Artworks from the series Ways of Seeing, Exhibition views of  Mãe Preta | Black Mother in São Luiz do Maranhão and São Paulo.
Image credits: the artists, Pétala Lopes, Danielle Filgueiras. 

About the Project

MÃE PRETA | BLACK MOTHER is an artistic research and exhibition project by Brazilian artists Isabel Löfgren and Patricia Gouvêa. The project aims to trace the connections between the representation of motherhood in slavery image archives and the voices of Black women and mothers in Brazil today. The research began in 2015, and was developed into solo exhibition format in 2016.

The exhibition project was initially conceived for the Instituto de Pesquisa e Memória Pretos Novos (Institute for Research and Memorial of the Pretos Novos - IPN) memorial site in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Since then, the exhibition has travelled to several Brazilian cities, including Belo Horizonte (2017), São Paulo and São Luís do Maranhão (both in 2018), thanks to national grants and awards. Several artworks from the project have additionally been exhibited in collective exhibitions and featured in a number of academic and artistic publications.

In each city Mãe Preta is presented, new artworks are added to the initial ensemble in response to local nuances to the theme.

See the exhibitions here.

The artworks address the status of black mothers first by selecting representations of motherhood and maternal relationships in the vast archives of paintings and engravings of daily life in the colony made by Jean-Baptiste Debret, Johann Moritz Rugendas, Joaquim Cândido Guillobel among others. With the photographic turn in mid-19th century, there are even more photographs of wet nurses in the daguerreotypes found in the Instituto Moreira Salles archive, as well as other collections.

By using optical objects such as magnifying glasses and lenses, in the series Ways of Seeing and Ways of Revealing we highlighted the duplicity and complexity of the different relationships entertained by  the wet-nurses with both the white children they took care of and their own children, causing a shift of perception that makes the mother the protagonist of each scene. We also researched about the whereabouts of Black mothers' children often placed in fostercare as in 19th century newspaper articles in the series Ways of Reporting.

The archival research is counter-balanced by the video-installation “Ways of Speaking and Listening" that bridges the past and contemporary voices in the present time. In this art piece, seven contemporary black mothers give testimonials about maternity, memory, ancestry, invisibility and everyday struggles.

The remaning pieces are conceived specifically with the significance of the archaeological site for the Afro-Brazilian community in mind. Ways of Navigating is an attempt to both trace and imagine the cemetery as a sacred place that stands closest to an African ancestry due to its proximity to the port area, and the connection to the African continent through the ocean. This opens the possibility to retracing and reimagining ancestry beyond the history of slavery, back to a homeland of sorts, as in the pieces in the series Ways of Dwelling.

Exhibitions

Rio de Janeiro – 2016

Rio de Janeiro – 2016

Belo Horizonte – 2017

Belo Horizonte – 2017

São Paulo – 2018

São Paulo – 2018

São Luís – 2018

São Luís – 2018

Artworks

Ways of Speaking and Listening

Ways of Speaking and Listening

Black Heroines

Black Heroines

Mãe Preta Library

Mãe Preta Library

Venus of Gamboa

Venus of Gamboa

Ways of Enchanting

Ways of Enchanting

Crossover

Crossover

Ways of Erasing

Ways of Erasing

Ways of Navigating

Ways of Navigating

Ways of Reporting

Ways of Reporting

Ways of Seeing

Ways of Seeing

Ways of Revealing

Ways of Revealing

Ways of Dwelling

Ways of Dwelling

Publications

The Mãe Preta catalogue and anthology is written in Portuguese and English and contains 7 essays by artists, writers and scholars, published in 2018.

Download the catalogue here

Articles

About the artists

Isabel Löfgren (b. 1975) and Patricia Gouvêa (b. 1973) are artists and researchers based in Rio de Janeiro and Stockholm, and  have been working together since 2005. They were part of the artist's collective Grupo DOC which organized several group exhibitions until 2009. In 2010, they were invited to do a solo exhibition as a duo at the Museum of the Republic in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and spent one year in residency at the museum doing research on the extensive photographic collection and doing site-specific interventions. The result was the project Benches of Time which included a site-specific installation in the museum's public gardens, a gallery show with video and photographs (2012) and an artist's publication (2015). Since then they have developed a working method where they investigate the histories of the exhibition site, image archives and associate these to personal experiences. These investigations often result in text-based, photographic and video pieces, as well as site-related interventions responding to architectural and urban elements.

Black Mother is their second long-term project together. The project has been given the following awards: Cidade Olímpica, Edital Fomento da Secretaria de Cultura do Rio de Janeiro (2016), Ocupação 2017 - Palácio das Artes em Belo Horizonte (2017), and the Brazilian National Arts Foundation Prize  "Conexão Circulação Artes Visuais" (2017).

Site Isabel Löfgren
Site Patricia Gouvea