“Images are needed to recover identity. We have to become visible, because one person’s face is the reflection of the other, one person’s body is the reflection of the other, and in every one is the reflection of all bodies.” With these and other grand narrative reflections, Beatriz Nascimento and Raquel Gerber weave, in Ôri, a singular poetic, the key of which is the active dialogue between two practices that to Western eyes appear to be irreconcilable: ancestrality and politics. At the same time, it is exactly from out of the ancestrally sacred, the Afro-Brazilian religious practices and the intellectual and political organising of what we know as Black movements in Brazil in the 1970s, that questions about the identity, bodies and culture of a diasporic continent emerged.
It is not by accident that Ôri — a Yoruban term that, among other uses in Afro-Brazilian culture, means “cabeça [head]” — produces so many reverberations across the film. “Fazer a cabeça”, for practitioners of candomblé, has to do with initiation. In popular Brazilian culture, through direct influence from Black culture, to “fazer a cabeça” of someone means to influence their decision making. I consciously decide to reject the negative usage conferred on this expression by racism, instead uplifting its original meanings: essence, intuition and power. The film presents this dimension of initiation and collaborative influence between both traditions: ancestral and political. The concept of quilombo [settlement of enslaved people] that Beatriz Nascimento presents, articulated with the search for identity, is the central thread of the grounds on which these images are reappropriated. In the same way as — and as a consequence of — the liberation battles of Black people, which “fazer a cabeça” of a youth establishing its territory, recovering knowledge about the land and retaking identity.
The idea of transmigration, in an Afrodiasporic context associated with the quilombo, evokes an awareness of the reinvention and resistance of cultures who found themselves in exile, in the “non-place” of dislocation from one continent to another, in the eminent “disappearance of their image”. In the same way, Beatriz rehabilitates the figure of Zumbi as a civilising hero of Black culture. A kind of guide to a circular history that orients past-present-future, he inspires and awakens consciences, establishing new meanings of the nation. In his formulations about the psychic impact of experiences of racism, the Martinican intellectual Franz Fanon reminds us that in the division and hierarchy of “humanity” imposed by the colonial project, there is a “zone of non-being”, in his words, “an extraordinarily sterile and arid region, an utterly naked declivity where an authentic upheaval can be born”. In Ôri, an explosion is presented, fascinatingly, as a repositioning of the image of the Black person. From political organisation to a recognition of the beauty aesthetics of rituals, both sacred and in daily life. In mobilisations, samba schools, terreiros, parties, in the many expressions of celebration and organisation of cultural and political resistance in countries founded in the diaspora, in the dialectic with the Atlantic.
Beatriz Nascimento is the narrator, spectator and protagonist of her time. An intellectual who emerged from the militancy of the Black movement and who, through her own search for and recovery of her diasporic image, made singular contributions to Brazilian social thinking. When she affirms that she is “Atlantic”, Beatriz asserts that her body is the connecting link to the fragmented history of a civilisation and “a way of being in the world” that was “transported” from one continent to another. The movement to recover the image of a transatlantic nation does not diminish, according to her, the pain of the historical body, but recuperates and defends its identity, its subjectivities and its social and political organisations.
The complex paths of memory of the diasporic body are indissociable from the thinking and political organising of its time. Ôri associates reflections and exercises in visual and epistemic decolonisation, contradicting hegemonically established discourse about the Black population in Brazil. Through these experiences, culture and identity become embedded in the continent, become re-signified, reappearing in colours, sounds and words that depict the experience of “revealing” an image that had been thought lost in exile. Through an aesthetic that positions itself on the borders of places where identity and belonging are established and re-established, Beatriz Nascimento and Raquel Gerber seem to suggest to us that the quilombo, ancestrality and political organisation are Ôri, the head.
In the movement of histories established in the Atlantic, one of the keys to reading this film is the affirmation that overarches the whole narrative: the movement is dialectic, and the dialectic is found in the deepest, most intense guiding force, the sea.
Ellen Lima Wassu
Ellen Lima Wassu is an indigenous poet, activist and researcher. She holds a Master of Arts and a PhD in Comparative Modernities: Literatures, Arts and Cultures from Universidade do Minho. In 2021, she published Ixé ygara voltando pra ’y’kûa, a book of poetry written in Portuguese and Old Tupi, and she has published texts in various literary magazines and anthologies. Her practice in the fields of art, culture and literature brings together poetry, performance, anti-colonial studies and essay writing.