Relatos de la modernidad brasileña.

Tarsila do Amaral y la apertura antropofágica como descolonización estética*



María Elena Lucero[1]

Universidade Federal da Integraçâo Latino Americana-Brasil

Universidad Nacional de Rosario-Argentina



Reception: 07/07/2014

Evaluation: 09/07/2014

Approval: 05/09/2014

Research and innovation article




Tarsila do Amaral (1886-1973) inició su fase antropofágica en 1928 tras materializar Abaporú, una pintura que sugirió a Oswald de Andrade la posterior escritura del Manifiesto antropófago en el mismo año. Estas propuestas formularon la antropofagia como devoración del colonizador, asimilando ciertos aspectos, descartando otros y promoviendo una versión del indígena que comía al otro sin culpa. Por lo tanto, el perfil político de la antropofagia cultural en Brasil creó dispositivos que, desde la retórica visual o literaria, llevaron a desmontar los mecanismos de dominación ligados al colonialismo.


Este trabajo propone leer la trayectoria de Tarsila teniendo como epicentro Antropofagia de 1929, una obra que apostó por la descolonización de la estética eurocéntrica proveniente de la iconografía occidental. En aquella imagen las figuras establecían una fusión con el propio entorno, imbuidas en un gigantismo visual que por momentos las tornaba amenazantes. La selva recreaba una versión del tropicalismo como espacio de fortaleza o sinergia en una atmósfera local que se distanció de las maneras preconcebidas de simbolizar el paisaje brasileño, reconstruyendo una visualidad vigorosa que confrontaba la invención estereotipada sobre el escenario americano.


Palabras clave: Tarsila do Amaral, visual, modernismo, antropofagia, descolonización


Narratives of Brazilian Modernism. Tarsila do Amaral and the Anthropophagic Movement as Aesthetic Decolonization



Tarsila do Amaral (1886-1973) began her anthropophagic phase in 1928, after the creation of Abaporú, a painting that suggested to the Oswald de Andrade the later subsequent writing of the Anthropophagic Manifesto in the same year. These proposals formulated ´anthropophagy´ as a devouring of the colonizer, assimilating certain aspects, discarding others and promoting a version of the native that ate the other without shame. In this way, the political profile of cultural anthropophagy in Brazil created visual or literary rhetorical strategies to undo colonialist mechanisms of domination.


This article attempts to read the trajectory of Tarsila, taking the painting Anthropophagy, from 1929, as its epicenter, a work that operated as a decolonizing challenge to the dominant eurocentric aesthetics based on Western iconography. In this image the figures blend into their own environment, imbued in a visual gigantism that can seem threatening. The surrounding jungle recreated a version of tropicalism as a space of power or synergy set in a local atmosphere, which distanced itself from preconcieved ways of symbolizing the Brazilian landscape, and reconstructed a vigorous visuality that confronted the stereotyped invention of the American landscape.


Key words: Tarsila do Amaral, visual, modernism, anthropophagy, decolonization.



Récits de la modernité brésilienne. Tarsila do Amaral et l’ouverture anthropophagique comme décolonisation esthétique



Tarsila do Amaral (1886-1973) a entamé sa phase anthropophagique en 1928 après avoir réalisé Abaporú, une peinture qui a suggéré la même année à Oswald d’Andrade l’écriture du Manifeste anthropophage. Ces œuvres ont permis de présenter l’anthropophagie comme dévoration du colonisateur, en assimilant certains aspects, en écartant d’autres et en promouvant une version de l’indigène qui mangeait l’autre sans remords. Par conséquent, le profil politique de l’anthropophagie culturelle a créé au Brésil des dispositifs qui, du point de vue de la rhétorique visuelle ou littéraire, ont démonté les mécanismes de domination liés au colonialisme.


Ce travail propose une lecture de la trajectoire de Tarsila dont l’épicentre est l’œuvre Antropofagia, de 1929, qui a parié sur la décolonisation de l’esthétique euro-centrique provenant de l’iconographie occidentale. Dans cette image, les figures établissaient une fusion avec l’environnement, pleines d’un gigantisme visuel qui à certains moments devient menaçant. La forêt recréait une version du tropicalisme comme espace de force ou synergie, dans une atmosphère locale prenant des distances avec les manières préconçues de symboliser le paysage brésilien. Le résultat était une visualité vigoureuse qui contestait l’invention stéréotypée sur la scène américaine.


Mots-clés: Tarsila do Amaral, visuel, modernisme, anthropophagie, décolonisation.



Relatos da modernidade brasileira.

