18-year-old Andréa Bak uses poetry to address prejudice in Brazil

Andréa Bak performing her piece “Perifa Zumbi,” for Malala Yousafzai during her July 2018 visit to Brazil. (Courtesy of McKinley Tretler / Malala Fund)

Andréa Bak performing her piece “Perifa Zumbi,” for Malala Yousafzai during her July 2018 visit to Brazil. (Courtesy of McKinley Tretler / Malala Fund)

Watch the emerging slam poet’s original performance of “Perifa Zumbi.”

At age 18, Andréa Bak is already making a name for herself in Rio de Janeiro as an artist, singer and slam poet. The chemistry student’s work confronts racism and violence against Afro-Brazilians and challenges “what the system tries to hide: genocidal structure and the history of diaspora" in Brazil.

Vivid and gripping, many of Andréa’s pieces are influenced by the time she spends with the women running Rede Nami, an organisation that holds graffiti classes to help women find their voice and fight for their rights. Their workshops combine art lessons with discussions about the most pressing issues affecting women in the country — racism, sexism and domestic violence. In 2017, Andréa started attending their #AfroGrafiteiras workshops for Afro-Brazilian girls and women.

“The #AfroGrafiteiras program taught me a lot — it worked on my process of self-knowledge and self-acceptance,” Andréa explains. “Each step in the project made me stronger, from the lectures [on black feminism] to the practical workshops on the walls. It was very enriching for me and I’m very grateful.”

Andréa began to emerge on the slam poetry scene in Rio at the same time that she started attending Rede Nami workshops. She gained attention in the poetry community for her powerful pieces about feminism and her experience as an Afro-Brazilian woman.

Andréa’s poetry is reaching new levels of fame. She was a finalist of “Slam das Minas/RJ,” a spoken word contest for girls and women in Rio. In July 2018, Andréa performed an original piece, “Perifa Zumbi,” for Malala Yousafzai during her visit to Brazil. The poem is a rallying cry for Afro-Brazilians to overcome the decades of disenfranchisement they have experienced in the aftermath of slavery. Andréa is currently part of the rap group, “Nefetaris Vandal,” and the feminist slam poetry initiative, “Slam das Minas.”

When she’s not creating graffiti murals or performing her poetry, Andréa is studying chemistry at school. A passionate advocate for education, Andréa participated in the 2016 school occupation protests in Brazil to guarantee every student the right to a quality public education. Andréa plans to become a doctor after being inspired by Marcos and Bianca, a doctor and dentist from her school, Instituto Federal do Rio de Janeiro (IFRJ). Through Rede Nami, Andréa received a scholarship to take a class at Parque Lage Visual Art School, one of the most prestigious art institutions in Rio. Thanks to a free programme from Instituto Brasil-Estados Unidos (IBEU), a U.S. Embassy binational center, she is also learning English.

Andréa believes in the power of education and art “as a medium of change” — and is passionate about using poetry to connect with younger generations. She hopes that her slam poetry performances encourage children across Rio’s favelas to become politically engaged and fight against social injustices in Brazil.

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McKinley Tretler is communications manager at Malala Fund. She’s on the hunt for the perfect Oreo milkshake and to befriend Mindy Kaling