Brazil's Mediums Channel Dead Artists. Is It Worship Or Just Delusion? : Parallels Mediums say they can tap into the spirits of famous artists and authors to create new works. In other countries, it might be called fraud. In Brazil, it's considered a form of religious worship.
NPR logo

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

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/431544256/431807526" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Brazil's Mediums Channel Dead Artists. Is It Worship Or Just Delusion?

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

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/431544256/431807526" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • 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.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.