Tarsila do Amaral e a abertura antropofágica como descolonização estética



Tarsila do Amaral (1886-1973) iniciou sua fase antropofágica em 1928 após materializar Abaporú, uma pintura que sugeriu a Oswald de Andrade a escrita do Manifesto antropofágico no mesmo ano. Estas propostas formularam a antropofagia como a devoração do colonizador, assimilando certos aspectos, descartando outros e promovendo uma versão do indígena como aquele que comia o outro sem culpa. Portanto, o perfil político da antropofagia cultural no Brasil criou dispositivos que, a partir da retórica visual ou literária, levaram a desmontar os mecanismos de dominação ligados ao colonialismo.


Este trabalho propõe uma leitura da trajetória de Tarsila centrada na Antropofagia de 1929, uma obra que operou como aposta descolonizadora da estética eurocentrista proveniente da iconografia ocidental. Nesta imagem as figuras estabeleciam uma fusão com o próprio entorno, imbuídas de um gigantismo visual que em alguns momentos as tornava ameaçadoras. A selva recriava uma versão do tropicalismo como espaço de fortaleza ou sinergia em uma atmosfera local que se distanciou das maneiras pré-concebidas de simbolizar a paisagem brasileira, reconstruindo uma visualidade vigorosa que confrontava a invenção estereotipada sobre o cenário americano.


Palavras chave: Tarsila do Amaral, visual, modernismo, antropofagia, descolonização.


1. Introduction


In the cultural panorama of the 1920s in São Paulo-Brazil, the plastic declarations and enunciations linked with aesthetics, ethics and politics were revealed, grouped in a utopic dimension that acquired visibility from the manifests, proclamations, programs or journals. “It is the aesthetic, political and ethical vertigo in permanent conflict with the convention and logic. The utopia within the artistic vanguards was installed in the complexity of language and the social relations that bring it to life[2].”


In this framework, Brazilian modernism was born, a cultural emergence that promoted a substantial change in the intellectual and artistic environment, and that would deserve to be assessed with new eyes. In the last few years, Raúl Antelo (2009) has posed a question: “What image of modernism can any hegemonic power still, after 80 years, transmit to us?[3]”, particularly, in our contemporariness where the transgressor disposition of the modern gesture is understood in a different way. It emerged after the well-known Modern Art Week in 1922, the anthropophagic theme (included and re-elaborated in the 24th Biennal of São Paulo) continued to bring up expectations due to its strategy of artistic, literary and, above all, humanistic rupture, which has transcended time. The exaltation of what it means to be Brazilian as the core of São Paulo modernity[4] worked as a way of confrontation with the racist ideology, which had been installed in America from Europe for centuries.



In the pictorial plane, Tarsila do Amaral would be the protagonist of an artistic development that put her at the center of the anthropophagic movement, as from an energic and solid image. In this article, we will present a panorama of Brazilian modernism: its tensions and struggles in the cultural field to later detail the visual dynamic developed in some of Tarsila’s works. In particular, we will highlight those manifestations related to anthropophagy, seeking to expand the historical and social connotations of the concept, also closely related with cannibalism. For this reason, the painting Antropofagia (Anthropophagy) by Tarsila can be read as an image that proposed a starting point for the decolonization of an occidental and pro-European aesthetic, fostering a new visual perspective focused on issues and problems of historical Brazil.



2. Modernists and anthropophagi      


In 1918, the writer Monteiro Lobato had published Urupês, a collection of stories and chronicles where he outlined an idealistic and romantic Brazil (in the same way as José de Alencar[5]), like the equivalent of the national ethos of the landscape of the interior, the representatives of which were the caipira, rustic person, or the coboclo, aboriginal and white mestizo. Later on, in a completely divergent direction, Mário de Andrade would bring about a complete transformation in the literary field by writing Macunaíma in 1926, a novel that summarized, in the same body of work, cosmopolitism and nationalism, social practice and written work. In that scenario of artistic renewal, cultural modernism “(…) urged artists to an aesthetic disconformity and stimulated intellectuals, such as Mário de Andrade and Oswald de Andrade to an implacable diagnosis of our provincialism[6]."


The period of greater exacerbation for the vanguardist process in Latin America extended approximately from 1920 to 1930. In this context, the Modern Art Week in São Paulo was the corollary of an intense intellectual dynamic, fostering the vanguardist irruption in Brazil, not only because of the break from a 19th century past, stagnated in obsolete values, but also because of the airs of renewal that was promoted in the cultural arena[7]. In the framework of the celebrations of the centenary of the Independence of Brazil, the Week took place between the 13th and the 17th of February, 1922, in three venues of the Municipal Theater of São Paulo. Despite the fact that it only lasted 4 days, its after effects have had a great impact.


