Emanoel Araújo, Suite Afríquia I, 1977

“TEverything in Brazil is make-believe”, says Emanoel Araújo in an interview in which he comments on his pessimistic view of the changing scenario of social exclusion and racism in the country. The plastic artist and cultural manager also comments on his exhibition, currently on display at Masp, and on the exhibition “É Coisa de Preto”, which he organized at the Afro Brasil Museum, which since its foundation 15 years ago has been a pole of cultural resistance. black in São Paulo.

What state is the debate on the marks of slavery in Brazil currently in? How important is this reflection?

The university, the anthropologists, spend their whole lives discussing the issue  of slavery. What is it for? We'll be talking all our lives and nothing happens, because the people who could change the pace and state of things aren't interested in any of that. If we just keep reminiscing about this wound, you won't solve the wound or move forward. Brazil is very perverse, incredibly perverse, and corruption is just one of those perversities.

And in terms of artistic production, isn't there a more forceful action, a broader movement?

Yes, but the situation does not change. It is important that they do their work, but the problem is one of the market, of space in the galleries. The issue is not isolated. If there is discrimination, if there is social inequality, what does art do in the midst of all this? How does it resolve? Everything in Brazil is make-believe. How can you understand a Ministry of Racial Equality that equals no one? How do you do racial equality if you don't have a deep project about Brazil?

But at the same time, the deep interest that this museum arouses is unquestionable… How many years has it been operating and how the program is planned.

This space here is almost like an affirmative action, to say: “Look, here is the memory, it is guaranteed, the memory exists”. The people who fought, the people who managed to break with social inequality, the people who came straight out of slavery are these. But there it was. Next year we will be 15 years old. The museum has a continuity project, so as not to get stuck. It doesn't matter whether these actions are extraordinary or not. We do not seek here any concession of contemplation. We have an action museum, always in favor of an Afro-Brazilian movement, in defense of memory, history and art. We also have a work in art education, the library and the permanent collection.

You would say we are on the same footing as we were in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s…

I think we are worse. Because there was a country perspective,  of nation,  And that in a way ended.  Suddenly.  We didn't even have time to reflect. I can only say that in my formative years it was more feasible for someone to leave their place of origin and go out into the world. Going into the world meant what? Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo,  and even abroad.  I see that today it is very difficult for a young artist to do that. From my time until now, what has happened to Afro-descendant artists?

The history of black people in Brazil is made up of heroes, of great emblematic figures, isn't it?

This is a very Brazilian thing, you don't find it everywhere in the world. We can cite the example of Mestre Valentim (1745 – 1813), who befriends Viceroy Luís de Vasconcelos (1742 – 1809). They will work together, have an absolutely extraordinary relationship because Brazil also has that, it is a country that is ambiguous. Ambiguity is our most genuine way of being. Everything can and everything cannot. Anything can, as long as you manage to break through this barrier. And everything can't because it can't anymore, because institutionally it's not supposed to happen.  When it happens, it's a separate case. So we are all exceptions to that. Of this ambiguity.

Do you see your trajectory also within this exceptionality profile?

The other day I was looking at newspapers for articles published about my work since I arrived in São Paulo. Both about my personal work and about this management issue that I got myself into, which is something different from artistic work. I've always had my personal work as stubbornness. I started out doing student politics, working for the Communist Party. But it was a milder time.  When I arrived in São Paulo, in 1965, there was only one favela, in Santo Amaro.

You seem to have preserved this sweetest, most delicate, peaceful time for your artwork, is that it?

The Masp exhibition stems from a moment when I thought I should be more explicitly Afro-Brazilian. A few years ago I thought I needed to stop being so Eurocentric. I felt that something more forceful was needed in this sense. And this I achieved with this inspiration of joining my geometry, which already had ties to the African question, with certain records that carried something religious. It was something that I joined, did that whole series, and then left, also because it scares people. Hard to sell such a work. Because nobody wants to have this stigma in front of them. Impossible for anyone to buy or want. And since museums in Brazil don't buy, we have to take and give.

As you see initiatives such as the exhibition “Afro-Atlantic Stories”, which Masp opens in June.

Revisiting this is very interesting, but its potential for change is little because the museum's reach is small. We cannot imagine that the museum can make a revolution.

But he can play his part. And a little more. As you did.

You can and should do. Especially if the museum has a Eurocentric content. This deeper look at the social and historical situation of our lives is welcome. But much is missing. How many black artists have works in the Masp collection? I don't want to be pessimistic because otherwise I would leave, I wouldn't do anything else. But it's an insane battle for us to win over the public, to take a pejorative edge out of this issue.

Eustáquio Neves, Photo 21, Arturos series, 1993-94, Minas Gerais
Eustáquio Neves, Photo 21, Arturos series, 1993-94, Minas Gerais

In the case of “This is Black thing”, currently showing, what is your starting point? There is a certain biting irony, isn't there?

All characters in the political and public life of Brazil who are black are “black thing”. It is an affirmative form of the negative. We made a great survey of all these protagonists of Brazil that Brazilian society insists on not recognizing and that the history of Brazil continues not to recognize. Machado de Assis escapes through these miscarriages, because he too was extraordinary.

The exception that proves the rule...

IT'S. But who knows about Cruz e Souza, who is the greatest Brazilian symbolist, one of the greatest symbolists in the world? Who knows about the Rebouças brothers? From Paula Brito, who was the first Brazilian editor…  Nobody knows. I mean, you still turn and move you have certain positions that are revealing of this prejudice thing.

The statistics are truly terrifying.

Terrifying?! It's worse than the Ku Klux Klan. Here it is worse than any exception regime. It's genocide. Because if it's not misery, it's the police, if it's not the police, it's crime, it's drugs, militia, disease. This is desperate. And you have no representatives. This museum came about by a personal will of mine. But that doesn't mean that this stubbornness has continuity.

Do we look little at Africa, present in the show with photographs, ethnographic pieces and contemporary works?

Yes, we look very little at Africa. We don't know about Africa. Even black people think Africa is a country. And it is fundamental in the constitution of the changing condition of Brazilian society. If it wasn't for Africa, what would it be? Imagine taking the black out of this whole story. What would it be? Portuguese and Indians? That's why I think it's always very important for this pantheon to say “look, this was real, it was true, it was significant, it was important in the constitution of Brazilian society”.

You seem to say that culture cannot be erased. The attempts to erase, end up leading to think, mistakenly, as just an ethnic issue…

And it's not an ethnic issue. Not an anthropological question. It's not just that. And much more. I don't know what Brazil would be without these personalities. That's what matters, that this complicity exists.

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