Work by Heitor dos Prazeres, an important artist for Afro-Brazilian art studies
Untitled painting by Heitor dos Prazeres, 1962. Photo: Sérgio Guerini/Courtesy Almeida e Dale Art Gallery

In a Brazil deeply committed to its slavery past and, therefore, to structural racism and the practices it enshrines, what do we talk about when we talk about Afro-Brazilian art? From the formal art circuits that exhibited collections in their galleries that confirmed the option of a certain elite for the perpetuation of racial and gender inequalities that are the indelible mark of our society. We speak, perhaps, of the need to build a new design of history, including art, which in its constitution is based on anti-racism and imposes a debate on whiteness and the responsibility of whites and whites in the historical process that jettisoned blacks and blacks of the art circuit (and others) where they are systematically subalternized and underrepresented. In our country, the civilizing advance that will mean the admission of artistic and intellectual production from excluded groups cannot dispense with the solidarity, otherness and empathy of non-blacks committed, not only rhetorically, to the deepening of our democracy.

Untitled, Arjan Martins, 2018. Photo: Courtesy FAMA and artist
Untitled, Arjan Martins, 2018. Photo: Courtesy FAMA and artist

Despite the democratic deficit expressed in various dimensions of our society, oppressed groups historically refuse and resist the genocide and epistemicide imposed on them, and even living in territories made vulnerable by the absence of the State, they make their symbolic productions viable and visible. Those fractions of academies and museums, compressed and sensitive to the social demands of our time, seek to assimilate the achievements previously neglected by the prejudices that modulate hegemonic discourses. In this way, it is possible to gradually discern the complexity of the artistic realization of black men and women of now and before and verify that yes, there is an art history that goes back centuries and that has been obliterated, made invisible, since admitting it would require recognizing the humanity of the enslaved and their descendants and also of the crimes that were and continue to be committed against them.

If the history, memory, art and science of the excluded, the divergent and peripheral are summoned to testify about the present moment, this denounces the emergence via insurgency of actors who demand protagonism, but also points to the exhaustion of a model political and economic that, in its throes, threatens life on the planet.

The peripheries, in a polycentric and multicultural conception of the world, constitute new centers radiating everything that the institutions that endorse art only very slowly perceive as potency. But this same population, historically abandoned, is the vector of competence and skill that were able to bequeath to the country the festivities that made it possible to maintain the subjectivities of those who produced them.

Work by Heitor dos Prazeres, an important artist for Afro-Brazilian art studies
Untitled painting by Heitor dos Prazeres, 1962. Photo: Sérgio Guerini/Courtesy Almeida e Dale Art Gallery

Historically, the festival has played a central role in the structuring of peripheral communities and in the subjectivity of the subjects who belong to them. The party was an achievement of the enslaved and the carnival is an extraordinary legacy of them. It is not without purpose that it, the festival, is often demonized by the white and economic elite – the popular festivals elaborated here and there in the work of these artists and which should be incorporated into curricula and programs that are intended to be decolonial. The party is a survival strategy for the asphyxiated, it takes place in the cracks of an oppressive society and has multiple dimensions, including religious. It is suggested in the work of a Heitor dos Prazeres (1898-1966), a kind of polymath that a certain narrative about to become obsolete reduced to a “primitive painter”, a kind of patriarch of that same party that we conventionally call “popular” and that today it welcomes black and black artists such as the São Paulo painter André Ricardo, the Bahian printmaker Eneida Sanches, the multiartist from Paraná Lídia Lisboa and the powerful woodcutter from Piauí, Santidio Pereira – artists who shuffle and make this category much more complex. In fact, these and other productions challenge the dichotomies that contrast the erudite with the popular, the center with the periphery and, in some cases, even fossilized notions of genre.

Through her actions and daily rituals, the São Paulo painter Heloisa Hariadne seems to intend to recover the original uses and meanings of food and its consumption. The vegetables that the artist consumes are the central subject of her actions and her extraction painting. Wildcat, something Matissian and African. In the direct compositions with a pop accent, black bodies worked with paint paste extracted from oil sticks are contrasted with this fairy-like botany that she cultivates, offers in ritual and consumes.

