(original text written in Portuguese and placed for automatic translation in Google translator - no correction)


One of the things that has always impressed me on my trips to the Northern Hemisphere is the difficulty we encounter, in almost every country in Europe and North America, to explain two characteristics present since colonization in Brazil: the Baroque and the issue of Anthropophagy.

As for the first, it is perhaps easier to explain that the traits that translate into that kind of anti-style that is Baroque, vary from one country to another and tend to produce notable differences, for example, between Spanish and German Baroque. And that, as some have said, the coincidence between this aesthetic and the historical moment of colonization is remarkable, which perhaps explains its presence among us today, naturally devoured and metabolized by a black-indigenous gaze. Which brings us to the issue of Anthropophagy.

Other complexities pile up there.

Among the cultural forms confronted by the Jesuit colonization, disseminated in a good part of the indigenous nations that populated the Brazilian territory between the 16th and 18th centuries, were polygamy, shamanism and anthropophagy. All these practices were the object of relentless persecution, based on the fundamental judgment that they were an expression of savagery and barbarism, inadmissible in the eyes of the invaders. Under the pretext of exempting the natives from a life of sin, in a supposed state of barbarism, forms were pursued with interdiction and, in cases of resistance - and later, in any case - of summary extermination.

Anthropophagy - the ritual ingestion (it is important to highlight) of the enemy, to absorb their virtues was a way of relating to others, among them selecting those whose virtues or strength traits the winner intended to absorb.

According to the form of apprehension of the world by animist criteria, still present in most civilizations and original peoples today, this apprehension only gains concrete existence when it is incorporated, that is, absorbed by the body itself. The enemy's ingestion was a gesture of homage to his courage, its absorption ensuring that the passage of time was always renewed as the descendants of the victors could in future be the target of the defeated, in a cyclical and endless process driven by the ingestion of the other, by incorporation of otherness.

Usually when we talk about this practice, even as a metaphor for the absorption of foreign culture, intellectuals trained in European rationalism tend to find the reasoning strange, imagining that it is a defense, to some extent naive, of a barbaric act.

Indeed, it is difficult to absorb something that was demonized by the colonialist culture that, in the years of the Enlightenment, promoted, in its territories - taken from indigenous nations and with the use of enslaved black African labor - some of the greatest looting of wealth that is known in history. At the same time that the “century of lights” heralded the dawn and consolidation of rationalist thinking, the slaughter in the European colonies and in the emerging countries of North America eliminated the indigenous population and guaranteed the possession of vast portions of land for slave elites.

In Brazilian Modernism there was a process of abandoning the foreign influence in the arts, very present above all that with a French accent, which enchanted the elite of landowners and coffee, corn and cotton farmers. The artists of Modernism, however, coming from that same elite but at odds with their aesthetic thinking, sought with interest what, in Europe, was also the target of attention: the primitive, the exotic, combined with an enthusiasm for the industrialized world. Among the avant-garde movements of this Modernism, however, one of the last, in the late 1920s, led by the São Paulo poet Oswald de Andrade, took somewhat different directions. Instead of exoticizing the Brazilian Indian or the semi-agrarian reality of the country, Oswald proposed the metaphorical recovery of ritual anthropophagy, precisely what had been the object of the most absolute prohibition imposed by the Portuguese Crown and the Jesuit Catechesis.

In 1928, he launched the Anthropophagous Manifesto, recovering an image that, even at that time, was supported by a practice understood as pure savagery. More than that, the Manifesto states that Psychoanalysis and the Socialist Revolution would have already existed in Brazil, before the arrival of the Portuguese, as it was a society that had already worked out its traumas, a society - or societies - where notions such as sin and forgiveness made no sense.

“I'm only interested in what is not mine” The search for difference and the praise of the appropriation of the other were considered the only law of the anthropophagous, since it would not be possible to find anything that united us as a nation, except devotion. In this sense, Oswald vibrates different meanings of “Anthropophagy”, from the most literal to the most elaborated metaphors.

Oswald was not interested, however, in what he called “low cannibalism”, cannibalism as a form of murder or to satisfy hunger. Anthropophagy, therefore, is a form of what the anthropologist Victor Turner studied under the terminology of liminal rites, that is, it is a ritualization of the relationship with the other.

During the years 1928 and 29, Revista de Antropofagia, in two phases (first and second dentition), brought together artists and collaborators of the movement that had, however, changed paths due to the economic crisis of 1929, the crack of the New York stock exchange and the consequent losses in the territories of the São Paulo aristocracy, of which most of the Modernists, including Oswald, belonged.

Married to artist Tarsila do Amaral, Oswald will get involved with a young woman who is protected by the couple, which leads the poet to break with his wealthy life. The young woman, Patrícia Galvão, becomes a member of the Communist Party and Oswald follows her, creating a variation of anthropophagy in the newspaper O Homem do Povo, which, for a short period of the 1930s, closed ranks with the left in the struggle against the emerging fascism. During the years of the Getulio Vargas dictatorship, Pagu, as Patrícia was nicknamed, was arrested and tortured. Oswald and Pagu left and, after World War II, Oswald, long before the emergence of criticism of Stalinism, abandoned communist militancy and returned to Antropofagia, now with the intention of thinking about it from his philosophical point of view.

