“Mãe Preta” (black mother) exhibit displays the importance of black women in the social formation of Brazil



Note from BW of Brazil: It is a topic that is one of the primary focuses of this very blog. What is the experience, influence, and role of black women in Brazilian society? Of course, the media would have us believe that the primary roles of Afro-Brazilian women are work (as maids, cleaning women, nannies or cooks), sex and entertainment (as Carnaval ‘mulatas’ or sexual trysts), the reality is far more complicated. Brazilian History tends to relegate its population of African descent to the forgotten annals of history associated with 350 years of enslavement and not much else. After all, if late 19th and early 20th century elites would have had their way, the physical presence of black Brazilians would have been a thing of the past by now and that is exactly how Brazilian society seems to treat black people: as if they wished they didn’t exist. Challenging the way Afro-Brazilians and specifically black women are portrayed is just one of the reasons why BW of Brazil attempts to bring more nuanced depictions of black Brazilian women and this was perhaps one of the reasons for the opening of a new exhibit on Afro-Brazilian women. Check out the story below. 


The importance of black women in the social formation of Brazil

Seeking to unveil the importance of black women in the social formation of Brazil, researchers and artists Isabel Löfgren and Patricia Gouvêa organized the exhibition Mãe Preta (black mother) which re-signifies archives from the period of slavery to tell another version of the story, in which enslaved black women are protagonists.


“It is a proposal to revisit the archives of slavery, which are well known and seen, but depending on how they are presented, may suggest superficial interpretations of the complex relationships of mães negras escravizada (enslaved black mothers) vis-a-vis their masters’ white sons and the struggle for maintenance of the lives of their own children,” explains Patricia Gouvêa.


For the artists, the display shows one of the most painful stories of humanity: that of black mothers, the amas de leite (wet nurses) generated by slavery for the necessity of breast milk, an essential food for the survival of the babies of the Casa Grande (Big House).

If on the one hand, this need generated affectionate relations between white babies and black wet nurses, on the other hand, it deprived black mothers of contact and zeal with their own children. The exhibition Mãe Preta focuses on black mothers and their relations with their blood children, as well as on the relationship between wet nurses and the white children of their masters.

Divided into eight series, the exhibition features installations, collages and interventions in prints and photographs of important names such as Marc Ferrez, Debret, Rugendas, Henschel, Guillobel and Christiano Junior, traveling artists and precursors of photography. Each of these viewpoints seeks a re-signification of the way in which the black woman was and is represented in society and points out that history is nothing more than a construction made by those who hold power.

AAA ADebret1

According to Patricia Gouvêa, the exhibition is a movement to seek reflection in a forceful and delicate way on a hidden issue in society: the situation of mulheres negras mães (black women mothers).

Nem eu nem a Isabel somos negras (Neither I nor Isabel is black), so we do not have and will never suffer the same experience of racism and violence as black women. But our experience with motherhood brings us closer together. As artists and as human beings, we can use this prerogative to talk about these issues,” explains Patricia Gouvêa.

AAA ADebret1

Unveiled in Belo Horizonte, the display arrives to occupy a space very different from its first exhibition in Rio de Janeiro, at the Instituto de Pesquisa e Memória Pretos Novos (Institute of Research and New Blacks Memory), located in the Sítio Arqueológico do Cemitério dos Pretos Novos (Archaeological Site of the Cemetery of New Blacks), where thousands of Africans were buried at flor da terra in the 19th century. It will be at the Palácio das Artes (Afonso Pena Avenue, 1537 – downtown – Belo Horizonte/ MG) and will open on May 12th, with visitation until August 13 and free admission. “In the Palácio das Artes (Palace of the Arts), a new environment, the exhibition must take on new airs, have a different dimension. It will be very interesting to see how it affects the public,” says Patricia Gouvêa.

SourceI Photo Channel

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. Breastfeeding the “master’s” baby is going too far? Slavery as a whole was a fucked up time. They not only had to service the women they “belonged” to by breastfeeding and caring for their white children, but enslaved women had to service their master sexually against their will, meaning they were raped. This is not news and shouldn’t be the most shocking reality of slavery.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.