From 22 April to 6 May 2016, ICAF artistic director Eugene van Erven and producer Anamaria Cruz travel around Brazil to scout community art projects that have links to the ‘Movement’ theme of ICAF 2017. This is their journey.
On Monday May 2 we met with Baby Amorim. She is the friendly, energetic and talkative producer of an Afro-Brazilian women’s collective called Ilú Obá de-min. This name is composed of three Yoruba words meaning: ‘drum’, Xangó’ (a Yoruban King/God), and ‘women’s hands’. These words capture the very essence of the group’s work: to reclaim the place of Afro-Brazilian women in society and public space by means of percussive music, song and dance. Through its performances and arts education projects Ilú Obá de-min fights against machismo and racism and at the same time keeps the Afro-Brazilian culture alive. The group was founded in 2004 and has grown exponentially in importance and size since then. Most of the members have other jobs during the day, but they meet in the evenings and weekends to rehearse and to train newcomers. The coordination and management of the group is fully in the hands of Afro-Brazilian women, although women from other cultural backgrounds (and men) are welcome to join. The age of the members ranges from 4 to 70+. Ilú Obá de-min frequently performs in all manner of gigs, usually (but not exclusively) in the streets.
According to Baby, the choice to perform in public space is political: “After all, we pay taxes and therefore shouldn’t have to ask for permission of the authorities to perform outdoors, certainly not with something beautiful and meaningful as what we offer. It’s not called public space for nothing; it belongs to the public.” In our video clip she introduces the group and explains the motivation why the group exclusively works with women. Traditionally, drumming is a male-dominated activity, both culturally and in the religious practices of Candomblé. Through their activities, Ilú Obá de-min wants to break through this undesirable status-quo. Ilú Obá de-min is most spectacularly visible in São Paulo’s annual carnaval. Each year, the group honours a special Afro-Brazilian artist. In 2016 they paid homage to Elza Soares, a famous Samba singer.
On the façade of the building where the group has its headquarters, in the Elysian Fields area of downtown São Paulo, is an image of Carolina de Jesus (1914-1977). She is an autodidact Afro-Brazilian literary artist whose work has been translated into 13 foreign languages but who is virtually unknown in Brazil itself. Thus, Ilú Obá de-min continues to celebrate with loud, cheerful, colorful and moving expressions the important but often invisible contributions to Brazilian culture by black women.