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Cannibal Angels

Transatlantic Modernism and the Brazilian Avant-Garde


Kenneth David Jackson

In the first three decades of the twentieth century, artists, writers, musicians, and architects from both sides of the Atlantic interacted to create a modern style for Brazil. Their works shaped Brazilian national expression and self-definition for the twentieth century and into the present, with renewed relevance as Brazil plays an increasingly important role in global affairs. Artists such as Tarsila do Amaral and Roberto Burle-Marx are appearing for the first time in museums in the United States and Europe, along with the concept of antropofagia from the «Cannibal Manifesto», a theory of cultural autonomy and a model for fusion, hybridity, and assimilation. This book offers a cultural history and interpretation of Brazilian modernism in the arts and letters, exploring how modernism depends on transatlantic negotiation and develops through interchanges between Brazilians and Europeans.
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CHAPTER 6: Portraits and Self-Portraits: Angels with Banana-Leaf Wings


Je trouve tous mes amis


C’est moi

– Blaise Cendrars, ‘São-Paulo’

The portrait didn’t look like him […]

his eyelashes were weighted with explosive lead.

– Seraphim Grosse Pointe

‘It’s me’. With this redundant self-presentation upon arrival at the São Paulo Estação da Luz train station, Blaise Cendrars highlights one of the most distinctive features of the modernist circle of artists, a focus centred on images and portraits of themselves. In the same way that the modernists constantly improvise on topics related to their circle and times, they likewise create and exchange likenesses and portraits of themselves as a main focus of their works, whether in literature, visual arts, or music. While doing so, they also portray figures in Brazil’s multiracial society. Di Cavalcanti is known for scenes of Rio de Janeiro’s popular districts, while in literature the characters Juca Mulato, created by poet Menotti del Picchia in 1917, Jeca Tatu, created by Monteiro Lobato in 1918 for his book Urupês, and Macunaíma, the Amazonian hero of Mário de Andrade’s 1928 novel, are much-read examples of regional and ethnic types. In musical compositions, Villa-Lobos portrays the Amazon in sound in the tone poems Uirapuru and Amazonas in the same year of 1917.

The voyage, the carnival fantasy, the artistic persona, the regional stereotype, and the ethnic immigrant are main ingredients of a humorous self-portrait of Brazil’s early twentieth-century modernity. The...

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