On February 11th, 1922, Oswald de Andrade wrote an article in the Jornal do Comércio, where he called himself a "reactionary", in the sense that he reacted against the preponderant academicism in the 19th century, constructing a new artistic proposal from verbal sarcasm. The tone used resembled the rhetoric of Marinettian[8] futurism despite that, as he himself clarified in Klaxon magazine, Brazil was not futuristic: "Klaxon is not futuristic/ Klaxon is klaxist[9]." Graça Aranha opened the proceeding of the Week on the 13th, pronouncing words referring to the emergence of Brazilian art, highlighting the vital sense of the "yellow man," "the superb carnival," "the inverted landscape," as interpretations of nature and life, different from the implicit mediocrity and sadness in academic tradition."


In this aspect, writers, artists and musicians shared the same objective, which was to break away from an obsolete past. On the 15th day of that same month, Menotti Del Picchia delivered his conference using expressions of a futuristic root, such as the "speed of the modern world," glorified and acclaimed, in detriment of the "tuberculous lyrical woman," represented by Romanticism[10].


He cited Mars, Zeus, Menelaus, Troy and the discobolus of Sparta, leveling Brazilian modernists and those who expected "to see the sun behind the Parthenon in ruins[11]." The old days were described in contrast to the lights, the fans, the airplanes, the engines, the demonstrations of laborers or a woman-fetish, active and practical that danced to the tune of a tango and wrote on the typewriter[12]. Different from the European vanguard, in Brazil, there was not tabula rasa with the historical past. Mario as well as Oswald de Andrade promoted a literary break in relation to the archaisms from the Parnasian fashion of 1850 (which sought inspirational themes in exoticisms or pagan mythologies), but settling the roots, the narrations and the legends from the native culture prior to the colony.



In response to the modernization processes that Brazil went through in the 20s, the Week had broad consequences in the cultural plane, due to the aesthetic rupture it brought about, defying colonial heritage and setting the precedents for the Manifiesto Pau Brasil and the anthropophagic movement. Once the event was over, discussions continued in the core of the Group of the Five, constituted by Tarsila (who had just arrived from Europe), Anita Malfatti, Mário and Oswald, who were joined by Paulo Menotti Del Picchia. The meetings in Tarsilas's workshop were frequent, where, apart from the permanent exchange of ideas on the local cultural climate and the hopes for renovation, readings and music were shared[13].


3. Visual poetry, rupture and synthesis       


Tarsila do Amaral was born in 1886 in Capivari, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, and died in 1972 in São Paulo. She started her studies in sculpture with Mantovani and Zadig and, later, her painting studies with Pedro Alexandrino and Fischer Elpons. Later on, she continued her studies in the Julian Academy in Paris, a city to which she travelled in 1921. She would go back to São Paulo a year later, and would get in contact with her friend, the painter Anita Malfatti, whom she had met in 1919, when they were Aleixandrino students. Once again in Paris, she took classes in the ateliers of André Lhote, Gleizes and Fernánd Léger. In 1923, she painted A Negra (Figure 1), a magnificent canvas that set a precedent for her anthropophagic phase. Although the lessons of Lhote and Léger can be detected in this image, the painting broke with the cubist constructions. And, on the other hand, she transformed the 19th century canon of feminine representation, which was in accordance with a neoclassic, romantic vision, with measures and parameters established by the academy[14] and incorporated a black woman who, according to positivist and colonialist versions, was associated with poverty and slavery.


During 1924, Tarsila made two trips, one to Rio de Janeiro and the other to Minas Gerais together with Oswald and Mario de Andrade, Blaise Cendrars, and other intellectuals, in search for the Brazilian interior, its tradition and its roots. In Belo Horizonte, Sao João del Rei, Tiradentes, Ouro Preto and Congonhas do Campo, she would take notes and keep records[15]. This scenario full of colors was the basis of a body of paintings that belong to her Pau Brazil period. At the same time, Oswald wrote Manifesto Pau Brazil, a medullar text in the Brazilian vanguard. In Tarsila's canvases, vegetation transformed into organic stylizations, some round, where the planes were constructed from superstitions and size gradations.


Morro da favela, of 1924, exhibited a careful pictorial treatment with cacti and plants, in a geometrical structure of colorful houses, caipiras, and hues of pink, cerulean blues, ochres, and oranges. In the modernistic Brazilian view, the incorporation of the caipira and of rural life were exacerbated, a re-elaboration of visual signs from the caipira/country/sertanejo[16].


Tarsila reinterpreted the peripheral environment and her visual potential in Carnaval em Madureira after having walked the Brazilian suburb in the area of Madureira, where the scolas do samba and Imperio Serrano were. During those celebrations "she recorded, in less than 20 sketches, people from the street, details of their garments and ornaments from the carnival[17]." A year later, in O mamoeiro of 1925 (Figure 2), she showed a landscape with plants that looked like huge seeds, with a volumetric intention marked by different degrees of lights and shades. The choice of the landscape as a theme responded to a symbolic choice, a synthesis of the national imaginary, where the subject of the village is re-signified in its daily chores.




