The Brazilian state of Bahia, world-famous for its Africa-based rituals, attracts visitors year round. During its carnival a million tourists pour into its capital, Salvador, “the fountainhead of the transplanted African cultures”. Carnival is a highly choreographed event involving many different actors, coordinated costumes, and months of rehearsals. In the midst of this buoyant pageant an unusual solo show takes place, staged for an audience of one.
Raimundo Borges Falcão, an illiterate black man of an uncertain age, lives alone in a windowless wooden shack on the rural outskirts of this seaside city. The interior of his tiny home is filled floor to ceiling with materials scavenged from scrap heaps which he gradually transforms into wearable fantasies. One time a year, at carnival, this seemingly unremarkable man shines brightly. Traversing the historic center of the city on home-made roller skates, he proudly shows off the costume he has prepared for this purpose, to be worn only once. On his striking headdress, plastic dolls become glittering mermaids. Tinfoil-wrapped fish sculptures share space with a gilded seahorse and a sparkling octopus. Sequin-studded crabs extend their claws. Shoulder cape, wrap skirt and bracelets look like they were caught in a magician’s fishnet. The scepters their wearer holds up resemble those of the orixás, the African ancestor gods of Salvador whose avatars in glittering costumes hold staffs and mirrors symbolic of their powers.
Oblivious to the movements of the carnival dancers surrounding him, Borges Falcão becomes a one-man art show moving to its own rhythm. His flamboyant outfit is meaningful only to him, an eccentric at odds with the mainstream. And yet his work is firmly grounded in his culture. Yemanjá, the ever-present Yoruba goddess of oceans and "Mother of the Waters”, is venerated throughout coastal Brazil and, specifically, in Salvador. Every one of Borges Falcão’s costume sculptures looks like an altar to the deity where discarded objects become offerings. His works, like those of so many other creators in the Afro-Atlantic diaspora, hints at a collective memory of scrap heaps which in much of Africa stand for graves - portals to the realm of ancestors.