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Creative confusions: Angelo Agostini, Brazilian slavery and the rhetoric of freedom

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Wood uses the graphic satirist Angelo Agostini in order to think about the fundamental differences that separate Brazilian abolition propaganda from the slavery propagandas produced in England and North America in the nineteenth century. He opens by setting out the fundamental elements that made Brazilian abolition different from that of the Anglo-American tradition. The lack of a North/South slave divide, the absence of women as activists, the lack of a tradition of slave narrative and the lack of any involvement from the Protestant church were all elements that contributed to a very different slavery inheritance. Wood argues that Brazilian critiques of slavery consequently contained intimate and satiric elements that were unique. He examines in detail the print satires that the Italo-Brazilian satiric lithographer Angelo Agostini produced in Rio in the decade immediately preceding the abolition law of 1888. The work that Agostini developed in the illustrated journal Revista Illustrada is shown to draw on a diverse semiotic inheritance in order to critique the shortcomings of various pieces of Brazil's slavery legislation. Wood analyses, in particular, Agostini's profound insights into the compromised nature of the Law of the Free Womb. Agostini and Brazilian print satire in general are shown to have an engagement with slavery and modernity, and with slavery and urban industrial culture, which is quite new. Wood ends by speculating on a possible connection between Agostini and William Hogarth in terms of the challenging and non-judgemental manner in which both artists were prepared to engage with the urban black populations of London in the mid-eighteenth century and Rio in the mid-nineteenth century.

Keywords: Angelo Agostini; Brazilian slavery; Law of the Free Womb; abolition; emancipation; graphic satire; slavery

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2007-07-01

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