Figure 1. Tarsila do Amaral                                         Figure 2. Tarsila do Amaral

A Negra, oil on canvas, 1923.                                    O Mamoeiro, oil on canvas, 1925.


Tarsila explored the purity of the natural shapes of Brazil, unspoiled by the vertiginous European civilization. Despite her Parisian training, her 1924 paintings are distanced from the French urban topic, such as in the train station with electric posts, which included designs of tress and palm trees. In Manacá, of 1927 (Figure 3), the figures simulated gigantic masses, which reinforced the constructive order around masses of color. The full forms ranged between greens and pinks, with blue flowers of well- shaped petals that anticipated her later pictorial treatments.


In 1928, Tarsila had finished Abaporú (Figure 4), "the division of modernity in Brazil[18]." When he received it as a birthday present, Oswald expressed to his friend, the poet Raúl Bopp, that the painting represented man on Earth. In the Tupí-Guaraní dictionary by Montoya, which belonged to Tarsila's father, they found the term Abaporú (Aba: man, Porú: who eats), which was registered as the title of the painting. A reproduction of the painting appeared in the first issue of the Revista de Antropofagia (Anthropophagic magazine), where Oswald founded the movement that would radically change modernist literature. Cultural anthropophagy retook the symbolism of cannibal action carried out by the Tupinambás aboriginals, and assumed the inclusion of cultural elements with the aim of processing, assimilating and giving an account of the Brazilian identity and its singularities.




Figure 3. Tarsila do Amaral,                                        Figure  4. Tarsila do Amaral,

Manacá, oil on canvas, 1927.                                    Abaporú, oil on canvas, 1928.



 In relation to cannibalism and anthropophagy, although both terms refer to the act of eating human flesh, they have significant differences. Cannibalism emphasizes a destructive action, the event of castigating the body of the victim or the enemy, while anthropophagy accentuates the processes of swallowing, assimilating and absorbing. In this sense, the elements that connote cannibalism in visual formulations underline the rupture, violence, and grotesque deformation. In turn, anthropophagy manifest from re-appropriation, irony and sarcasm, as Oswald himself depicted it in the Manifiesto Antropófago (Anthropophagic Manifesto) by highlighting critical swallowing. From that platform, Tarsila projected herself in an artistic environment that had already been shaken by the proposals of the Modern Art Week of 1922. Plinio Salgado himself, a member of the Academia Paulista de Letras, redeemed in the work of the artist the seminal idea of a movement in Brazilian literature, due to her sense of “cosmic means”, “racial truth” and “prophetic revelation[19].”


Abaporú made reference to a local and warm environment of the tropics. The technique applied and the language used marked a change with respect to the Pau Brasil phase. The stylized main figure, as the artist admitted years later, was the expression of certain “nightmarish” stories that the maids at his father ranch told her at bedtime. This process revealed a sign of cultural anthropophagy, which preceded the literary formulation of Oswald de Andrade. Another canvas of 1928, Urutú (Figure 5), represented the formal exacerbation of an egg of great dimensions. The transformation in the scale of size with respect to the landscape dislocated the eye in a suspended space. The white oval (a risky plastic recourse handled with dexterity) was supported by a magenta object which, contorted, resembled a reptile holding on to a red spike that emerges from the soil. The contrast with the rest of the palette opened a space to an oneiric atmosphere, a trend that will be repeated in works like  Distância, A lua also from 1928, or Floresta, Sol poente of 1929 (Figure 6). In June of 1928, the artist met Oswald in Paris, and there she had her second individual exhibition, with a diversified French critique, which highlighted the growing stylization in her works, mainly as from Abaporú.




Figure 5. Tarsila do Amaral,                                        Figure 6. Tarsila do Amaral,

Urutú, oil on canvas, 1928.                                         Sol poente, oil on canvas, 1929.



4. Anthropophagy and aesthetic decolonization                


In 1929, Tarsila made some sketches (Figure 7) that she used in Antropofagia (Figure 8). In the image two naked bodies can be seen, immersed in a high and exuberant tropical environment, human and vegetal morphology interacting (in the same way as in Abaporú). The atmosphere portrayed emitted an “involving warmth that consumes the main characters as well as the environment itself, achieving a formal permutation between man/nature[20].” The female figure came from A Negra of 1923 and the male silhouette from Abaporú of 1928, in a similar position but facing the other direction, like a mirror. The cut of the protagonists in first plane was accentuated by the choice of colors. The use of fleshy tones with shades of orange unified the couple that, from the expressive deformations in the relation of the size of their heads, bodies, legs and feet, recreated a dynamism of curves and counter curves with a background of deep greens. The sun ambiguously simulated a slice of orange or lemon, a star in the sky. The plain, serene and almost imperceptible fracture was, at the same time, exulting and sensitive, in the midst of a geometric drawing which evoked ghostly areas linked to the anthropophagic rite.


