Ten years ago, Adriana Barbosa and a friend found a solution to being broke. The result being Feira Preta (Black Expo), one of the largest events of black culture in Latin America. The proposal was to bring together, in one location of São Paulo, theater, music concerts, literature, fashion and even gastronomy, all with an afro theme. Back in 2002, the two were unemployed. The solution: look at all of the expos in the city. Her friend was selling pastries and Adriana started a thrift store. Until the idea of creating her own show came to her. At the time they came up with the show, the black scene was bubbling over in São Paulo, embodied by black music-oriented bands like Clube do Balanço. “I wore a suit during the day to raise sponsorship, and a baseball cap at night, to spread my ideas in bars,” she remembers.
The event, which started with 40 booths and five thousand visitors expected for its 10th edition in December (2011) in Pavilhão Imigrantes, south of São Paulo, one hundred vendors and one hundred thousand people.
Raised in a family of women, composed of a great-grandmother, a domestic grandmother and a secretary mother, Adriana suffered as the only black girl in public schools in the neighborhood of Saúde, in the south zone of the city. “I looked around me and found no peers.” In adolescence, it became somewhat of a “chronic shyness”, but she soon discovered the power of black culture (and herself) and entered into her rebel phase. “I only listened to black music and watched American films, like Black Panther.” A girl’s self-image began to change when her father, an accountant for a large São Paulo radio station, got her a job as a receptionist. There, she met many people from the music world and ended up at the Trama record label, home to many of Brazil’s new generation of popular music musicians, as a disseminator of artists. “Finally, I found my crew and I’m still moving forward and winning because of it.”
From there, she went to college for event management, already producing Feira Preta, and took a graduate course in Art and Culture in the School of Communications and Arts at the University of São Paulo. Today, when it comes to a meeting with sponsors, Adriana doesn’t get upset when someone asks, “Is your boss not coming?”. The worst kind of racism, she said, is institutional. She explains: “The kind where you go to a hospital and you feel that the doctor is trying to avoid touching you.”
Warning: the show is black (preta). It’s not ‘negra’ or even ‘African descent’. There are people that don’t really like the term ‘preta’, right?* “It was indeed provocative,” says Adriana. “For being a mixed country, people never face up to racism. They encounter these situations in everyday life”. To the numbers: The census shows that 53.5% of the population declare themselves black. “We are now the second largest black population in the world, second only to Nigeria, which is an African country,” cites Adriana.
Feira Preta has transcended the mere assembly of booths and the racial issue – whites may be exhibitors if their works have an affinity with the black aesthetic. Today, there is an entire consultancy on entrepreneurship for those who have good ideas. The event was so successful that Feira Preta events started popping up in other cities (some even used the same name).
With Feira Preta, she is proud to be contributing to the spread of black culture. She believes, however, that the big step would be the spreading of consciousness that racism is real. “We live in the myth of racial democracy. Prejudice is muffled with hot rags. Everyone says it doesn’t exist as long as their son doesn’t marry a black woman. When there is clarification and inclusion in all spheres, then yes we will have true ‘black consciousness’”. The proposal: the Feira Preta led to the the Feira Preta Institute, an NGO set up in a townhouse in the middle class neighborhood of Vila Madalena, which hosts courses, lectures and events about, on course, blackness.
*- In Brazilian Portuguese, both the terms “preta” and “negra” mean black. For leaders of the Movimento Negro (black Brazilian civil rights organizations), “preta” applies to the actual color “black” as in black and white film, while the term “negra” represents an ethnicity of people who identify with their African ancestry. The term “preta” is an official term on the Brazilian census and for many people denotes a person of African ancestry with very dark skin and very thick, tightly coiled afro-textured hair. Although the official census reports that only 7% of 195 million Brazilians identify themselves as “pretas” (feminine) or “pretos” (masculine), at least part of this low percentage is due to the desire to escape an affliation with blackness, which in Brazil, still has very negative connotations. Indeed, 43% of Brazilians identify themselves as “pardo” or brown, although a large percentage of those who use this term would be identified as black according to American ideologies of what constitutes blackness. The term “afrodescendente”, meaning African descendant, is also becoming a very popular term for persons who acknowledge their African ancestry in Brazil as well as other Latin American countries. For a further discussion of color-coded or racial terms in Brazil, see this article.