Abdias do Nascimento rua Benjamin Constant,
55 apt. 1104,
Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 20241-150, Brasil, 
tel. 55-21-2507-8051 fax. 55-21-2242-0619 
e-Mail: larkin3@ig.com.br 
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Abdias do Nascimento
Biographical Sketch

Nelson Nobrega,
Portrait of the artist
as a Young Man
(Sao Paulo,1968)

Abdias do Nascimento is Professor Emeritus of the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he in 1971 he founded the chair in African Cultures in the New World, Puerto Rican Studies Program, Department of American Studies. He was Visiting Lecturer at Yale University’s School of Drama (1969-70); Visiting Fellow at the Center for Humanities, Wesleyan University (1970-71); Visiting Professor at the Department of African Languages and Literatures, University of Ife, Ile-Ife, Nigeria (1976-1977); Visiting Professor at the African-American Studies Department at Temple University (1990-91). He holds honorary Ph.D.s from the State University of Rio de Janeiro and the Federal University of Bahia. 

Born in the town of Franca, State of São Paulo, in March 1914, Nascimento is the grandson of enslaved Africans. His father was a cobbler and a musician; his mother made and catered sweets and candies. He received his B. A. in Economics from the University of Rio de Janeiro in 1938, and post-graduate degrees from the Higher Institute of Brazilian Studies  (1957) and the Oceanography Institute (1961).

Nascimento participated early in Brazil’s equivalent of the civil rights movement, the Brazilian Black Front (São Paulo, 1929-30). He led the organization of the Afro-Campineiro Congress, a meeting of Brazilian blacks to protest discrimination in the city of Campinas in 1938. 

In 1944, he founded the Black Experimental Theater (TEN), first Afro-Brazilian organization to link the struggle for civil and human rights with the recovery and valorization of African cultural heritage. Denouncing segregation in Brazilian theater, in particular the practice of black-facing white actors to play dramatic roles, the TEN offered basic literacy, general culture and theater courses for Afro-Brazilian domestic servants and workers. Thus the TEN trained and launched and opened the way for black actors and actresses in Brazilian theater. It also propitiated the creation of dramatic literature focusing on African culture and on the Afro-Brazilian life experience.

Aside from its theater work, the TEN sponsored seminal events such as the National Black Convention, held in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in 1945-46, which formulated anti-discrimination and affirmative policy measures and presented them to the Constituent Assembly of 1946. The TEN also sponsored the First Congress of Brazilian Blacks (Rio de Janeiro, 1950).

Nascimento was a key organizer of the Afro-Brazilian Democratic Committee (1945-46) and edited the newspaper Quilombo (1949-1951).

In 1968, he founded the Museum of Black Art in Rio de Janeiro, which held its inaugural exhibit at the Museum of Image and Sound. Shortly thereafter, he left the country, exiled from the military dictatorship for 13 years (1968-1981). During this period, Nascimento participated in countless African world events sponsored by African-American organizations in the United States. He was active in international Pan-African affairs, participating in the 6th Pan-African Congress (Dar-es-Salaam, 1974), the Encounter on African World Alternatives/ First Congress of the African Writers’ Union (Dakar, 1976), and the First and Second Congresses of Black Culture in the Americas (Cali, Colombia, 1977 and Panama, 1980), and was elected Vice-President and Coordinator of the Third Congress of Black Culture in the Americas.

Also during this period, he developed his artwork on Afro-Brazilian religious and cultural themes, exhibiting widely  in the United States, in galleries, museums, and universities such as the Studio Museum in Harlem, Yale University, Howard University, the Museum of the Afro-American Artists’ Association, Ile-Ife Museum of Philadelphia, and many others (see attached list of exhibitions).

On return to Brazil in 1981, he founded the Afro-Brazilian Studies and Research Institute (IPEAFRO), which sponsored the 3rd Congress of Black Culture in the Americas (São Paulo, 1982) and the National Seminar on 100 Years of Namibia’s Struggle for Independence (Rio de Janeiro, 1984), organized by IPEAFRO in conjunction with SWAPO and the United Nations. IPEAFRO also created the teachers’ training and cultural extension course Sankofa: Consciousness of African Culture in Brazil, held at the Catholic University of São Paulo in 1983-84 and at the State University of Rio de Janeiro from 1984 to 1995.

Co-founder from exile of the Democratic Labor Party (PDT), during the political liberalization period (1981-85) he spearheaded the organization of the Black Movement within the Party.

Candidate in the first elections after the military dictatorship, he took office in 1983 as the first Afro-Brazilian Congressman to defend his community's cause in the Brazilian national legislature. In Parliament, he introduced proposals for effective anti-discrimination legislation and presented the first bills of law proposing affirmative action. Serving on the Foreign Relations Committee, he led the Congress in articulating and proposing anti-Apartheid measures, supporting ANC in South Africa and the Namibian independence movement led by SWAPO, and urging Brazil to break diplomatic ties with the Apartheid regime.

He participated in regional and international United Nations Conferences in support of the Namibian People’s Struggle for Independence (San Jose, Costa Rica, 1983; New York, 1984).

Co-founder in 1980 of the Memorial Zumbi, a national organization bringing together Afro-Brazilian civil and human rights groups from all over the country, he served as its President from 1989 to 1998.

In 1988, he gave the inaugural lecture in the W.E.B. DuBois Annual Lecture Series at the Pan-African Cultural Centre in Accra. In 1989, he served as UNESCO consultant for theater in Angola.  He participated in the International Directorate of FESPAC, the Pan-African Festival of Culture, and of the Gorée Memorial, both seated in Dakar, Senegal. He was also on the international founding board of the Institute of Black Peoples, founded in 1987 in Burkina Faso with support from UNESCO.

In 1991, he became the first Afro-Brazilian Senator to dedicate his mandate to the promotion of the African-Brazilian people, and was appointed head of the newly created Secretariat for the Defense and Promotion of Afro-Brazilian Peoples, Government of Rio de Janeiro State, in which he served until 1994. In January 1999, after his term of office in the Senate was completed, he was appointed Rio de Janeiro State Secretary for Human Rights and Citizenship (1999-2000).

In 1995, he served as Patron of the Continental Congress of Black People of the Americas, held at the Latin American Parliament in São Paulo, commemorating the Third Centennial of Zumbi of Palmares on November 20.

From 1996 to 2001, he participated as co-author and speaker in the Comparative Human Relations Initiative (CHRI): Brazil, South Africa and the United States, organized by the Southern Education Foundation, a project that involved organized civil society in those countries in the articulation of a series of meetings, publications and events under the general title “Beyond Racism.”

He participated in the Brazilian national organizational process of the 3rd World Conference Against Racism and was Keynote Speaker at the NGO Forum of that Conference, held in Durban, South Africa, September 2001.

He has published many books, some in English, and edited two journals, Afrodiaspora (1983-86) and Thoth (1997-1999) (see attached list of publications). His play Sortilege (Black Mystery), staged in Rio de Janeiro in 1957 after several years’ repression by police censorship, was also produced in English at the State University of New York at Buffalo, in 1971, and at the Inner City Cultural Center of Los Angeles in 1975. His volume of poetry is entitled Asés of Blood and Hope: Orikis.

Since his return to Brazil from exile in 1981, he has exhibited his artwork at the Ministry of Culture’s Sergio Milliet Gallery (Rio de Janeiro, 1982), the Ministry of Education and Culture headquarters (Palácio Gsustavo Capanema, Rio de Janeiro, 1988), the seat of the National Congress (Brasíilia, 1997), and the Debret Gallery in Paris (1998).

 

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