A postcard from the Afro-Brazil Museum

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Iemanja, goddess of the sea.
Pele, god of football.

We chose to visit the Afro-Brazil Museum over the Modern Art Museum just because it was closer to where we were standing at decision time. Not only is it the best ‘cultural thing’ of the trip so far, it’s also one of the best museums I’ve ever visited.

The two-level building inside is set up with both broad open views and small labyrinthine spaces that bring you close to the exhibits. The collection is vast, encompassing historical and ethnographic artifacts as well as artworks (including folk art, fine art and modern art). They’re displayed along themes rather than by category, so you might read about the slaves brought to Brazil, stand next to a ceremonial costume from Africa and admire a modern sculpture made of seashells and pottery.

The most beautiful exhibits were the traditional costumes, displayed on wire-frame mannequins to give all the glory to the patterned fabric, embroidery, beadwork and jewelry. I was most surprised at the skeleton of a slave ship, which was much smaller than I had imagined and made me wonder how they possibly fitted so many people on it. My favorite thing was the temporary exhibition about cowboys in the northeast of Brazil.

Life size photos brought me face to face with cangaceiros; outlaws reacting against landowners and government. Stony-faced and unmoving like all old portraits are, men and women clad alike in leather with a backdrop of thorny desert. This contrasted with the many clay figurines of Lampião and his girlfriend, Maria Bonita, smiling arm in arm or riding horses, glorified as folk heroes despite being the leaders of the most notorious band of marauders in the 1920s and 1930s. One final photo showed their disembodied heads, mouths limp, eyes closed in death as they rested upon shelves in front of the camera.

Afro-Brasil Museum
Subway: Ana Rosa, then walk to Ibirapuera Park
Price: free
Hours: Tue-Sun, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

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