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Modernism and voodoo: relations between ethnography, art and literature in Cuba and Brazil

Grant number: 15/03207-0
Support Opportunities:Scholarships in Brazil - Post-Doctoral
Effective date (Start): October 01, 2015
Effective date (End): August 31, 2016
Field of knowledge:Linguistics, Literature and Arts - Literature - Modern Foreign Languages
Principal Investigator:Jorge Schwartz
Grantee:Rodrigo Lopes de Barros Oliveira
Host Institution: Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil


This project is a comparative study that analyzes the relationship between ethnography, art and literature in Cuba and Brazil. In Cuba, it focuses on the intellectual production by Fernando Ortiz and on two films by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, Memorias del subdesarrollo (1968) and Una pelea cubana contra los demônios (1971), with regard to Afro-Cuban themes. The aim is to delineate the passage from an approach linked to "scientific racism" of Lombrosian origin - present in the first book by Ortiz (Los negros brujos, 1906) - to the artistic practices of the avant-garde. Ortiz starts his career in connection with "criminal anthropology", from which he distances himself towards "cultural anthropology", culminating in the last book published during his life, one of historical and literary character, Historia de una pelea cubana contra los demonios (1959), which was used as the basis for Alea's 1971 film adaptation. The connection with Brazil is unfolded by analyzing the readings that Ortiz himself made of Brazilian psychiatrists and anthropologists; those readings are contrasted with the approach of the psychiatrist and modernist critic Osório César - important figure within the Brazilian avant-garde, being César himself a reader of Ortiz. Osório César works as a response to earlier scientific racism by equating black "fetish" (sculptural work) to the work of the vanguardists in the first half of the twentieth century. As it was done with the pair Ortiz-Alea, we will examine how this idea of "mysticism", perceived by César as much in the avant-gardes as in the artistic production of Afro-Brazilians, is later approached in Brazilian cinema, specifically in the film Barravento (1961) by Glauber Rocha with his concepts of "dialectics of macumba" and "aesthetics of hunger." Those concepts are very close to the postulate of "imperfect cinema" adopted by the generation of his contemporary Gutiérrez Alea. The objective, thus, will be to trace an intellectual map regarding the Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian themes in the four aforementioned figures. (AU)

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