Actually, cultural anthropophagy paved the way for a radicalized vanguardism in which the break from artistic pre-established canons (a quest started by the modernists in the Week in 1922) and the polemic response revolving around an exotic representation of Brazil coincided. Tarsila’s painting, from its very title, referred to the mechanism of absorbing and assimilating the virtues of the enemy. Let us remember that this fact had negative connotations in the time of the conquest because the habits of the anthropophagic groups (according to the narrations of travelers) were appalling under the eyes of the Europeans, a perception that would be modified after the Freudian theories of instinct and the unconscious[21].




Figure 7. Tarsila do Amaral,                                             Figure 8. Tarsila do Amaral,

Sketches on Anthropophagy,                                       Abaporú, oil on canvas, 1929.

Drawing, 1929.



In this case, Tarsila underlined the anthropophagic notion re-signifying the cannibalistic act, accentuating the processing and symbolic absorption as a factor of resistance to European hegemony, which it finally swallowed in a reaffirmation of the constant functions of life and death. The artist new the tacit link between anthropophagy and the Tupinambás[22], who established a relation between sacrificial food (anthropophagy), courage, and bravery. These natives were characterized by their intelligence and a constant inclination for war, which had a fundamental role for them, as it was considered a sacred attitude, reserved just for some. The bravery and the warlike attitude of the chief were deduced by the number of enemies he killed, who were afterwards eaten by the community in a ritual ceremony. In the graphic descriptions of the 16th century captured by Théodore de Bry, there were many scenes of these natives, taking prisoners and dismembering them so as to put them in a steaming pot, killing their victims with a voracious attitude, grilling the pieces of human bodies that would be avidly eaten by them, or left to the mercy of animals to be killed, as punishment. Said representations have promoted a partial and despotic construct, functional to the civilizing project and, therefore, arguable that, in its way, is confronted by the pictorial anthropophagy of Tarsila.


At the same time, in certain anthropophagic rites their deities were fed with hearts, constituting an element of exchange between men and gods. In other cases, there existed a process of symbolic synthesis, as was the case of cannibalistic dancing in the Kwakiutl, in which cannibal desire was subject to a power that was integrated to the personality of the individual. Débora Root (1998) has noted the banalization and simplification of cannibalism articulated by the colonial occidental culture by reconstructing the ritual Kwakiutl objects, taking them out of context and conceiving their cannibal practices as monstrous[23]. Later on, the appropriation of European vanguards emerged, with respect to these material cultures, exemplified in surrealism and its search for irrational structures seen under the lens of exoticism. The aboriginal was described as a predatory cannibal, when many times their rituals implied an allegoric and not real anthropophagy. Decontextualized appropriation, described by Root, as well as the virulent view about the native is reconstructed in all the anthropophagic proposals of Tarsila.


In the painting Antropofagia, the tridimensionality of spherical echoes of the human bodies in the vegetable volumes proposed a game of profiles where physical nudity was integrated with the tropical environment. In the colonial centuries, tropicalims in the Brazilian landscape was represented in an aseptic way. The Dutch painter Frans Post, in the 17th century, translated real climates, of voluptuousness and exuberance, into quiet and distant landscapes, perhaps as atemporal fictions. These biased visual legends made the sustantivity of American geography plain, like postcards that cooled a disruptive idea of tropicalism. The work of Tarsila overcame the representation of alterity from the Occidental idea (in which paradise-like geography was leveled with unrestrained sexuality) and from the discrepancy, she proposed new distinctive icons of national identity. It was a time of the pictorial phase that opened questions about the genuine nature of Brazilian culture and that viewed the anthropophagic exercise as an instrument of anti-hierarchy or as a promoter of an ethnic and poetic valuation, impossible to dissociate from the writing of Oswald and the figurative interpretations of the artist herself.


After the circulation of the news about the existence of anthropophagic groups in the area of the Amazon, in 1928 there was a semantic twist focused in the cannibalization of the culture, activating the mechanism that reverses the colonizer/colonized equation. When the colonizing discourse attempted to minimize the differences, and neutralize alterities with the objective of carrying out a task of whitening, not only politically speaking but also eminently in physical and racial elements, cultural anthropophagy was the answer to hegemonic tactics. Overcoming the fixed positions, Antropofagia dissolved the notions of time and occidental space, a reminder of the initial time of the Matriarcado de Pindorama, anticipated by the premises of the anthropologist Bachofen, the Tierra de Palmeras, the non-colonized territory. The preponderance of the racial way of thinking was articulated with the colonialism of knowledge. The doubtful “scientific ideology of what is popular”, questioned by Roberto Da Matta (1983)[24] installed, for a long time, the notions of “race” and “racism”, perpetuating the curiosity for the indigenous from a segregationist phase. In this sense, Antropofagia activated a collision mechanism, reinforcing the questionings with regard to the America/Europe relationship. In the local/universal equation, painting assumed a cosmopolitan role that, in the vanguard was rooted in its territorial habitat, and understood as a national and cultural discourse, defied social prejudices, reaffirming a position in front of the colonizer.


