Thursday, June 2, 2022

Anadelia A. Romo's "Selling Black Brazil"

Anadelia A. Romo is an associate professor of history at Texas State University. She is the author of Brazil's Living Museum: Race, Reform, and Tradition in Bahia.

Romo applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Selling Black Brazil: Race, Nation, and Visual Culture in Salvador, Bahia, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test works surprisingly well for Selling Black Brazil. Page 99 is a full-page image, one of over ninety images printed in the work, and so it represents nicely my focus on visual culture in Brazil. The image itself is an advertisement for airline travel in Brazil from 1946, the early years of the domestic travel industry there. It shows three figures looking up at an airplane, which is depicted as a “magic carpet” capable of connecting people from different regions of Brazil. Each of these figures is dressed in the distinctive garb of a particular region: the Northeast, the South, and Bahia. The state of Bahia is represented by a woman dressed in a skirt and turban, an iconic wardrobe that marks the “Baiana,” who is usually styled as an Afro-Bahian female street vendor. These regional types had a longer history in Brazil and across the Atlantic, but gained new salience in the mid-twentieth century to promote “authentic” cultures that one could experience through travel. The argument of my book is that Blackness was used to promote Bahia within Brazil, a process that proved both celebratory and inclusive as well as stereotyped and limiting. Critically, I show that visual culture was especially powerful in linking Blackness with Bahia. To chart the changes in this visual culture I use the iconography of travel guides. These guides were produced in growing numbers within Bahia through the decade of the 1950s to promote the state, and especially its capital city of Salvador. In the end, the image captures my focus on visual culture, the creation of racialized stereotypes to promote a region, and the centrality of travel for distilling an area’s essence for others. These are all central points in my book, so I’d have to conclude the test works pretty well.

The limitation to the test is that I don’t have any of my own writing on page 99, and that the image on that page is for Brazil as a whole. In this sense the national focus of page 99 sets the larger scene for the work, but is a little bit farther from the heart of the book itself which centers around images from vibrant illustrators and photographers who worked in Bahia almost exclusively. So while page 99 doesn’t capture all the nuance of the story, it still captures enough for a reader to get a glimpse into the way national identity and Blackness developed in complicated ways over twentieth-century Brazil, and how Bahia was at the center of that process.
Learn more about Selling Black Brazil at the University of Texas Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue