Akoben : performance, politics and foundational narratives of Blackness
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This work investigates Black performances and the performance of Blackness as expression of narratives centered in the fact of existing in this world while a Black being. The themes investigated in this study are ontology, performance, and politics of Blackness deployed by Black Brazilian artists in Rio de Janeiro. In March 2012, several Black artists mobilized to protest against the systematic exclusion of artists and cultural producers of African descent from Brazilian state-sponsored funding opportunities. The Akoben movement—a word that represents the Adinkra symbol meaning “War Horn”—has the goals of Akoben of: to demand transparency from the state in funding decisions, to assure that selection committees will represent Brazilian diversity, and to implement Affirmative Action policies in state-sponsored funding opportunities. Departing from the review of how cultural expressions and art forms associated with African descendants have been used, I will discuss how Akoben brings questions of cultural appropriation and of material and symbolic alienation as effects of racism to the forefront of public debate. I will also discuss the subject of state co-optation of Black activists and the withdrawal of leaders from the social movement to engage within the state or with political parties. In the process of engaging with the state, the Akoben mobilization creates grounds for a racial identity that these artists’ aesthetic creations and activist trajectories feed. Such aesthetic and political processes resist material and symbolic forms of racial subjugation while simultaneously creating a space for exchange and learning, for the establishment of professional networks, and for political action. However, the internal contradictions and limitations, the disputes generated from alignments of Black social movements and of individuals with state institution and political parties, constrain the possibilities of more radical projects of Black liberation either in political, in aesthetic or in ontological terms.