The modernity of the 20s in Brazil appealed to areas of primitivism as an event that was connected with a native past, a past mobilized from aesthetic codes. The notion of anthropophagic primitivism as a vanguardist refunctionalization of an indigenous ritual matrix[25] is present in the work of Tarsila. It can be observed in the configuration of the bodies, in the puzzling vegetation that broke from the mimetic nature in the art and the pictorial carnality, which reinforced the cultural difference. The primitive sign exacerbated the indigenous virtues, proposing a change in the conceptual order and in the plastic approach, creating a peculiar image framed in the Brazilian context. The range of tools used by the artist incorporated vanguard resources and made visible the confluence of modernization processes and the local landscape. From a different angle, Antropofagia eroded the bases of the classical visual codes already instituted in order to disembark in the peculiarity of indigenous Brazil.


5. Conclusions


Tarsila's production stimulated Oswaldian literature and its derivatives towards anthropophagy. She fostered aesthetic decolonization and the dislocation of classical schemes of power, present in a 19th century society, which condemned the morality associated with the life and the customs of the aboriginal or the black people. Her work promoted debates on local culture, giving rise to a proteic sense of identity in a social community with substantial indexes of ethnic mixes. Antropofagia summarized an almost tautological mark, that is, the very same process of national social formation, the absorption of the other and of the others from an exchange which postulated the regional aspect in the mixture. This anthropophagic modality adopted foreign, chewed on and processed aesthetic components, marking a history characterized by complex mechanisms that took place in Brazil from the European conquest until contemporary times. The decolonizing inflexion of Antropofagia can be seen in the aesthetic affront, which it introduces with respect to a colonial condition, in the visual twist that it brings about as from a concise, concrete, and plastically suggestive drawing. The audacity in the planes of color and their pronounced level of synthesis make of this painting a disruptive icon, the result of a vanguardist transformation process in Brazil and Latin America.



During 1929[26], Tarsila would also create an important series of Dibujos antropofágicos [Anthropophagic drawings] (Figure 9) with ink on paper, where she synthetized what Aracy Amaral expressed in her writings in the 70s and Jorge Schwartz confirmed afterwards, what it took to be Brazilian, which made an allusion to the fusion of nationalism and current renewal from a summarized iconography. The artist herself admitted in an interview: "(...) if there is one good thing I have in my art, it is its spontaneous "Brazilianness", from 1924 up to now, that is, the phase I call Pau Brazil and, lately, the anthropophagic phase[27]." To emphasize the decolonizing aesthetic proposal of Tarsila do Amaral takes us to re-read her contributions from the visual sphere in the framework of a dialogic, national project in a permanent pursuit of the Latin American identity, as it happened in the vanguards of the first decades of the 20th century.



Figure 9. Tarsila do Amaral

Paisaje antropofágico IV, graphite on paper






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Root, Deborah, “Devorando o caníbal: um conto de precaução da apropiação cultural”. En: Sección Roteiros. Roteiros. Roteiros. Roteiros. Roteiros. Roteiros. Roteiros, Catálogo XXIV Bienal de São Pablo. São Paulo: Fundação Bienal / Banco Santos, 1998.


Schwartz, Jorge. Vanguardia y cosmopolitismo en la década del Veinte. Oliverio Girondo y Oswald de Andrade. Rosario: Beatriz Viterbo Editora, 2002.


Setubal, Maria Alice, “A visão hegemónica da mîdia: transmutações do caipira”. En: Setubal, Maria Alice, Vivèncias caipiras. Pluralidade cultural e diferentes temporalidades na aterra paulista. São Paulo: Coleção Terra Paulista, CENPEC, Imprensa oficial do Estado de São Paulo, 2005.


Texeira de Barros, Regina, “Tarsila viajante”. En: AAVV, Tarsila viajante-viajera, Catálogo de Exposición. Brasil: Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, Brasil, 19 de janeiro a 16 março de 2008 / Buenos Aires: MALBA, Fundación Costantini, 27 de marzo al 2 de junio de 2008.



To cite this article:

María Elena Lucero, “Narratives of Brazilian Modernism. Tarsila do Amaral and the Anthropophagic Movement as Aesthetic Decolonization”, Historia y Memoria N°10 (January-June, 2015): 75-96.


* This article is the product of the doctoral thesis: Tarsila modernista desde América Contemporánea (Tarsila, a modernist from Contemporary America).