In the case of white families, art genealogies and their artistic families are established more or less peacefully; Black artistic families, on the other hand, lose their records, are prevented from retaining them and are summoned on behalf of the entire community to invent their stories with each work and exhibition held. Moses Patricio baptized as Family album the series of portraits made in the middle of the pandemic that presents the members of his spiritual family, that is, the members of the Candomblé house frequented by the artist. There is an appeal, in fact, legitimate, which highlights aspects of the religiosity of its authors in the discourse on Afro-Brazilian art, since this religiosity is a frequent and in many cases central theme of their biographies. See the Bahians Maximiliano dos Santos Deoscoreds (1917-2013), master Didi, seminal sculptor, writer and priest and also sculptor, painter, engraver, professor Rubem Valentim (1922-1991) – and the remarkable Bahian artist and professor from Macaúbas, Ayrson Heraclitus. However, it must be admitted that the rise of these and other artists was built in the field of art and through the knowledge acquired by them in the exercise of this craft. What is intrinsic to art must be as interesting as what is external to it.

Frame de Sacudimentos, video installation by Ayrson Heráclito | Photos: Reproduction/Videobrasil Online

This recurrence of portraiture is explicit in Patrício's series and so striking in the works of artists such as Sidney Amaral (1970-2017), the performative and acidly ironic Peter de Brito, the painter at Martins, all from São Paulo, and the carioca Arjan Martins, participate in the construction of identities that express their individualities, but also contribute to the construction of collective self-esteem, as they refute the idea of ​​objectification of the black body and organize their memories. Furthermore, these portraits mitigate a deficit in the galleries reserved for the exhibition of this genre of paintings. It may be that there is some idea that suggests the absence of black Brazilian artistic traditions, which is by no means true, and this would explain the lack of recognition of the authors that underlie the construction of an art history and would justify the astonishment of some in the face of what they call “fashion”, “vogue” or “wave” of Afro-Brazilian art. It is for no other reason that Afro-Brazilian artists such as Aline Motta, Heráclito, Janaina Barros, Juliana dos Santos, Rosana Paulino, Marcelo D´Salete and Wagner Viana are also deeply committed to research in the fields of history and anthropology.

So, what do we talk about when we talk about Afro-Brazilian art? We talk about events that are below and beyond the works that the artists perform and that, however, are contained in them. We discuss what is internal to the works and what is external to them, what is intrinsic and what is extrinsic in an approach whose references will also possibly be illuminated by sociology. These references are being prospected and collected within the academies and outside them, by formal and non-formal institutions of culture, through the admission of orality and the knowledge built in the most varied social organizations. They are necessary for us to approach more properly productions that challenge us to escape an exhausted canon.

The painter, draughtsman, sculptor and performer Luiz 83, who was born and lives in the capital of the State of São Paulo, had, like several black artists, such as No Martins, his origins in the streets, practicing graffiti and graffiti. It seems that this is where both the painter and the sculptor derive the notion of space that guides their two- or three-dimensional compositions of an abstract and concrete character. If Luiz 83's formal solutions refer to concretism, this association must be mediated by the idea that there is more than one concrete matrix to be consecrated, in addition to the one that is usually mentioned. And this idea asks us for a displacement that the decolonization of the gaze requires – it would be possible to mention references to this concretism in the works of Almandrade, Almir Mavignier (1925-2018), reuben valentine and Emanoel Araujo. They are different matrices from those prospected in that territory that we knew as the “center”, but even they would not explain the project developed by artists with Luiz 83, since, in their biographies, the contact with book and academic knowledge, not being negligible, is of lesser importance. rides.

The sociologist and journalist Clovis Moura (1925-2003) in his Senzala rebellions: quilombos, insurrections and guerrillas, from 1959, proves that the struggle for the emancipation of the enslaved had black women and men as its protagonists and this struggle predates the Law that, among us, abolished slavery. According to Moura, there were many strategies employed by black men and women who had always been dissatisfied with their enslavement, which, at the limit, appealed to suicide, to the interruption of their own lives through self-immolation that put an end to torture; It is legal and fair to imagine that other strategies, including the aforementioned party, implied the maintenance of subjectivities by reinforcing the power of Eros, or of Eshu, invoked to contaminate everyday life with the eroticism that provides life against the death instincts orchestrated by Thanatos, the Greek god of death who greets and guides the necropolitics of yesterday and today.

*Claudinei Roberto da Silva is a visual artist, curator and professor of Arts Education at USP. He was coordinator of the Education Center at the Afro Museum, co-curator of the 13th edition of the Bienal Naïfs do Brasil and curator of several exhibitions, including PretAtitude.

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