He becomes mainly a novelist and playwright in the 1930s. But his plays are not staged and his prose is no longer appreciated by a new modernist strand that will, during the 1930s and 1940s onwards, transform the mobilization of the 1920s into official policies of culture, important for the creation of the Institute of Historical Heritage and the future efforts that culminated with the construction of the new Brazilian capital, Brasília, inaugurated in 1960.

Oswald de Andrade, however, will not be able to see any of this. Ruined by debt and dissipation of wealth, as well as health problems, he will live until 1953 believing that no one else would remember him, therefore forgotten. His studies on Anthropophagy are transformed into a thesis - The crisis of messianic philosophy - and in several other essays such as "The march of utopias". These studies contained several philosophical and anthropological misconceptions, some questionable beliefs such as the return to the matriarchal regime, but they can be read as a poetic-aesthetic absorption of the post-colonial situation from the extractive period to the industrial era. Oswald believed in the possibility of the “technized barbarian”, a hybrid of a wild forest dweller and a citizen of the technological world, in a future universe in which it would no longer be possible to sustain the patriarchal tradition. The ingestion of information from abroad, for this “technized barbarian” would be vital, a condition for the production of a discourse of difference and affirmation of a tropical way of existence.

Only after 1967, thanks to the efforts of intellectuals and artists, notably, in the latter case, after the first staging of one of his plays, “O Rei da Vela” by Teatro Oficina, the figure of Oswald de Andrade took over again. the prow of Brazilian culture, especially for the interest aroused in the artists and composers of the emerging “Tropicália”. Oswald de Andrade was the main reference point for experimental artists of the previous generation, such as Haroldo and Augusto de Campos and Décio Pignatari (concrete poetry), Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark (concretism and neoconcretism) and has come to interest young tropicalists such as Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil , Capinam, Torquato Neto and others besides motivating transformations in cinema (Glauber Rocha) in Theater (Teatro Oficina, José Celso Martinez Correa) and in music. Amidst happenings and the absorption of consumer society, Antropofagia was the formula that allowed the connection between different cultural periods in Brazil, which was interrupted by the AI-5 (Institutional Act number 5) that radicalized the coup's authoritarianism Military of 1964 and plunged the country into a shadow of terror that would only dissipate in the 1980s.

In recent debates about the emergence of artistic production linked to new existential identities (trans, LGBTQI+) in addition to the increasing visibility of black, indigenous and women's art, confronting the neo-fascist reaction, new young artists emerge who discuss the impact of Modernist conceptions in his works, with a propensity to consider their surpassing which, in fact, after 100 years of its official landmark - the Week of Modern Art - is already effectively underway. Among these, and in agreement with some critics and curators, there is a tendency in Brazil to associate the image of Oswald de Andrade with his aristocratic origin, arguing against Antropofagia as a supposed white supremacist movement. Nothing would be a better description of an absolute mistake because Anthropophagy was precisely the attempt to reverse the paradigms linked to patrilineality and racist prejudices. They also seek to file into oblivion the issues related to Baroque, mentioned at the beginning, as they see in some of its protagonists a discourse that favored the oppression of indigenous peoples, women, blacks, in favor of their submission. The truth is that, in this case, and when it comes to Baroque, it would be good to note that it is an aesthetic whose essential norm is contradiction. In the same way that discourses of the type described can be seen, the opposite is likely to be found, which is clearer in terms of the religiosity that prevailed at that time.

Finally, the arguments moved against Anthropophagy tend to assimilate it to the ephemeris of Modernism as if it were part of it. Discounting the fact that the Anthropophagous Manifesto is not a hundred years old in 2022 but eight years later, it would be necessary to understand it as a dissent from the modernist project and not the other way around. 1928, in this sense, draws a portal of dissension by Oswald de Andrade in relation to the troupe that brought him together. He will radically depart from it in his Marxist turn and on it he will be able to taste the bitter taste of defeat when he finds himself excluded from a wealthy elite in large part because of his own situation as a hopeless petty bourgeois and after being effectively excluded both from the artistic scene and from possibilities of survival in the new times.

In contrast to the arguments mentioned above, I believe it is possible to affirm today - and I am not the only one defending this position - that Anthropophagy constitutes one of the pioneer forms of anti-colonial discourse in Brazil, essential for the country to seek a condition of Decoloniality.



Lucio Agra, professor, essayist, researcher, artist. PhD in Communication and Semiotics from PUC SP,  professor at UFRB (Federal University of Recôncavo da Bahia), at Cecult (Center for Culture, Languages and Applied Technologies) and at Post-Graduate Studies Program on Contemporary Art Studies  at the Institute of Arts, UFF (State of Rio de Janeiro Federal University). For many years he has been artistically active, especially in performance, with ramifications in music, theater, poetry and the visual arts, in addition to acting in this role at exhibitions in Brazil and abroad. He presented performances in Festivals in several Brazilian states and in some countries abroad. He has several articles published in magazines and books (collections) and four published books, being the fifth "The unexpected synthesis - art of invention in Brazil from the 60s to the 70s" (in press, coming out in 2022) https://www.youtube.com/c/LucioAgra-arteaovivo