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  • 30

    Isabel Löfgren: Black Harbor, Black Mother: Feminist perspectives in the mediation of the memory of slavery in Rio de Janeiro

    Higher seminar with Isabel Löfgren from MKV at Södertörn University, arranged by Media and Communication Studies at the School of Culture and Education, Södertörn University.


    In recent years, the city of Rio de Janeiro has made a big effort to remember its slave past after more than a century of consistent erasure of this legacy as the former colonial capital transformed into a modern bustling metropolis. In 2009, the remains of the Valongo quay in central Rio, where over one million enslaved Africans disembarked in the 19th century alone, was discovered almost by accident during excavation works for urban renewal of the city’s port area in preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games.  The discovery of Rio’s former black harbor initiated a mapping and preservation of archeological sites at the quay that connected it to other landmarks of slavery in the area as an attempt to re-inscribe an important part of the city’s contested history into its present and also to situate it in a larger network of sites dedicated to the memory of slavery on all sides of the Atlantic.

    This unique urban context provides the backdrop for a larger movement of reclaiming lost histories through several artistic projects, such as Black Mother (2016). In the presentation, we will address this exhibition held in the archaeological remains of a slave cemetery and research center for black studies near the excavations of the Valongo quay during the Olympics. Black Mother honors and highlights the one of the most pivotal characters in slave society, the wet nurse or Black Mother, and the representation of motherhood in the vast visual archives of slavery of the country, one of the largest in the world. The ubiquitous presence of the wet nurse in the archives is far more than a supporting character in slave society, but is a cornerstone in the formation of Brazilian society. The research is extensive to press and document archives: by analysing newspaper ads for wet nurses since the early 19th century, it becomes possible to trace a geography of black milk as a commodity in the urban economy of the colonial and imperial city through the female enslaved body and as such prompts new ways of reading the city and its complexities. The reverberations of the legacy of slavery and the aftermath of abolition can still be strongly felt in the urban segregation patterns in the city, in which several social actors take part in the efforts to bring the discourse legacy of slavery to the public sphere. Contemporary black feminist movements and their strategies for social justice are one of the ways in which power structures are being challenged politically, culturally and performatively to break the silence regarding these histories.

    The presentation will also address new forms of knowledge production by such movements in academic, artistic and media environments and in which ways dominant narratives on slavery and its legacies are being contested and rewritten from the inside out.


    Isabel Löfgren is an artist and a Lecturer in Media Studies, Södertörn Högskola; MFA Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; PhD in Media & Communications, Division of Philosophy, Art and Critical Thought at the European Graduate School, Switzerland.

    Time and place

    When: 30/01/18 at 13:00-14:30

    What: Higher seminar

    Where: Room PC 249, on the second floor in the C-wing, Primus building, Södertörn University, Campus Flemingsberg

    Organiser: Media and Communication Studies at the School of Culture and Education, Södertörn University.

    Event language: English