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Abdias do Nascimento

Abdias do Nascimento

(1914-2011)

Abdias do Nascimento was a Brazilian painter, politician, scholar, and civil rights leader. He advocated for the rights of Black Brazilians and was vocal about racial discrimination in Brazil through both his art and his political activism. Nascimento was born in March 1914 in Franca, San Paulo, Brazil. Brazil had been a major importer of African slaves during the slave trade and did not abolish slavery until 1888. As the grandson of slaves, Nascimento observed the racial hierarchy established in the country from an early age. He joined the civil rights movement, the Brazilian Black Front, as a teenager.

In 1944 he founded the Black Experimental Theater in Rio De Janeiro to celebrate African influences in Brazilian culture. The theater trained black actors as a form of resistance against the use of white actors in blackface and sponsored various civil rights events. The following year, Nascimento helped found and organize the Afro-Brazilian Democratic Committee, which fought for the release of political prisoners. He established the Museum of Black Arts in 1968 shortly before going into self-imposed exile following a military coup d’état in 1964. During his exile, he lived in the United States and Nigeria and remained active in Pan-African affairs.

While living in the United States, Nascimento began to paint. His works encompassed various Afro-Brazilian religious and cultural themes, using varied shapes and forms to express ideas of freedom, expression, and transcendence. His paintings were exhibited throughout the United States, featured in galleries including the Harlem Art Gallery in New York, the Crypt Gallery of Columbia University in New York, and The Gallery of African Art in Washington, D.C. He also worked as a professor, serving as a visiting lecturer at Yale University and visiting fellow at the Wesleyan Center for the Humanities. Nascimento also served as a professor at the University at Buffalo, where he founded the African Cultures in the Puerto Rican Studies program.

He helped found the Democratic Labor Party of Brazil while still in exile, and upon his return in the 1980s, he was elected to serve as a congressman and senator under the party in the 1980s and 1990s.Nascimento remained politically active and outspoken until the end of his life. He died in May 2011 in Rio de Janeiro at the age of 97.