Beatriz Nascimento (1942-1995) was a Black Brazilian theorist, writer and political militant. Her ideas about the symbolic relationship between quilombos (societies of escaped, formerly enslaved people), the Black experience and Black subjectivity in the Americas inspire us to reconsider the politics of race, gender, space and territoriality from a Latin American Black woman’s perspective. Her writing maps the cartographies of Black women’s geographies in the Americas from the perspective of Brazil, focusing on the unique experience of Brazilian Blackness as it relates to the body, culture, nation, spirituality and ancestrality.
Beatriz Nascimento was born in Aracaju, Sergipe on 12 July 1942. As a child she moved with her family to Cordovil, in Rio de Janeiro. She studied history and communication in Rio de Janeiro, completing graduate studies at Fluminense Federal University (UFF) in 1981. As a historian, her research incorporated a broad range of topics, but she focused most extensively on the history of quilombos. Nascimento played a significant role in Black activism in Brazil from the 1960s to the early 1990s, particularly as a member of the Unified Black Movement. She participated in, and helped organise, various Black student activist organisations. On 28th January 1995 she was murdered while defending a friend against an abusive partner.
Dangerously writing at the height of Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985), Beatriz Nascimento played an integral role in the consolidation of the contemporary Black political movement in Brazil. Although she published only relatively few articles during her life, her ideas are a key part of the Black intellectual tradition in the Americas. As a Black woman and historian, she intervened in the question of how to write Brazilian history, for instance in her vital essay, “For a History of Black People” [Por uma história do homem negro]. Her essays on Brazilian politics and the racist structures of Brazilian society include “The Black woman in the Labor Market” [A mulher negra no Mercado de trabalho], “Towards Racial Consciousness” [Acerca da consciência racial] and “Black people and racism” [“O Negro e racism”]. She was also a prolific poet, and her collaboration on and narration of the film Orî, directed by Raquel Gerber, is a key part of her legacy. A project of translating and editing of her work in English is underway, with a first collection of essays and poems published in Antipode in 2021 (link below).
Her most significant body of work is to be found in her theorisation of quilombo. These writings articulate a visionary understanding of trans-Atlantic Black subjectivity from a South/South, woman-centered, non-anglophone perspective. Beatriz Nascimento’s research and writing on quilombo was particularly important to the debates about quilombo in the 1970s and 1980s. However, her contributions have been undervalued and understudied. She theorised quilombo around the themes of territoriality, toponymy, memory, space, and time. She was one of the foremost early theorisers of quilombo as a socio‐political (and not just historical) concept of Black space and Black liberation, and a critical voice in a political dialogue around this subject in Brazil in her lifetime. Beatriz Nascimento developed the idea of the quilombo as a multi‐sited territorialisation of Black space from the favela, to the baile Blacks (Black dance parties), to the terreiro (candomblé ritual house), and actual “remnant quilombo communities”. She suggests that the idea of the quilombo as an ideological front against colonisation and slavocracy permeated Brazil throughout the end of the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries—the height of liberation movements across the Americas. Rumours and myths about utopic independent African encampments motivated insurrection and resistance among the enslaved.
Her writings on these questions have been collected in two selections of essays in Portuguese. Anthropologist and cultural geographer Alex Ratts published the first, Eu Sou Atlântica in 2007 and it remains the most important contribution to contemporary knowledge about Beatriz Nascimento. The second, Beatriz Nascimento: Quilombola e Intelectual: Possibilidade nos dias de destruição [Beatriz Nascimento: Quilombola and Intellectual: Possibility in the days of destruction] was published by the União dos Coletivos Pan-Africanistas in 2018.
Essential Reading and Watching
Ratts, Alex. Eu sou atlântica: sobre a trajetória de vida de Beatriz Nascimento. Imprensa Oficial, 2006
Smith, Christen. Davies, Archie and Gomes, Bethânia. 2021. ‘“In Front of the World”: Translating Beatriz Nascimento.’ Antipode. 53.1:279-316. Animation can be accessed here.
Ôrí, dir. Raquel Gerber, narrated Beatriz Nascimento, Angra Filmes, 1989.
Smith, Christen Anne. “Towards a Black Feminist Model of Black Atlantic Liberation: Remembering Beatriz Nascimento.” Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism, vol. 14 no. 2, 2016, pp. 71-8
Beatriz Nascimento Archive: http://arquivonacional.gov.br/br/component/tags/tag/maria-beatriz-nascimento
Nascimento, Beatriz. Todas (as) distâncias: poemas, aforismos e ensaios de Beatriz Nascimento. Org. Alex Ratts and Bethania Gomes. Salvador: Editora Ogum. Toque Negros, 2015.
Nascimento, Beatriz. Beatriz Nascimento: intelectual e quilombola. Possibilidade nos dias de destruição. Org. União dos Colectivos Pan-Africanistas. Editora Filhos da África, 2018.
How does Beatriz Nascimento’s work change our understanding of the relationship between historical and contemporary struggles for freedom?
What is particular about Black Latin American women’s perspectives on the world?
Submitted by Archie Davies, Christen Smith and Bethânia Gomes