[1] Doctor of Humanties and Arts (Special mention: Fine Arts), Universidad Nacional de Rosario, Argentina. Professor at the Universidade Federal da Integraçâo Latino Americana, Brazil; Universidad Nacional de Rosario, Argentina. Research groups: Red de Estudios Visuales Latinoamericanos (REVLAT, by its acronym in Spanish) - Centro de Estudios Visuales Latinoamericanos (CEVILAT, by its acronym in Spanish) [Network of Latin American Visual Studies – Center of Latin American Visual Studies, respectively]. Lines of research: Latin American Art, Visual Studies, Decoloniality-Feminism. Email address:

[2] Miguel Ángel Esquivel, “Utopía, estética y revolución en las vanguardias artísticas de América Latina 1920-1930”, in: Alberto Híjar, Arte y utopía en América Latina (México: Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes / Centro Nacional de Investigación, Documentación e Información de Artes Plásticas, 2000), 134.

[3] Raúl Antelo, “Una enciclopedia modernista”, in: Abraza Brasil. Hilos modernos y tramas contemporáneas, ramona Nº 92, revista de artes visuales (Buenos Aires: Fundación Start, 2009), 10.

[4] Modernity in the artistic field refers to the transformations linked to what was new and to aesthetic experimentation, although without connoting the aggressive and rupturist profile of the vanguard. However, modernism in Brazil (from there come the notion of São Paulo modernity) was included in the vanguard movements initiated as from 1922, due to the disruptive tone that was exhibited in relation to their prior artistic tradition. Gonzalo Aguilar, “Modernismo”, in: Carlos Altamirano, (director), Términos críticos de Sociología de la cultura (Buenos Aires: Paidós, 2008), 180.

[5] In 1857, El guaraní by Alencar was published, where the national identity was forged in the link between a young blond woman and an aboriginal chief. Thus, the Brazilian character depended on a blood mix, where blackness was excluded.

[6] Reynaldo Roëls Jr, “Lo moderno y el modernismo: 30 años de arte brasileño”, in: Panorama del Arte del Brasil en el Siglo XX. Colección Gilberto Chateaubriand / MAM-RJ. Catálogo de Exposición (Buenos Aires: MAMBA, 1999), 42.

[7] The Week of 1922 gathered artists such as Anita Malfatti (who had launched an avant garde premise in her exhibitions), Emiliano Di Cavalcanti, John Graz, Martin Ribeiro, Zina Aita, Yan de Almeida Prado, Ferrignac and Vicente do Rego Monteiro. There were also other participants, for example: the composer Héctor Villa Lobos; the architects Antonio García Moya and Przyrembel; and  the sculptors Victor Brecheret and Wilhelm Haarberg. Many of the works presented were later part of a special collection of the poet Mário de Andrade.

[8] Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944) was the author of the Manifiesto Futurista of 1909, published by Le Figaro. His prose emphasized modern speed, energy, danger, and venerated war as the “only possible hygiene for the world.” As from 1919, he took part in the Italian fascist movement.

[9] The writing of Klaxon was the product of those debates, a manifest included in the magazine of the same name (1922-1923). Of an ironic tone, Klaxon referred to the horn of the car; a metaphor that alluded to the noise, the call of attention and the awakening of a new and modern sensitivity. It marked the differentiation and the affirmation of a national and unique position which led the past behind to celebrate the present, where jazz, Charles Chaplin and laughter are synonyms of modernity against the romanticism of the previous century. In: Jorge Schwartz, Vanguardia y cosmopolitismo en la década del Veinte. Oliverio Girondo y Oswald de Andrade (Rosario: Beatriz Viterbo Editora, 2002), 73.

[10] Aracy Amaral, “As ideais no contexto da Semana”, in: Aracy Amaral, Artes plásticas na Semana de 22. Subsídios para uma história da renovação das artes no Brasil (São Paulo: Editora Perspectiva, Debates-Arte, 1979), 209.

[11] Aracy Amaral, “As ideais no contexto da...199.

[12] The discourse of Menotti was criticized and questioned by authors like Amadeu Amaral, who accused him of lacking faith in the modernists and revealed, in his exclamations, the acritical penetration of foreign influences.

[13] On occasions, both female artists took as their axis one same image. They started to design the sketches and continued the following pictorial phase, as was the case of Mário de Andrade, portrayed by both of them: Tarsila painted him in shades of blue and oranges, a more geometrical composition; and Anita, prioritizing the greens and yellows, with a free and expressive gesture. Writers accompanied them by reading their poems.

[14] Artists of the late 19th century, such as Décio Villares, recreated aboriginal women as romantic women without real ties with society, as apparent bearers of a fragility that kept them distant. The profile of a classical Athena in the feminine synthesis of the Republic was applied. Pedro Américo de Paraíba, Brazil, painted La carioca in France. In it, he described the nudity of a Brazilian woman under the neoclassical imprint, creating an allegory of an apolitical, paradise-like, distant, and idealized femininity. This canvas was, at that time, offered to Emperor Peter II and rejected by him because it did not fulfill the moral criteria of the time. In 1919, Pedro Bruno painted La Patria, where a group of daughters, mothers and grandmothers could be observed, embroidering a large national flag. Apart from underlining symbols like the motherland and the flag, the role of women was highlighted, as the support of the education of their children, the family and the nation itself. In: José Murilo de Carvalho, La formación de las almas. El imaginario de la República en el Brasil (Buenos Aires: Colección Intersecciones, Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, 1997).

[15] In general lines, between 1920 and 1933, the artist traveled not only around Brazil and Latin America, but also around Europe –including the Soviet Union- and the Middle East. She collected diverse objects, which were part of her trips, such as photographs, plane tickets, theater tickets, to which she added her graphic notes.

[16] Maria Alice Setubal, “A visão hegemónica da mîdia: transmutações do caipira”, in: Setubal, Maria Alice, Vivèncias caipiras. Pluralidade cultural e diferentes temporalidades na aterra paulista (São Paulo: Coleção Terra Paulista, CENPEC, Imprensa oficial do Estado de São Paulo, 2005), 66.

[17] Regina Texeira de Barros, “Tarsila viajante” in AAVV, Tarsila viajante-viajera, Catálogo de Exposición (Brasil: Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, Brasil, 19 January to 16 March, 2008 / Buenos Aires; MALBA Fundación Costantini, 27 March to 2 June, 2008), 28

[18] Herkenhoff, Paulo, “A cor no modernismo brasileiro – a navegação com muitas bússolas”, in Núcleo histórico: Antropofagia é Histórias de Canibalismos, Catálogo de XXIV Bienal de São Pablo, (São Paulo: Fundação Bienal / Banco Santos, 1998), 340.

[19] Aracy Amaral, “Antropofagia: No País de la Cobra Grande”, in: Aracy Amaral, Tarsila – Sua obra e seu tempo, Vol. I. Arte (São Paulo: Editora Perspectiva S.A., Editora da Universidade de São Paulo, 1975), 259.

[20] Lucero, María Elena, “El Arte Latinoamericano como patrimonio cultural: sentidos y desplazamientos”, in Campos Alicia and Rocchietti, Ana María (comp.), Coloquio Binacional Argentino Peruano. Perspectiva Latinoamericana (Buenos Aires: CIP-ISPJVG-DOCUPRINT, 2009), 320.

[21] With respect to cannibalism, Peggy Reeves Sanday has defined the practice of cannibalism as a cultural system that was beyond the notions of life or death, where ritual cannibalism contains ontological structures that are equivalent to a particular way of being in the world. In Peggy Reeves Sanday, El Canibalismo como sistema cultural (Barcelona: Editorial Lerna, 1987).

[22] During 1922, Monteiro Lobato organized a series of narrations corresponding to expeditioners in Brazil, in the 16th century, among them Staden, de Léry and Thevet. In 1926, the Diário da Noite, from São Paulo, published the texts translated by Lobato about the experiences of Staden, the aboriginals in Brazil and the anthropophagic practice in Hans Staden entre os Selvagens do Brasil, information that started to circulate and that was read by Tarsila and Oswald. In Ferreira de Almeida, Maria Cândida, “Só a antropofagia nos une”, in: Daniel Matto (comp), Cultura, política y sociedad. Perspectivas latinoamericanas. Colección Grupos de Trabajo (Buenos Aires: CLACSO Libros, 2005), 83-106.

[23] Deborah Root, “Devorando o caníbal: um conto de precaução da apropiação cultural”, in: Sección Roteiros. Roteiros. Roteiros. Roteiros. Roteiros. Roteiros. Roteiros, Catálogo XXIV Bienal de São Pablo (São Paulo: Fundação Bienal / Banco Santos, 1998), 180-184.

[24] Roberto Da Matta, Relativizando: Uma Introdução à Antropología Social (Petrópolis, Brasil: Editora Voçes Ltda, 1983).

[25] Viviana Gelado, “El primitivismo antropofágico del modernismo brasileño como forma de valorización de lo popular”, in: Poéticas de la Transgresión. Vanguardia y Cultura Popular en los Años Veinte en América Latina (Buenos Aires: Editorial Corregidor, 2008), 161-236.

[26] On that year, the surrealist poet Benjamin Péret, arrived in São Paulo. He delivered a conference where he postulated the direct relation between surrealism and anthropophagy, both concepts linked with the emancipation of men’s contentions and repressions, and with ways of reestablishing psychic liberation.

[27] Aracy Amaral, “Antropofagia...277.