Paper, Ink, Vodun, and the Inquisition: Tracing Power in the Early Modern Portuguese-Speaking Atlantic World

In 1730, the Inquisition of Lisbon arrested José Francisco, an enslaved man raised in West Africa, who had learned in Brazil the art and craft of making amulets known as bolsas de mandinga. In their composition, use, and afterlives in the Inquisition the bolsas reveal the deep and mutually transformative spiritual and material connections that the slave trade engendered between Europeans and Africans in the early modern Atlantic World. Created and used in parallel to similar objects made elsewhere on the continent, once deemed fetishes and now considered central to the canon of African art, they waged a spirited battle against the witchcraft of the slave trade.

Cécile Fromont is an associate professor in the history of art department at Yale University. Her writing and teaching focus on the visual, material, and religious culture of Africa and Latin America with a special emphasis on the early modern period (ca 1500-1800) and on the Portuguese-speaking Atlantic World.

Her first book, The Art of Conversion: Christian Visual Culture in the Kingdom of Kongo was published in 2014 by the University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute for Early American History. It received the 2017 Arts Council of the African Studies Association Triennial Arnold Rubin Outstanding Book Award, was named the 2015 American Academy of Religion Best First Book in the History of Religions, the 2015 Albert J. Raboteau Prize for the Best Book in Africana Religions, an Honorable Mention in the 2015 Melville J. Herskovits Award of the African Studies Association, and won a College Art Association Millard Meiss Publication Fund Grant. It has been translated into French by Les Presses du Réel in 2018.

She is the editor as well as a contributor to the 2019 volume Afro-Catholic Festivals in the Americas: Performance, Representation, and the Making of Black Atlantic Tradition published in the Africana Religion Series at Penn State University Press.

Her essays on African and Latin American art have appeared, among other venues, in the Colonial Latin American Review, African Arts, Anais do Museu Paulista, RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics as well as various edited volumes and exhibition catalogues.

Support for her research and writing include grants and fellowships from the Centre for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, the Michigan Society of Fellows, the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, and the Renaissance Society of America. She is a 2018 Rome Prize fellow of the American Academy in Rome.

The Frank Davis Memorial Lecture Series is one of two annual distinguished lecture series at The Courtauld. This series was established in 1989, as a result of a bequest from the F.M. Kirby Foundation, in honour of Frank Davis, who was a critic for Country Life magazine. The bequest has allowed The Courtauld to invite internationally renowned scholars to come to the institute to speak about their work in a public forum.

6:30pm, 25 Oct 2019

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Vernon Square, Penton Rise, King’s Cross, London