Weudson Ribero's new photobook 'Black Girl Power' is shining a light on black female identity and LGBT women of color in Brazil.
Brasilia-based photographer, journalist and political scientist Weudson Ribero is known for his images celebrating Brazilian queer culture. In his latest series, Superafro: BLACK GIRL POWER, Ribero documents Brazilian LGBT women who proudly express their sexuality and their blackness as a political statement...
Tell us about Black Girl Power and what you wanted to document, not only regarding black female identity, but that of LGBT women of color.
With Superafro: BLACK GIRL POWER, I intend to document the huge diversity within the Afro-Brazilian spectrum, celebrate the beauty of women of color and, hopefully, make a positive difference in the fight for freedom and equality by raising awareness of issues that affect the reality of black people in Brazil, since we live in a society moulded by racism, pigmentocracy, disenfranchisement and sexism. With the phenomenal rise of feminism amongst young women and a greater access to information provided by digital inclusion, I notice females feel more encouraged to wear their hair natural, or as they will, express their sexuality and reject euphemisms employed to address Afro features as though Negroid was a burden.
How did you find the woman to shoot?
It all starts with a good conversation. I take to the streets every weekend and pretty much approach anyone who seems friendly.
Where in Brazil were the pictures taken and over what sort of time period?
I'm based in Brasília -- most of the characters were shot here. However, I met some of them during a trip to Rio de Janeiro. I started taking the pictures two years ago, but the idea to make them a portfolio came after a conversation I had with American ethnographer Yaba Blay, who I profiled for a local newspaper last year.
What do the women of your pictures represent?
Those women represent the stand against the odds of a judgemental society. Personally, meeting such beautiful and smart black women was a watershed. Being the only son of mixed-race parents, I had a hard time understanding and accepting my own blackness. It's a problem that affects the vast majority of Brazilians as a result of our highly mixed ethnic backgrounds. So, as in the womb, this series marks to me a rebirth as a proud black LGBT man, after 24 years struggling with my racial identity.
You talk of these women 'taking a stand to own their blackness as a political statement' Can you expand on this?
Caucasian features are the universal epitome of beauty. This impacts on the way blacks and whites perceive one another. Two years ago I asked myself, "How does this context affect the self-perception of women?" While making an informal investigation, I met people who told me they would feel hampered by a standard they could never fit into. Standing proudly in their own blackness was their way out of the system that "imprisoned them," as most of them put it. Their courage and confidence show other people struggling with self-acceptance that being black is beautiful, despite what the world has taught.
How has history fed into some of the issues facing Brazilian black women? Brazil was the biggest importer of slaves during the 1500s, its history is very rooted in that experience.
After El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala, and Russia, Brazil is the country in which most murders are committed against women. The debate on violence against women can't solely focus on domestic aggression. There is also the issue of violation of gender. Cases of corrective rape show one of the most hideous forms of violence against women in Brazil. Unfortunately, because the victims are blamed first, most of the reported cases of sexual assault against lesbians are those in which they were exposed to HIV by their abusers. Then there's the experience of transgender women, who aren't even acknowledged by the statistics -- they are minorities within a minority. The good news is that in order to reinforce their resistance, a bond has been created between activists of both the LGBT and the black communities.
What is the cultural or social experience for contemporary black and brown LGBTQ women in Brazil?
This generation is more tolerant. Even those who come from more conservative backgrounds won't face homophobia the same way their parents possibly did. Things have progressed in the past couple of years, although homo-trans-lesbophobia hasn't quite vanished. The affectionate relationship between a lesbian couple played by two old ladies in a novella last year bothered a lot of people who planned to -- and did -- boycott the show. In general, sexuality isn't a defining factor for women to make friends, so it's perfectly normal for straight girls to hang out with LGBT people. For males, on the other hand, it's more difficult to establish a solid interpersonal relationship with those of a different sexual orientation, unless they share many mutual interests.
Despite being a growing economic force, Brazil is still beset by a number of social and political problems; poverty, homelessness, corrupt police, local governments etc. How does this affect the black gay community, and women specifically?
The wage gap between white men and black women is huge in Brazil. Female workers are paid far less than a white male of the same education and age group. Rates of unemployment amongst white women are around 9%, while black females make up more than 12% of the jobless population. That says a lot.
How do you hope things might change and improve for young black gay Brazilian women in the next decade or so, and how can these changes happen?
The country's National Day Of Black Consciousness has become more and more popular over the last decade. Also, a radical change occurred in the Brazilian university system: a law approved in 2012 reserves 50% of spots in Brazil's federal universities for students coming from public schools, low-income families and who are of African or indigenous descent -- that means more access to higher education. Women have become more politically vocal. There's been a new surge in Afro-Brazilian pride, as more black people in the country begin to embrace their African ancestry. Gay couples are now allowed to marry and adopt children. Some people endowed with political power want to restrain the rights of such minorities from expanding, but after years of military dictatorship, I'm sure the active work of feminists, artists, photographers, and everyday people will add in the fight to put an end to years of oppression.
You're a photographer, journalist and political scientist; what do you want to say with the work you make?
Above all of that, I'm a storyteller who wants to inspire others the same way I have been inspired by the people I look up to. I'm committed to creating something beautiful and intelligible. If, at some point, I thrive at making a difference, then I'll be happy. Plus, I feel glad to be part of a global generation that, politically and artistically, is paving the ways for a better future.
It's International Women's Day. Who is the most amazing woman you know?
Miss Grotke, duh. And Daria Morgendorffer.
See more of Weudson Ribero's work here.
Text Hattie Collins