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Selling Black Brazil

Selling Black Brazil
Race, Nation, and Visual Culture in Salvador, Bahia

This book explores visual portrayals of Blackness in Brazil to reveal the integral role of visual culture in crafting race and nation across Latin America.

Series: Pachita Tennant Pike Excellence Endowment

January 2022
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336 pages | 6 x 9 |

In the early twentieth century, Brazil shifted from a nation intent on whitening its population to one billing itself as a racial democracy. Anadelia Romo shows that this shift centered in Salvador, Bahia, where throughout the 1950s, modernist artists and intellectuals forged critical alliances with Afro-Brazilian religious communities of Candomblé to promote their culture and their city. These efforts combined with a growing promotion of tourism to transform what had been one of the busiest slaving depots in the Americas into a popular tourist enclave celebrated for its rich Afro-Brazilian culture. Vibrant illustrations and texts by the likes of Jorge Amado, Pierre Verger, and others contributed to a distinctive iconography of the city, with Afro-Bahians at its center. But these optimistic visions of inclusion, Romo reveals, concealed deep racial inequalities. Illustrating how these visual archetypes laid the foundation for Salvador’s modern racial landscape, this book unveils the ways ethnic and racial populations have been both included and excluded not only in Brazil but in Latin America as a whole.

  • Preface
  • Glossary
  • Introduction: Race, Identity, and Visual Culture in the Americas
  • Chapter 1. Precedents and Backdrops: Racial Types and Modern Ports
  • Chapter 2. Colonial Churches and the Rise of the Quintessential Black City: Modernism, Travel, and the Pathbreaking Guide of Jorge Amado
  • Chapter 3. Pierre Verger and the Construction of a Black Folk, 1946–1951
  • Chapter 4. Festive Streets: Carybé and Bahian Modernism
  • Chapter 5. “Human and Picturesque”: Consolidation in the Bahian Tourist Guides of the 1950s
  • Chapter 6. All Roads Lead to Black Rome: How the Religion of “Secrets” Became a Tourist Attraction
  • Epilogue
  • Acknowledgments
  • Appendix
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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.


"This is a beautifully written, carefully researched, and eminently readable book. Ana Romo takes an innovative approach to understanding the intertwined subjects of race and regional identity in Brazil through a focus on travel and tourist guides to Bahia. These guides provide the basis for a rich social history and visual-culture analysis through their words and images, and Romo's recognition of their value as illuminating historical records while also reckoning with their often-negative cultural and discursive influence is one of the book’s many strengths."
Tamara J. Walker, University at Toronto, author of Exquisite Slaves: Race, Clothing and Status in Colonial Lima

"The photographer and ethnographer Pierre Verger, the visual artist Carybé, and the novelist Jorge Amado are three of the most fascinating and consequential figures in Bahian history. It is a treat to see deep analysis of the work of each of these figures in consolidating Bahia as a mecca for cultural tourism. Romo not only explicates their work, she reveals the deep connections between them, along with their influence in creating and defining mid-twentieth-century Bahia’s cultural scene. She reveals how a secondary city beset by economic decline reemerged as the Black Rome of Latin America—and the costs and benefits of that transformation. As Romo demonstrates, Bahia’s reinvention was both inclusive and essentialist. It relied on displays of Black Bahian cultural prowess, but at the same time, it largely marginalized most Black Bahians, excluding them from economic and political power. Romo demonstrates that Carybé deliberately drew from Verger’s photographs in creating his own images and retraced Verger’s footsteps in the field. This makes the enduring teacher-student relationship between them manifest for the first time. Romo also explains how their influence became pervasive, tracing the many uses of Verger’s photographs and Carybé’s drawings, paintings, and sculptures in mid-twentieth-century Brazil and beyond."
Bryan McCann, Georgetown University, coauthor of Latin America in the Modern World

"Students of visual culture everywhere will want to engage with the fascinating insights of Selling Black Brazil.  Through a critical analysis of travel-guide illustrations, Anadelia A. Romo explores the role of modernist artists in constructing an image of Salvador da Bahia as the heart of “Black Brazil” and the incarnation of the nation’s purported racial democracy.  But she also shows us how this embrace of Blackness relied on folkloric figures and “types” that obscured the inequalities that still define everyday life in Salvador."
Barbara Weinstein, NYU, author of The Color of Modernity: São Paulo and the Making of Race and Nation in Brazil