreotypes and Hunnewell ones, it's impossible not to remember that these subjects, these individuals, were intended to exist in these images much more as objects and symbols of slavery and racism than as fully realized human beings with the ability to represent themselves. 

As Christoph was saying, they did not have the capacity to make decisions about withholding themselves from the camera. So the question that comes to us is, why do we then turn back to those images, to those representations, now in the present? I think the answer to that is because there is a belief that there is more than what was proposed initially in these photos. 

Since their rediscovery, the daguerreotypes have taken on a new life so they can be seen as many, many things that they were not intended to be seen for. For example, we have the haunting examples of the sufferings that these people went through registered in their bodies. When we choose to look at them, we are all recognizing that these images definitely failed in their original purpose. 

From these recognition that the daguerreotypes were created to speak the language of racism and colonialism, we also recognize that the pictures speak other languages. This is what some of these essays in this wonderful book talk about. They talk about the life and times of the individuals who were portrayed. They talk about the importance of pictures, of images, to better understanding their lives. This gesture of revisiting these images of which today's panel is an example, it has in mind that we are rewriting the original intention to denigrate, and we're recognizing an act of empowerment from the part of these individuals too. 

When I was invited to participate in this conversation, I decided to bring some questions raised by Christoph's essay, which resonate questions raised, of course by this whole volume, to the terrain of literature. In literature, we have many of the same questions raised by the Zealy and the Hunnewell daguerreotypes. What we have are portrayals of non-white bodies and minds that are tainted by racist, colonial discourses. 

We have a very clear objectification of non-white bodies. We have an attempt to reduce these non-white individuals to their bodies and hide their minds. Also, when we think about literature, another question that is similar to the discussions that surround these daguerreotypes is the question about the [INAUDIBLE], which parallels all of these discussions we're having about the role of museums and archival collections when one considers the fraught legacies of colonialism, imperialism, and slavery. 

When we think about literary renditions of non-white minds and bodies, when we are talking about those renditions, we also have to understand that they have changed with time in a fundamental way. For sure, a similar confrontation with racist portrayals of non-white individuals is also present in literature. We can see that, for example, in critical works that offer context to those representations. 

Here, when I talk about offering a context, it doesn't mean offering a context in order to diminish the violence and oppression or to understand that violence and oppression. What I mean is offering a context that will help us understand the enormous dimension of the violence and oppression when it comes to the representation of Indigenous peoples and African Brazilians and later on, of those individuals of mixed ethnicity. 

However, it's a very hard task. Because while we're doing this, while we're finding ways these images speak back and these texts speak back, we also have to remember that the motivation behind their creation, the creation of these oppressive portrayals, is still very much with us. This is not something that is simply now our past. 

Today, what we're going to do-- We're going to do something very simple and it's going to be quite superficial. But I want to share with you a little bit about Brazilian literature in the '50s and '60s and I'll talk a little bit about what was done a little bit later after the '60s. 

The first part of our conversation will be-- I'll be talking a little bit about the representations of non-white minds and bodies and we'll see some acts of compliance with this certain way of trying to represent these non-white bodies and minds. We're going to see some examples of refusals. In the second part, we're going to look at the revisionist approach, which is when we try to go back to offer some context to those representations. Here, I have images and narratives because I'll show you a little bit of both. 

First of all, when we talk about the '50s and the '60s, we are talking about acts of compliance and refusal. We're going to be focusing on one little aspect of Brazilian romanticism, which is the Indianism. We're going to be talking more precisely about one writer, Jose de Alencar. 

Why are we talking about romanticism and what does have to do with Indianism? In Brazilian literature, during the romantic period, many writers try to discover what would be truly Brazilian. They chose the image of the Native Brazilian to represent what would be truly Brazilian. However, in that literature, there is nothing about the Native Brazilians, the extermination of the Native Brazilians. 

There is clearly a blindness to their cultures, that Native Brazilians are shown as existing for the white man, for the European man. Just a little disclaimer, I'll be talking about the treatment of the Native Brazilian but there was also a treatment of the African and the slaves in romantic literature. That was part of a movement called conjurism, which comes from the word "conjure." It's this idea that these poets were able to see things from a great distance. These poets in Brazil did denounce the violence of slavery. But today, we'll be focusing on Alencar. 

Why are we focusing Alencar? Here's a list his novels so you can see how prolific he was. He was very influential in the literary circles. He's considered one of the most famous Brazilian romantic novelists. Of course, as I mentioned before, he's a major exponent of the literary tradition known as Indianism. 

What does he do in the literature that talks about Native Brazilians? He offers a mythical origin for the Brazilian people. In this image, you can see book covers his most well-known novel, which is called The Guarani. Guarani is the name of the tribe. I put it here on the left, they're covers of books. These books are read by students in schools and young people and the Brazilians know these titles. To the right, it's the image of a movie adaptation from the '70s. 

What is The Guarani? It's a historical novel set in Brazil and it's modeled on the novels of James Fenimore Cooper and Walter Scott. It focused on the Guarani as the hero of a mythical, medieval, colonial past for Brazil. The Guarani is set back in the beginning of the 17th century, 1604. It's a period in Portugal when its colonies are submitted to Spanish domination. 

In this book, what do we see? It's the association of Portuguese men, Dom Antonio de Mariz, one of the founders of the city of Rio, and a native tribe that was allied with the Portuguese. I brought to you a passage of this novel and it's called "The Prayer." In this novel, what we see is a portrayal of the Native Brazilians as noble, self-sacrificing, passive, submissive, and as I said before, existing for the white man and his family. 

In this passage, we have Dom Antonio with the Portuguese man talking about Pery, the Native Brazilian. He says that, "no doubt." He talks about the character of this Indian and he talks about how he's always protecting the Portuguese people. As I said, he exists because of and for the Portuguese people. 

In this passage it says, "From the first day he entered here, after rescuing my daughter, his life has been a single act of self-denial and heroism. Believe me, Alvaro, he is a Portuguese cavalier in the body of a savage." I don't think I have to explain the meaning of this passage to you. 

The second passage I brought to you is an exchange between Pery, the Gaurani Native Brazilian, and Cecilia, the Portuguese girl. In this passage, she's complaining because Pery put himself in danger. He's shown as an infantilized man because-- Also the language shows that he doesn't speak Portuguese fluently so we can see all that in this passage. 

He explains that he only endangered himself because Cecy wished to see a jaguar alive. She says, "Can I not joke, then?" At the end, he asks her, "Mistress is no longer angry with Pery?" We have this man who is very afraid of offending this girl and he's willing to do anything to make her happy and tend to all her desires. 

After talking about O Guarani, The Guarani, I'm just going to mention a couple of other works by Alencar. One of them is a play, The Family's Demon. Here, we see a slave being shown as lazy, in opposition with the white man who is civilized. 

In another play, Mother, that's also very well known, Alencar shows this mother who doesn't reveal to her son-- She's a Black slave. She had a son with a white man and she doesn't reveal to her son that she is his mother because she's afraid he's going to suffer as a consequence of racism. 

It's interesting because in the preface, Alencar dedicates this play to his mother. However, the play talks about this Black mother who has to die in order for her son to live safely without suffering the consequences of prejudice. 

Here, we have an exchange between Jorge, the mestizo young man, and Joana, the slave. She's finally revealing that she is his mother and she dies at the end, of course. 

Here, we have a little timeline. Alencar is also the author of Iracema, which is a book that talks about the foundation of the Brazilian people as the result of the encounter between the European man and a Native woman. I'm going to skip these. 

However, what I'm going to say is that what we see from romanticism on is an idea that usually the portrayal of the slave or of people of mixed race is always in the name of the concept of nation building of a racial democracy project. What we have is not a focus on these non-white bodies in minds for themselves but in the name of the explanation that Brazil is the product of an encounter between races. There's more an interest in talking about this mixed race than talking about the Black bodies and the non-white bodies. 

