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The Bather - Tunga
Tunga, The Bather (detail), 2014. Iron, steel, resin, ceramics, plaster, and cotton paper. 220 x 150 x 150 cm. © Tunga, Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Anthropophagic Thinking: an aesthetic of appropriation and absorption for Brazilian contemporary art

  • Essay
  • Arts
  • Global
  • Art & Society
  • PHI Foundation
By  Marie-Hélène Lemaire



The PHI Foundation Education team created the pedagogical tool, IMAGINE BRAZIL: Movements, with the goal of encouraging visitors to develop and elaborate on key concepts examined in the IMAGINE BRAZIL exhibitionpresented from November 7th, 2015, to March 13th, 2016. The concepts include anthropophagy, the everyday, heterogeneity and space. The first essay in the series explores the idea of anthropophagy.

In 1922, Modern Art Week – an avant-garde event in Sao Paulo that included poetry, literature, music and visual arts – marked the emergence of Brazilian modernism. Six years later, the concept of anthropophagy surfaced for the first time in Brazilian poet Oswald de Andrade’s 1928 Anthropophagic Manifesto. De Andrade’s radical poetic text referred to cannibalism, inspired by a Tupinamba ritual [1], as a way to imagine how Brazilian culture could develop a distinct identity through the symbolic absorption and devouring of the dominant culture of the colonizer.

Though dating back to 1928, the manifesto remains a relevant reference point for contemporary Brazilian artists who employ strategies of reappropriation and deconstruction in their practice. For de Andrade, anthropophagic bodies go beyond the surface of the skin – they are forces and intensities, capable of opening and bending in order to swallow Otherness. They leave themselves open to be destabilized and marked by it, creating a new hybrid through a chaotic mingling of the senses. Rolnik argues that anthropophagic subjectivity emerges from “the critical and irreverent devouring of an otherness that is always multiple and variable” and is “constituted by the absence of an absolute and stable identification with any repertoire (...) giving rise to a plasticity of the contours of subjectivity [and] a fluidity in the incorporation of new universes [2]”.

In theorizing de Andrade’s anthropophagic space, Vinkler draws on Kristeva’s work, specifically the revolutionary potential of poetic language [3]. According to Kristeva, it can be used by those located at the margins to shatter a fixed, predetermined role in the patriarchal social order. The pre-logical, fluid, dismantled and musical language of the poetic – associated with femininity – appropriates patriarchy’s dominant discourse – formal, logical, and organized – in order to decompose, subvert, and revitalize it [4]. The Anthropophagic Manifesto explores the relationships between these two spaces.

The pictorial works of Thiago Martins de Melo create a whole mythology in which he implicates his wife, himself, other humans, animals, gods, and monsters. These utopian worlds are highly critical of power, in all its forms, that mines Brazilian culture. Place these worlds into dialogue with the mythology of the manifesto, which is inspired by Tupinamba’s divinities.

In the work Folds, Adriana Varejão appropriates azulejo tiles, a common façade for Brazilian buildings and imported by Portuguese colonial powers. The tiles crack under the pressure of exposed entrails. How can this work be situated within the anthropophagic project?

[1] Suely Rolnik, «Avoiding False Problems: Politics of the Fluid, Hybrid, and Flexible,» e-flux journal 25 (2011): 1.
[2] Ibid, 3-4.
[3] Beth Joan Vinkler, «The Anthropophagic Mother/Other: Appropriated Identities in Oswald de Andrade’s ‘Manifesto Antropófago’,» Luso-Brazilian Review 34, 1 (1997): 105-111.
[4] Julia Kristeva, La révolution du langage poétique (Paris: Édition du Seuil, 1974).


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