Brazil's Mediums Channel Dead Artists. Is It Worship Or Just Delusion? | KERA News

Brazil's Mediums Channel Dead Artists. Is It Worship Or Just Delusion?

Aug 12, 2015
Originally published on August 14, 2015 3:53 pm

Unlike most art exhibitions, this one starts with a prayer.

A heavyset 77-year-old woman with girlishly pinned blond hair stands behind a table. An array of colored chalk and oil paints fan out in front of her. She puts her head in her hands and concentrates.

Her demeanor changes.

Then, to the sound of eerie music, she begins to draw. Her hands are nimble and decisive, and very quickly, something begins to take shape: a face with a bright green 19th century hat.

After 18 minutes and change — they timed it — she is finished. She signs the work, "Renoir."

The woman who is painting is actually called Valdelice Da Silva Dias Salum.

She tells me spirits began manifesting themselves around her when she was a child. But it wasn't until years later that it really began to get frightening, kind of like the movie Poltergeist. The TV would suddenly switch on; the radio would blare at full volume.

She says the spirits of long-dead painters were trying to make contact: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Degas.

Salum says she grew up poor and illiterate. She didn't even know who these painters were. She says she had no artistic talent. But the spirits selected her.

All this might sound odd outside Brazil, but here it is fairly common and widely accepted.

Salum follows Spiritism, which is basically a religious offshoot of the 19th century practice of communicating with the dead via table-rapping and seances. Spiritism is hugely popular in Brazil, with more than 4 million followers.

Spiritists believe in Jesus' Gospel, and in reincarnation. They believe that the dead can communicate with the living through mediums — and not only communicate, but create through the living, too.

"I don't know what they are going to do and what they are going to paint," Salum says. "I'm totally enveloped by them. I don't have a sense of time passing."

Unique Challenges

It's not only paintings that get channeled.

At a Spiritist bookstore in downtown Sao Paulo, I'm shown five books — including one by famed Brazilian spiritist Divaldo Franco — that carry Victor Hugo's name.

It's a Saturday and the place is packed with readers and books. There are more than 220 Spiritist publishing houses in Brazil.

One of the star authors is Sandra Guedes Marques Carneiro. Her books have sold more than 250,000 copies. She writes romances — of a kind. Her latest is called Salome, and she tells me she thinks it's a "sign" that I am interviewing her. The book is about a female journalist who travels to the war-torn Middle East and then comes to Brazil — kind of like me.

Carneiro emphasizes that the books are basically religious texts. The spirits are writing to try to bring about enlightenment and understanding to the earth. It makes the message more entertaining if it's wrapped in a good love story.

Her spirit author, for the record, is called Lucius, and he has a huge following — so much so that other author mediums channel him as well.

Alexandre Marques edits and publishes the work of his wife, Sandra. He says this part of the publishing industry presents some unique challenges.

"We don't have a way of commissioning books," Marques says. "They come from the other side to us."

Another difference from traditional publishing? Editing.

Surprisingly, Marques says it's actually easier to edit a dead author than a living one. Apparently, the dead are less defensive about the integrity of their work.

"The spirits are easier going, actually," he says.

Still, it's a labor-intensive process. It is pretty difficult to get approval for your edits from a spirit.

"We send the suggested alterations to the medium," Marques explains. "The medium consults the spiritual author. They answer if they agree or not."

Spiritual Copyright

This all gets into some strange legal ground. There was a case in which the widow of a famous dead author sued a medium for royalties because he was supposedly channeling her dead husband's spirit and writing new blockbusters.

We consulted a lawyer who's an expert in spiritual copyright. Renata Soltanovich says that as long as the consumer who buys the work understands that it's been channeled through a medium, it's not fraud.

Back at the painting exhibition, Salum is channeling another dead painter. I'm not an art critic, but the paintings, in my opinion, are not ready to be hung in the Louvre.

I ask her why her works don't quite match the standard of some of the originals.

She explains it's hard for the spirits to cross into the corporeal world.

"It's because of my lack of knowledge," she says. "They are using me as an instrument, but I am weak."

In the end, she says, it's all about faith.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

David, have you read the new Victor Hugo novel or seen the latest Monet painting?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

I haven't.

MONTAGNE: You haven't possibly because they're dead, right?

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: Probably - might be true.

MONTAGNE: Well, Hugo, the author of "Les Miserables," died in the late 1800s. Monet, the famous Impressionist - also long gone. But in Brazil, mediums say they can channel the spirits of these famous artists to create new works. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro went to see for herself.

VALDELIVE DA SILVA DIAS SALUM: (Speaking Portuguese).

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Unlike most art exhibitions, this one starts with a prayer. A heavyset, 77-year-old woman with girlishly pinned blonde hair stands behind a table. She puts her head in her hands and concentrates. Her demeanor changes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And then to the sound of music, she begins to draw. Her hands are nimble and decisive despite her age. And very quickly, something begins to take shape - a face with a bright green, 19th-century hat. After 18 minutes and change - I know because they timed it - she's finished. She signs the work on the bottom part of the canvas - Renoir. The woman who is painting is actually called...

SALUM: ...Valdelice Da Silva Dias Salum.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She tells me spirits began manifesting themselves around her when she was a child, but it wasn't until years later that it really began to get frightening.

SALUM: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The TV would switch on, she says - the radio at full volume. There were all these sudden noises, she says. It turns out it was the spirits of dead Impressionist painters that were trying to make contact.

SALUM: (Speaking Portuguese) Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Renoir.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Salum says she grew up poor and illiterate. She didn't even know who the painters were.

Did you have any artistic talent?

SALUM: No.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: No, she says. In this life, no. In a previous life, possibly. Let me explain. Salum is a spiritist, which is basically a religious offshoot of the same people who used to do table rapping and seances in the 19th century. It's a hugely popular religion in Brazil with over 4 million followers. Spiritualists believe in Jesus' gospel, reincarnation and that the dead can communicate with the living through mediums. Actually, not only communicate - they believe that the dead can create through the living, too.

SALUM: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She tells me, "I don't know what they're going to do and what they're going to paint." "I'm totally enveloped by them," she says. "I don't have a sense of time passing, and it's not only paintings that get channeled."

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm at a spiritist bookstore in downtown Sao Paulo, and I'm being shown about five books that carry Victor Hugo's name, but were written by a medium. It's a Saturday, and the place is packed with readers and books. There are over 220 spiritist publishing houses in Brazil, and I'm here to meet one of the writing superstars.

SANDRA GUEDES MARQUES CARNEIRO: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Her books have sold - wait for it - over 250,000 copies. She writes romances of a kind.

CARNEIRO: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Carneiro emphasizes that the books are basically religious texts. The spirits are writing to try and bring about enlightenment and understanding to the earth. Her spirit author is called Lucius. Alexandre Marques edits and publishes his wife Carneiro's work. He says this part of the industry also has some unique challenges. I mean, it must be pretty difficult to have to get, you know, approval for your edits from a spirit?

ALEXANDRE MARQUES: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We have to send the suggested alterations to the medium. The medium then consults the spiritual author, he says. They answer if they agree or not, he explains.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Back at the painting exhibition, Salum is channeling another dead painter. I'm not an art critic, but the paintings are not quite ready in my opinion to be hung in the Louvre. I have one last question. Having seen the originals - she's seen original Monets, and she's seen Picassos - how would she say that these works compared to those?

SALUM: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's hard for the spirits to cross into the corporal world, she says. "It's because of my lack of knowledge. They're using me as an instrument, but I am weak," she says. In the end, she says, it's all about faith. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Mogi das Cruzes.

MONTAGNE: And you can see the art at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.