What do I mean by the revisionist approach? With time, we started to understand that the literature we knew from that time was not all. Because in the '70s, we found a novel titled Ursula, that it was actually written by a Black woman, Maria Firmina dos Reis. Only in the 1960s, we break the silence about this novel that it was written in 1859. 

Many critics consider Maria Firmina dos Reis and her novel the beginning of Afro-Brazilian fiction in Brazil and the deconstruction of the paradigm of submission. What we see in Ursula is the portrayal of the Black woman as somebody who is complex, who can tell her story, who can tell what happened in the slave ships. It's important because Ursula has been, in 2017, re-edited with an introduction, a nice explanation, a lot of texts that explain the work. 

What do I mean about image? When Maria Firmina dos Reis was discovered in 1960s, what we have was the painting of this image. But later, it was found out that this image was based on a photograph of another writer who was from the south of Brazil, Maria Benedita Camarra Bormann, known as Delia. It was not based on Maria Firmina dos Reis. 

There was an attempt to try to portray Maria Firmina dos Reis as a Black woman. The sculptor Flory Gama produced this work. Then later on, more recently now, in the Book Fair of the Peripheries, they did a competition where people would propose different faces for Maria Firmina dos Reis. 

We can see the development of the portrayal of Maria Firmina dos Reis. She's actually slowly becoming a Black woman, the Black woman that she was. These images are some other possibilities proposed for Maria Firmina dos Reis. Some illustrations proposed. 

Another writer, Machado de Assis, the most well-known Brazilian writer, he's also been-- There's an effort to recover the fact that he was also the son of a Black man. People are trying nowadays to portray him as the Black man he was. A little bit darker than he used to be portrayed in the past. There is also an effort to see his work also discussing those issues related to race, which was not the focus of the initial analysis. 

These are some of the changes, discovery of works that we didn't they existed, such as the novel Ursula. But also the recovery of the Blackness, of the non-whiteness of some important names of Brazilian literature. 

What do we have nowadays? In the '60s, we have Carolina Maria de Jesus with her diary from the slums, Child of the Dark, which sold more than one million copies. However, we still have a very, very low representation. 

Nowadays, these numbers here are based on Regina Dalcastagne's research, which looks at 258 Brazilian novels published between 1990 and 2004. She shows that from the authors, there are 93.9% of the authors are white. The characters, we have only 7.9% of characters in Brazilian fiction between 1990 and 2004 who are Black. 

Another writers from nowadays, Conceicao Evaristo. She's translated into English, Poncia Vicencio. Whoever wants to read her. We have Geovani Martins. His book is from two years ago, The Sun on my Head. Also translated. 

Then we also have Native Brazilian writers. Daniel Munduruku. For example, he's the author of more than 30 works. We have Julie Dorrico with Eu Sou Macuxi. 

Nowadays, we not only have past inaccurate or objectified portrayals questioned by new readings. We also have a problematization of the literary canon. But we also have African Brazilians and Native Brazilians portraying themselves in their own richness, practicing their own agency. 

We're not only adding context to old depictions of non-white bodies and minds but also putting forward new and more accurate depictions authored by these non-white bodies and minds. This is of course happening in all artistic fields. In literature, in music, and the visual arts. 

I'm now going to turn it over to visual and performance artist, illustrator, and investigator of Amerindian and Afro-Brazilian arts, Anita Ekman. Thank you. 






To be, or not to be-- that is the question. That is the question. 














Thank you very much. I think I'm going to call now on all our panelists to join me please. Anita, Sandra, Christoph. I see Luciana is with us already. Welcome back, Anita. OK. I thought this would be an easy job but it turns out that you have given us so much to think about. I want to thank Sandra, Anita, Luciana, and Christoph for your wonderful presentations, for all the different ideas and questions that you have brought to our attention today. I already know that we will not be able to do justice to all these questions in the 15 minutes we have left. 

I want to start-- There is something that Anita mentioned that I think resonates with what we're doing here today. She mentioned some of the predatory practices that science and scientists engage in as they go to places like Brazil to study these places. This connects in a sense with the question that we got in the audience from Tiago Alberto. 

