Moisés Patrício, 'Untitled' from the 'Aceita?' Series, 2018

À BUILDING DOOR where his studio is located, Moisés Patrício, artist and educator, welcomes guests with a smile and a hug. All in white, the artist behind the photographic series Accept? and the series of performances Presença Negra, which brings together blacks for group visits to art gallery openings, explains that she has been occupying the place, borrowed by a friend, for two years.

Patricio is an artist and he is black. For him, the two things don't always need to be accompanied, but they shouldn't be forgotten. “Why is it that every time an artist who is black does an exhibition or project people call it Black Art? Somehow this ends up reducing everything to this one question. Nobody says white art when the artist is white”, he asks. For him, art is art, but Patrício does not shy away from the criticism of his own questioning, because many times, white, older and conservative artists expressed opinions as if art in Brazil was in a decadent moment, in reference to Afro-Brazilian art and to peripheral art. “I've also heard from white artists that 'art has no color and that, therefore, there is no reason to privilege some artists because they are black'”, he reproduces. For him, this happens because a part of the artistic class fears losing their privileges.

In 2014, blacks (blacks and browns) already represented the majority of the Brazilian population, with 54% of ethnic-racial self-declarations, but their presence in artistic spaces is still low. Even with little representation in art, Afro-descendants find it difficult to escape stereotypes. Blacks are often artistically associated, in the most common and everyday way, with themes such as slavery, tribal rites of African ethnicities and African-American religions.

But the scenario begins to change and Brazilian museums are opening the doors to contemporary art of Afro origin. In May 2018, the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB) opened the largest exhibition of African artists in São Paulo. There were 90 works by artists from eight African countries and two Afro-Brazilian artists. Now the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP), considered a postcard of the city, will have, for the first time, its entire space dedicated to the exhibition Afro-Atlantic Histories. And it doesn't end there. The Instituto Tomie Ohtake, in the Pinheiros neighborhood, another very popular institution in the capital of São Paulo, signed a partnership to exhibit, together with Masp, around 400 works by more than 200 artists in the Afro-Atlânticas.

Moisés Patrício, 'Untitled' from the series 'Aceita?', 2017

Moisés is among the 200 artists in the exhibition. At Masp, they are authored by the artist. And the highlight is his photographic series Accept?.

The black hand that ages

Walking through the city of São Paulo is to face of endings and beginnings all the time. From the workers who give life to the city in the early hours of the morning, even before the sun rises, to the residues of consumption of the everyday products of urban life. Plastic packaging, papers, bottles, clothes, furniture: you can find all kinds of objects on street corners. Garbage, for Patrício, says a lot. Photo series Accepted? exposes the São Paulo artist's restlessness with the city, with everything that, according to him, we fail to see when we discard plastics, lives and a variety of valuables or worthless goods.

Moisés explains that the series was born from his desperation to be assimilated by the society around him and from his reflections on the labor force of the slave-holding and, currently, servile period. “The series is also born from the quest to look at the hand as an artistic work. It stems from my desperation to be assimilated into society. Generally speaking, in college, I had a hard time finding my poetics, because everything was connected to a universe for which I feel more pain than love. I spent four years studying and whitening myself,” he says. To find himself again, the artist produced a series of self-portraits of artistic nudes and another of photographs of parts of his body. But it was walking through the city that he found the tone. “I learn and I learn in another way, my learning is very much linked to dance, food, the timing of things, of doing things together, looking. I was educated like that in the terreiro [of Candomblé]. So, there, you sing and dance to gain access to knowledge”.

Son of Exu in Candomblé, orixá linked to communication, body movements, walking, facilitating the transit of bodies and ideas, Moisés came across the city and his own body as a work. He took one, two, three photos and, then, the series Accept? . 

The artist was born on the periphery. At the age of nine he had contact with art for the first time, joining the classes promoted by Argentine artist Juan José Balzi, who died in 2018, aged 89. “He [Balzi] made the materials available, took paints, papers and newspapers for us. He had a political focus and made a point of bringing the week's newspapers to share with us. He taught us drawing and painting techniques, and helped us develop critical reading. Balzi interspersed the meetings in the neighborhood with trips to the city's museums, such as the Pinacoteca, for example”. Today, aged 33, Moisés says that he got to know art in its most liberating form, different from the plastered formats he studied at ECA-USP, School of Communication and Arts at the University of São Paulo.

During the four years he studied, Moisés experienced his greatest crisis as an artist. As a young black man from the periphery, European art, mostly white, did not provide identification. “There is an arrogance, an arrogance of being a professor at a public university for a black student. They are faced with a deficiency, a failure and then my biggest frustration was that this insufficiency prevented me from exploring these themes together [with the teachers]. I'd put them on the wall and say 'look, I don't have an affinity for German Expressionism. Where are the other references?'”. The answer, according to Patrício, was that his gaze was conditioned. “They used to say 'come here, I'll teach you'. I was in that place of [being] very small, with no growth,” he criticizes.

Despite this, the scenario has changed, albeit a little, for the better. According to him, in the last four years a group of black artists and students from the institution emerged who, together, created the collective Opa Negra, which promotes actions of empowerment and appreciation of black knowledge. After meeting again, he returned to ECA as a speaker and, as of June, he will occupy a space at Masp that was less open to non-whites.

Despite having been conceived as a series of 200 photos, do you accept? evolved into something more. Today, Moisés plans to reach a thousand photos and keep counting. He explains that the series continues to bring current and important reflections to his life, and that, in addition, as a black man, raised on the periphery, he wants to see his hand age with each new click.

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