Black Sorcerer, circa 1839, Jean Baptiste Debret, Watercolor. Source: Biblioteca Nacional do Rio de Janeiro.
Ana Paulina Lee
In 20th century Rio de Janeiro, police and local authorities addressed “black magic practices” through surveillance and regulation that were related to new cartographic and discursive imaginaries of urban reform and segregation.
Police raids were a common occurrence, and journalists who wrote about sorcerers and sorcery activities participated in a discursive mapping of Rio de Janeiro’s new urban imaginaries. This talk reconstructs the discourse of sorcery by bringing together a set of documents that span across legal, scientific, policing, visual and literary representation. Accusations of sorcery represented a spectacle in which ideas adapted from eugenics and racial science to urban planning and capitalist modernity were enacted to monitor the diverse activities of women, immigrants, and Afro-Brazilian spirituality under the assumption that their practices constituted black magic. Equally important, sorcery scenes present an important set of counter-narratives that demonstrate the ways in which urban residents deployed strategic performances as sorcerers to contest sociolegal inventions that treated their bodies and activities to be heterodox and inadequate for secular urban modernity.
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