That question is-- It's a question about the relationship between past classifications and the violence of those classifications and how we now use those very classifications to highlight different histories, different cultural trajectories, different cultural contributions. How can we deal with this? I thought we should give ourselves the opportunity to challenge the very premise of an event like this. 

I mean, here we are revisiting a corpus of images and documents that represent a very important moment in the history of scientific racism. In the production of knowledge that sought to justify and explain the alleged inferiority of different groups. As a scholar of race myself, I am always tortured by this question of how can we study these artifacts, these things, without reinscribing, without disseminating, without reproducing, the very violence that we study and that we denounce? 

I wanted to invite you to reflect on this and perhaps, Christoph, you can lead us in this. Because I know you've thought about this and I know this is something that is also very much at the center of your work. But I would also invite Luciana and Anita and Sandra to weigh in, please, from their different fields of action and from their different areas of knowledge production to help us think about this. 

Thank you, Alejandro. I will defer very soon to Anita and Sandra because they are actually modeling ways to use these images to juxtapose them with others, to talk about them in different ways. I have struggled with this from the beginning. When I wrote my biography of Agassiz and I included a chapter on race, one of the questions I wanted to ask myself is, do I include these images? Do I even write about them? 

It is very easy to slide into a mode where you find some kind of transcendence, immaterial, that is so manifestly non-transcendent. You struggle with that. For me, the solution in this article was to bring myself into it. To talk about my reactions and to make the struggle part of the writing about them. Not to repeat what these images are doing, which is to present narratives that are fixed and don't allow any intrusion of anger, frustration. 

But to think of a narrative that actually allows us to enter into a space where you can be critical. Where you can also admit that sometimes there's just nothing to say. That happened to me, nothing to say in a traditional academic way. That happened to me as I was writing this article. 

One of the reasons that I was dreaming about an event like this today is that I came across Anita's work, for example, that set things in motion. That are very difficult to do within the confines of an academic article or a scholarly discussion. A combination of that scholarly attempt for objectivity with a license to let the mask drop when it needs to be dropped, that's how I would probably describe my way of dealing with these images. 

Thank you, Christoph. Anita, Sandra, Luciana, would you like to weigh in? 

I can just say something briefly about literature. Because this is a very important question when it comes to criticism in which books to read-- If we should simply ignore the books that depict non-white individuals in a similar way to which the photos depict them. I think it's an interesting question. 

For example, Molly Rogers talks about it in the introduction to the book. She says that white supremacy has no need for science. I find it quite interesting because I think revisiting these works is important because even though we don't have the pseudoscience that are used to support those works, there's no need for that pseudoscience to support white supremacists. It's important to see those works and create this bridge with the present because the questions are still quite relevant nowadays. 

Thank you, Luciana. Anita, Sandra? 


Thank you. Let me introduce a question that sort of builds up on this, on the use of these representations. This question comes actually from one of our students, Marcus [INAUDIBLE], who is a Brazilian student here at Harvard. He has a question for Anita and Sandra that actually builds on something that Luciana introduced in the conversation, which are some of these romantic representations of Indianismo, of these representations. 

He says, I would like to know how you, Anita and Sandra, how you work with romantic depictions of the Guarani people by authors such as Jose de Alencar, that Luciana mentioned. How do you handle this Indianismo in its limits and racism? But also, how do you handle these representations that also produce knowledge about Indigenous people who are part of this avalanche of representations that we have to deal with? 


Thank you, Anita. I am sort of nodding my head because we are out of time and I feel that we have just scratched the surface of these issues. I think the main lesson of this event is that we need to create opportunities for this conversation to continue. That we need more than an hour and a half to get to some of these issues. I have to say, now, as the director of the Afro-Latin American Research Institute, that the scholarship and the intellectual production on Afro-Indigenous relations is a growing field of scholarship and scholarly production. 

I think we should close this event by simply committing collectively ourselves to get together again and to continue this conversation because I feel that there is much to learn from these exchanges. I have to say thank you so much to, again, to Christoph, to Luciana, to Anita, Sandra, for the opportunity, for being with us, for agreeing to be with us, for sharing your knowledge with us. I very much hope we can do this again.