Carolina Maria de Jesus in 1960, in a photo for the magazine O Cruzeiro. Photos: Henri Ballot / O Cruzeiro Magazine
Carolina Maria de Jesus in 1960, in a photo for the magazine O Cruzeiro. Photos: Henri Ballot / O Cruzeiro Magazine

*By Lucia Gomes

One Morning
possible reality
an honesty
naked humanity
A dump in papers
a piece of hunger
Corroded a system and went up
Well done Caroline!!!
(Larissa Luz)

I. Mismatching inventories

The life and work of Brazilian writer Carolina Maria de Jesus reach us this September through the exhibition Carolina Maria de Jesus: a Brazil for Brazilians, Moreira Salles Institute (IMS) of São Paulo, curated by the anthropologist Hélio Menezes, by the historian Raquel Barreto, and having as curator assistant the art historian Luciara Ribeiro. Exhibitions like this present the possibilities of dialogues between the literary art of black authors and the exhibition spaces beyond a biographical perspective. Thinking about the work of this author makes it possible to go beyond the story of her own life, because, in the exercise of her poetics, in the gaps, in the scraps of the papers, in the wefts of the embroidery drawn from her letters, written in the lines of various times, Carolina Maria de Jesus presents us with a portrait of Brazil, framed in colonial remnants and urban conflicts.

The exposure Carolina Maria de Jesus: a Brazil for Brazilians is composed of approximately 15 thematic cores, woven between words and images. In this expographic narrative, the limiting framework of the aestheticization of poverty in the face of the existence of a black woman is broken and a Carolina Maria de Jesus prevails, who wore pearl necklaces, wore elegant clothes, traveled by plane, appeared on a TV program with her children. and daughter. Accessing these other images by the author moves us to a reflection on the power of images and how they can humanize us:

He had forgotten the power of ingrained imagery and stylish language to seduce, reveal, control. I had also forgotten his ability to help us continue the human project, which is to remain human and prevent the dehumanization and exclusion of others. (MORRISON, 2019, p. 62)

Subverting white canons, Carolina's prose and poetry are an epistemic foundation for thinking about Brazilian society and realizing that socioeconomic inequalities and racism, for example, which the writer pointed out in the 20th century, are still present in the 21st century. And, given this Brazilian sociocultural structure, we have not yet built concrete strategies to eradicate these ills from our social fabric.

Carolina's work is also a cultural heritage of our time, among so many possible heritages. Here, I am not thinking of heritage only as a category of State in the formation of national identities, but a heritage from a perspective of love, as an action that allows us to advance in a constant struggle for freedom. For, as the poet Maya Angelou put it: “[…] I use the word love as a condition so strong that it may well be what keeps the stars in their places in the firmament and makes the blood flow disciplined through our veins”. (ANGELOU, 2018) Carolina’s writings restore bodies considered “disposable” of humanity, that is, disposable of memories, subjectivities, individualities and their complexities of being and existing in the world.

II. Caroline's Letters

Carolina Maria de Jesus' lyrics are like waters that don't ask permission – Carolina enters, breaks, floods, washes and takes it away. The waters are not in a hurry, they follow their course in their time, telling us that they are the ladies of different times in the interstices between past and future, flowing into the present. Carolina's prose and poetry, following the course and course of the waters, offer us a constant reconstruction of her own existence, in a continuous flow of the eu protocols for About.

The lyrics of Carolina Maria de Jesus also refer us to the thought of the intellectual Carla Akotirene when she states: “[…] the enslaved language was politically muzzled, prevented from touching its language, drinking from its own crossed epistemic source of mind-spirit” . (AKOTIRENE, 2018, p. 16) In this sense, Carolina's literary work ungags our languages ​​and contributes to the dismantling of images and memories of oppressive control of black existences. From her writings, she becomes a reflexive subject and intends the field of language, in the power games of letters. Carolina owns her speech, owns her existence.

Carolina Maria de Jesus' lyrics are within her writing norm, as it is a spelling created “[…] inside her, in her viscera and living tissues — I call this organic writing. […]”. (ANZALDÚA, 2000, p. 234) Carolina's work displaces words, turning them into living organisms, with which she reveals the hardships of being a poor black woman, resident of the Canindé favela, a single mother, carrying out a work of social disrepute. However, it is with her own writing that she tells us: her existence was not reduced to this marginalized condition, it did not limit her dreaming, nor her thinking to herself and the world around her. It is with her own rules of writing that Carolina fables the possibilities of reinventing her surroundings.

The lyrics of Carolina Maria de Jesus crossed the Atlantic Ocean and, on the other side, flowed into Afro-Diasporic dialogues materialized in the book letters to a black woman, by the Martinican writer Françoise Ega, based in France. Carolina's work is part of a universal among the various existing universals in the world. Her words welcomed another author and made it possible for her to also become a reflective subject of herself through writing in dialogue with Carolina's lyrics.

Well, Carolina, the miseries of the poor around the world are like sisters. Everyone reads you out of curiosity, but I will never read it; everything you have written I know, and so much so that other people, however indifferent they may be, are impressed by your words. (EGA, 2021, p. 5)

Carolina Maria de Jesus is a writer of our time. Her work, in addition to continuing to make us think about Brazilian society with all its social inequalities, is an Afro-Brazilian cultural heritage that must be constantly revisited. Based on this, it is a fundamental task to unframe our perspectives on Carolina's life, prose and poetry and, for that, the exhibition Carolina Maria de Jesus: um Brasil para os Brasileiros proposes and encourages us to perceive these other existential plots of the writer. . Let us remember Carolina from her words: “Don't say that I was rubbish, that I lived on the fringes of life”.

Album Room of Eviction, 1961, by Carolina Maria de Jesus. Photo: José Ramos Tinhorão Collection / Instituto Moreira Salles Collection

AKOTIRENE, Carla. What is intersectionality? Belo Horizonte: Literacy, 2018.
ANGELOU, Maya. Mom & Me & Mom. Translation by Ana Carolina Mesquita. 1st ed. Rio de Janeiro: Rose of the Times, 2018.
ANZALDUA, Gloria. Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers. In: Journal of Feminist Studies, P. 229-236, 2000.
EGA, Francoise. Letters to a black woman. Translation by Vinícius Carneiro and Mathilde Moaty. 1st ed. São Paulo: However, 2021.
MORRISON, Tony. The origin of others: Six essays on racism and literature. Translation Fernanda Abreu; preface Ta-Nehisi Coates. 1st ed. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras.

*Luzia Gomes is a poet, black feminist, museologist and Professor of the Museology Course at the Faculty of Visual Arts of the Federal University of Pará (UFPA). She coordinates research and extension projects that deal with the literary art of black women and Museology.

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