Bandits & Heroes, Poets & Saints: Popular Art of the Northeast of Brazil

The complex history and artistic expression of this region’s popular art.

Did you know that 10 times more Africans were brought in bondage into Brazil than into the United States? Did you know that the Northeast of Brazil has the largest population of those of African descent outside Africa? Do you know how deeply the African heritage has influenced the culture of present-day Brazil?

Bandits & Heroes, Poets & Saints explores how the ancient cultures of Africa blended with indigenous and colonial Portuguese traditions to form the vibrant and complex cultural mosaic of modern Brazil. Engaging photographs and works of popular art, including sculptures, paintings, prints, religious objects, toys, and booklets of poetry will draw visitors into the complex and vibrant culture of the Northeast of Brazil and introduce the festivals, heroes, and spiritual traditions that give shape and meaning to the daily lives of the Nordestinos, common people of Brazil’s Northeast.

The exhibition explores how diverse traditions come together in the region and uses work by historical and contemporary artists to illuminate a fascinating history that reaches into modern Brazil. Throughout, the exhibition explores the resilience and vitality of modern-day descendants of Africa.

Bandits & Heroes, Poets & Saints is an exhibition in three parts:
“The Land & its People” presents the complicated history of sugar plantations and African slavery in colonial Brazil. It introduces the parched backlands of the sertão and the challenging life of the vaqueiros (cowboys), retirantes (migrant workers), and the heroes of the ordinary people of the Northeast.

“Expressions of Faith” presents the rich African-Brazilian religion of Candomblé, exploring its historic African roots and its intersection with Roman Catholicism. Photographs, paintings, and sacred objects show colorful processions, festivals, and pilgrimages of these two religious traditions.

“Poetry, Celebration & Song” features literatura de cordel (literature on a string) produced by singing poets who “sell” their songs in small chapbooks in markets and fairs. Poetry, prints, and sculptures inspired by folk legends and current events signal the dynamic fusion of tradition and improvisation in the culture of the Northeast.

Throughout the exhibition, the design will make use of colorful immersive environments. Hands-on interactive, music, and video components will combine with large-scale photographs and original artifacts to show the complex history, religious devotion, and artistic expression that come together in the popular art of the Northeast of Brazil.

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Bandits & Heroes, Poets & Saints will tour from September 2015 through August 2020. Dates are subject to change; please call for current availability.

This exhibition will be awarded first to new venues, particularly those in Hawaii and Vermont.

Contact: or (800) 473-3872, ext. 208

  • September 1–October 20, 2015 Culture Lab at Mid-America Arts Alliance
    Kansas City, MO
  • November 10, 2015–January 7, 2016 Bravos Valley Museum of Natural History
    Bryan, TX
  • January 28–March 26, 2016 Ashby-Hodge Gallery of American Art
    Fayette, MO
  • April 6–May 25, 2016 Interlochen Center for the Arts
    Interlochen, MI
  • June 18–August 14, 2016 American University Museum
    Washington, DC
  • September 1–October, 2016 Kean University
    Union, NJ
  • November 10, 2016–January 7, 2017 Wyandotte County Historical Society
    Bonner Springs, KS
  • January 28–March 26, 2017 Worcester Center for Crafts
    Worcester, MA
  • April 6–May 25, 2017 University of New England Art Gallery
    Portland, ME
  • June 18–August 14, 2017
    Ocala, FL
  • September 1–October, 2017 Lyman Allyn Art Museum
    New London, CT
  • January 28–March 26, 2018
    Las Cruses, NM
  • April 6–May 25, 2018
    Alexandria, VA
  • June 18–August 14, 2018
    London, KY
  • September 1–October, 2018
    Geneseo, NY
  • November 10, 2018–January 7, 2019 Ouachita Public Library
    Monroe, LA
  • January 28–March 26, 2019
    Joplin, MO
  • April 6–May 25, 2019 -
  • June 18–August 14, 2019
    Sioux City, IA
  • September 1–October, 2019
    San Diego, CA
  • November 10, 2019–January 7, 2020 -
  • January 28–March 26, 2020
    Kansas City, MO
  • April 6–May 25, 2020 -
  • June 18–August 14, 2020 -
  • September 1–October, 2020 -

Exhibition Details & Specifications

  • Curated By

    Barbara Cervenka and Marion Jackson, directors, Con/Vida – Popular Arts of the Americas

  • Organized By

    Con/Vida – Popular Arts of the Americas and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit, MI, in partnership with Mid-America Arts Alliance
  • Content

    The exhibition will feature several freestanding units focused on thematic areas; a collection of objects, artifacts, photographs, and paper ephemera; audio/video features; interactive elements; semi-immersive environment settings; and wall-mounted banners and graphics.

  • Duration

    7 weeks

  • Rental Fee


  • Grant


  • Support

    On-site support is free to the opening venue for every new NEH on the Road exhibition and to first-time hosting venues on a limited basis.

  • Shipping:

    The maximum out of pocket shipping expense is $1,000. Exhibitor will coordinate with the M-AAA registrar for all outgoing transportation arrangements.

  • Security


  • Square Feet


  • Number of Crates/Total Weight

    21 crates and 1 tub/6,570 pounds

  • Insurance

    The exhibition is fully insured by NEH on the Road at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.