Addressing the call to action in the article “Why We Need Afrolatin@ Theatre,” this series by Jelisa Jay Robinson highlights many outstanding Afrolatin@ theatre artists around the United States who diligently offer the world their art.
I met Gustavo Melo Cerqueira in Rio de Janiero, Brazil in 2012. He was the brilliant and resourceful teaching assistant for the study abroad program I was part of and my supervisor for the research project I completed while in Brazil. I remember my entire cohort being captured by his passion for the African Diaspora and theatrical talent. We later found that Cerqueira was a seasoned actor and activist whose work has been seen internationally in the Portugal, the United States, and Brazil. He has acted in television shows and films, written plays, and fought for the recognition of Afro-Brazilian artists. His work shows how performance and activism are connected.
Gustavo Cerqueira’s acting journey began surprisingly after he finished law school in 1998. “I started to work with theatre a few months before graduation, so I’ve never worked professionally as a lawyer,” states Cerqueira. While he never defended a witness on the stand, Cerqueira’s passion for theatre took over after he graduated. The first professional play he performed in was in his hometown of Salvador, Bahia, at Teatro Vila Vilha. From there, he began to appear in films and television shows such as Sabor da Paixão and Um Anjo Caiu do Céu on TV Globo, plays, and even ventured into playwriting. “I also wrote a play on my own, which I also directed: OriBe-saga de um Herói que confrontou a Morte, which premiered in 2010 in Nova Iguaçu,” Cerqueira informs. The play was held by INDEC (Instituto de Desenvolvimento Cultural do Ilé Omiojuaro), a Brazilian NGO that fights against racial, sexual, gender, and religious discrimination.
As Afrolatina/o art continues to shape our artistic landscape, I am often curious about how identity plays a part in the work artists do. When asked how has identity has played into his art, Cerqueira replied “Which one?” and listed the host of identities that he carries. It can be easy to get caught up in racial, national, sexual, and gender discussions; yet Cerqueira has something interesting to say about that. “In any case, I live on the edge of knowing that I am not the identities I carry on me and at the same time, I am defined by them,” he states. “I understand identity as a strategic position you take based on how others see you and how you manage to alter, combat, engage with, or simply accept it. In other words, I usually do not confound myself with my identities, but I am in constant—and many times tense—dialogue with them.” Being in constant dialogue with several identities is something that many artists of color face when producing work.