Abdias Nascimento, "Okê Oxóssi", 1970. Photo: Museum of Art of São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand (Masp), donation Elisa Larkin Nascimento / Ipeafro

Jaider Esbell, “The Conversation of Intergalactic Entities to Decide Humanity’s Universal Future,” 2021.
Photo: Filipe Berndt / Courtesy Jaider Esbell Contemporary Indigenous Art Gallery

Brazilian Stories, show that was on display at the São Paulo Museum of Art, Masp, between August and October, portrayed a dilemma of art institutions in a very explicit way: while exhibitions seek to create inclusive narratives and review the history of art itself, these The themes reveal themselves to be somewhat hypocritical, since the museum's decision-making centers are patriarchal, white and elitist.

What is the use of denouncing in the catalog that “the discipline of art history (...) is the most powerful and lasting apparatus of imperialism and colonization”, if the MASP power centers continue with an immense majority that does not include “the so-called peoples”? native, indigenous, inferior, subordinated, subaltern and non-white”, to use terms used in the exhibition catalog itself.

In a way, this tension between inclusion and privilege was quite explicit by curators Clarissa Diniz and Sandra Benites, last May, when they left the module resumptions, Brazilian Stories, accusing the museum of censoring selected images of the Movimento Sem Terra, the MST🇧🇷 The controversy unfolded in several layers, leading Benites, months earlier celebrated as the first indigenous curator of a Brazilian museum, to point out that her appointment did not reflect inclusion, and that Masp reproduced a “colonial system”, as she stated to magazine Brazil of Fact.  

After several negotiations, Diniz and Benites returned to the show conquering more than the exposure of the MST's own photos, until then prohibited. First, they ensured the free distribution of posters of those images, as National March for Agrarian Reform, by João Zinclar, when the museum's first suggestion was to acquire the images for its collection. With this, the curatorship reversed the marketing logic of ownership and ensured that the works multiplied outside Masp. 

The second achievement was the expansion of the museum's free days. This victory is due to a rare attitude in the arts system: denouncing abuses of power in institutions, which many artists and curators do not do in order not to “burn out” in the circuit. After all, institutions such as Masp and the Bienal are in charge, powerful collectors who can actually harm careers if they so choose.

This “colonial system” is reflected in shows such as Brazilian Stories in a way that is even subtle, but that also deserves reflection. The work Operation A3-1, Rosângela Rennó, which participates in the module Rebellions and Revolts, curated by André Mesquita and Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, belongs to the president of Masp, Heitor Martins, and his wife, Fernanda Feitosa, as explained in the work's caption. It is a work from the series Operation Spiders/Arapongas/Arapucas, composed of more than a dozen works, in the hands of several other collectors. 

What leads the curators to choose precisely the work that belongs to the president of the museum? This is a clear example of a conflict of interests, after all, exhibiting a work means adding value to it, and a public museum such as Masp could never exhibit works by people linked to it, as the institution is simply valuing the collection of your president. A historian of the stature of Schwarcz knows that she should avoid this type of patrimonialist practice, but that this is not an isolated case in recent museum exhibitions.
the painting The Intergalactic Entities' Conversation to Decide the Universal Future of Humanity, by Jaider Esbell (1979 – 2021), which is part of the module Myths and Rites, curated by Fernando Oliva, Glaucea Helena de Britto and Tomás Toledo.

Unfortunately, however, this is not just a practice at Masp. In a way, the presence of these collectors in key positions in the contemporary art system is something relatively new, but it is still a reflection of the colonial system of these institutions. Outside Brazil, artists like Nan Goldin have led the criticism of museums that are used by billionaire families to clear their names, as is the case of the Sackler family, a manufacturer of highly addictive drugs that have already caused thousands of deaths.

These are true Brazilian stories, unnoticed by visitors who do not know the context of the circuit, but which also need to be told so as not to remain in the superficiality of the exhibition.

Observing this background, what remains of Brazilian Stories🇧🇷 Held on two symbolic dates, the centenary of the Modern Art Week of 1922 and the bicentennial of the Independence of Brazil, the exhibition, with around 400 works and nine curators, follows the same line as the other exhibitions in the “histories” series of the Masp, under the artistic direction of Adriano Pedrosa: a lot of illustration and little daring.

There is a lot of illustration, as each of the show's eight modules is filled with redundancies that transform each of these sessions into repetitions under the same theme. For example, the module Flags and Maps, organized by Lilia Moritz Schwarcz and Tomás Toledo, talks about representations of power, but there are so many flags and maps that the excess ends up reducing all content to a common minimum, the national symbol, which makes it difficult to pay attention to particularities.

Abdias Nascimento, “Okê Oxóssi”, 1970. Photo: Museum of Art of São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand (Masp), donation Elisa Larkin Nascimento / Ipeafro

An example is Okê Oxossi, by Abdias do Nascimento. In this 1970 painting, the artist recreates the national symbol from the bow and arrow, emblems of Oxóssi, orixá hunter. There is such an intense cataloging fury in this module, which also exists in the others, that various types of flag are presented as an almost mathematical formula for the inclusion of politically correct themes: there is an LGBTQIA+ flag, an indigenous flag, a feminist flag, a flag of struggle, of mourning, etc. 

And each of the modules follows this somewhat cold tone of redundancy, without creating narratives beyond what the name of each of them indicates. Portraits, for example, is another session marked by repetition, in addition to using a typical category of the so-called fine arts, from the 19th century. 

Now, if Masp intends on a decolonial practice, would it not be more appropriate to think of new categories, less formal and more daring. It is here that the lack of ability of this management to think outside the frame is perceived. Everything at Masp always ends up being very conventional, similar even to an art fair, even when one intends to review the canon.

It is in this sense that inclusion, and it cannot be denied that there are many artists in the show who deserve greater visibility and presence, ends up being protocol. And it is then that it is explained that, in the end, “the colonial system” remains the same, only trying to achieve a pacification that we already know is impossible between the master's house and the slave quarters.

Sign up for our newsletter

Leave a comment

Please write a comment
Please write your name