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Williams College

Publication Date

Fall 2008

Program Name

Brazil: Culture, Development, and Social Justice


Over eighty-five percent of the population of Salvador, Brazil is of African descent, creating a rich history of cultural, political and social development. Nevertheless the majority of the museums in Salvador have historical spoken very little of this culture and its relationship to the city. In 1982, the Museu Afro-Brasileiro opened, introducing a small museum focused solely on the cultural exchange between Africa and Brazil as well as the development of Afro-Brazilian religiosity. Thinking critically about the importance of museums in the construction and dissemination of awareness, knowledge and respect for cultures as well as the current debates over the treatment of non-western cultures in museum exhibits, this paper looks to explore the ways in which different sectors of the public interact with and make meaning in the museum so that we may understand the ways in which conceptions of Afro-Brazilian culture are challenged and reified in the museums. It looks at the different ways that information is communicated as well as the different associations and representations created due to context, location, background, and arrangement of its exhibitions.

This paper begins with a critical overview of the relationship between museums and non-Western cultures, the short relationship and history of Candomblé and the public sphere and the potential use of representations of Candomblé in political and social racial movements in Brazil. It then goes on to explore four different representations of Africa, Afro-Brazilians and Candomblé in different memorials and museums in Brazil. The central focus of the paper is the Museu Afro-Brasileiro, with attention given to the narrative created through the arrangement of objects and accompanying text, the many levels of meaning created by different sectors of the museum’s public and how this affects the way that the religion is seen in the public sphere. To better understand what is at stake in the process of representing a cultural in a public place of memory, the paper also examines exhibits at three other museums. Asking how is meaning constructed? Who is given a voice? Who is the exhibit for? And how does the exhibit influence how these cultures are perceived. Finally this paper looks at the potential power of the museum to change what is valued, who is given a voice in society, and the way that different sectors interact with one another outside of the gallery walls.


Other Arts and Humanities | Race and Ethnicity | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies


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