O journalist and art critic Gonzaga Duque was one of the first responsible for the study on the definition of what we understand by Brazilian art. In a book published in 1888, Duque understood the arrival of the French Mission to Brazil and the concomitant foundation of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts as the beginning of what we could call Brazilian art. This one, which would start with a Eurocentric bias, was, since then, revised and expanded by various studies and initiatives, such as the modernists of 22, the writings of Mário Barata, Mário Pedrosa, Aracy Amaral, among others.
Although these researches point to a Brazilian art composed of diverse productions, in languages and authorship, we still maintain in its interior structures that naturalize the predominance of white authorship and of European origin or descent. In this sense, the critic and curator Paulo Herkenhoff, when writing about the so-called Japanese-Brazilian production, points to the fact that, “in this bias, a certain racism of internal differences is foreshadowed, since there must be a university critic and historian who never did not even write the name of a Japanese-Brazilian artist in his essayistic trajectory”. We can also extend this observation to Afro-Brazilian, indigenous Brazilian and others from other Asian origins, with Herkenhoff's comment denouncing a present and constant reality for artists whose productions are marked by racialization. In the case of the use of the term Japanese-Brazilian, when adopted as a standard to mention the contributions of artists of Asian origin, there is a second exclusion, as it is insufficient to contemplate other Asian origins and makes contributions beyond the Japanese origin invisible.
It is common to find Brazilian art books that do not mention any black, indigenous and Asian artists, not even Japanese-Brazilians, who have a relevant trajectory in the historiography of Brazilian art. In this sense, we always need to ask ourselves why we racialize certain populations and assign them specific terms, such as Afro-Brazilians, Brazilian Indians or Asian-Brazilians (a term that is still not very widespread, but which aims to cover broader experiences of Brazilians of Asian origin. than the narrative based only on Japanese-Brazilian experiences): is it because we recognize the so-called Euro-Brazilian art as just Brazilian art? According to artist and researcher Grada Kilomba, this does not happen by chance. According to the author, the universalization and predominance of the white person in the arts is part of an ideological, colonial and racialist construction that defines the white and European being as the standard of world narratives, attributing to him a notion of neutrality and normality. In contrast, they approach the others as specific and different, elaborating in this “other” their opposition. This debate was recently held by curator and researcher Hélio Menezes, in his master's thesis Between the visible and the hidden: the construction of the concept of Afro-Brazilian art, defended in 2018, at the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences of the University of São Paulo. For him, discussions about “civil rights, black identity, combating racialized inequalities in income and access to goods and services, the right to memory and diversity have swelled up on the country’s political agenda”, and, in the field of the arts, they have been claimed in some ways, such as the demand for a “critical re-reading of modes of representation”, the “review of whitening policies” and the “fight of anonymity” of several artists.
Evidencing such disparity in the treatment given to certain groups becomes important and urgent. In recent weeks, we have witnessed debates around racism and social disparities that affect the lives of black people in the world. Since May 25th, the date of the murder of the African-American George Floyd, an intense set of actions has demonstrated the need to combat structural and systematic racism as a responsibility of the entire contemporary society. During this period, several institutions used their networks to demonstrate support for the campaign black lives matter, including institutions and professionals in the arts. However, more than verbal support, the anti-racist struggle needs effective and permanent actions, which, in the field of the arts, go beyond writing a message on social networks, including an artist in an exhibition, citing an author or being someone's friend. whose identity was marked by racialization. These actions are valid and deserve recognition, but they need to be expanded so that they can reach dimensions that modify the structures and dynamics of the functioning of the arts in the country. It is necessary that, both in the micro and in the macro, we defend policies that generate permanence of change.
From this perspective, we highlight here some recent initiatives that have pointed out possible paths to combat white hegemony in Brazilian arts. With projects that go beyond the already known absences, researchers, artists and curators, mainly black, indigenous and Asian descent, are engaged in works that build a critical and diverse artistic scene. These are projects that stand out for their professionalism and knowledge of art research, which reveal new processes for contemporary arts and their movements.
The 12th Mercosul Biennial is a salutary example. THE show, which as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic is being carried out virtually, through an online platform, has the general curatorship of the Argentine Andrea Graciela Giunta and is entitled Female(s). visuals, actions and affections. For this edition, the curator formed a team composed of three more assistant curators, Dorota Biczel, Fabiana Lopes and Igor Simões, two of them being black. In addition to the relevant contribution that these curators make to the biennial project, their presence is already historic for being one of the few times that the curatorial team of a biennial in Brazil was composed 50% of black curators. This data is symbolic, representative and respectful with the Brazilian population, composed mostly of black people.
Despite this progress, much remains to be done. Both the Mercosul Biennial like the Bienal de São Paulo, the two largest exhibitions with this profile in the country, never had the general curatorship of a black person. This is an old discussion, a question that has already been raised by several curators, but which is insistently repeated.
In addition to highlighting the presence of black professionals in the curatorial team, the 12th Bienal do Mercosul also has a historic list of artists mostly composed of females. A vast group of productions, languages, ages, origins and identities, are women who stand out in the contemporary scene, but who still face barriers to establish themselves. In the case of black artists, the challenge is even greater. In 2018, the Coletivo Mulheres Negras nas Artes conducted a survey on the participation of black women in three editions of the Bienal de São Paulo (30th, 31st and 32nd). According to the collective, of the 390 artists who participated in the three editions, 154 were Brazilian, 45 were women, and of that total, only 4 were black.
The number is frightening. But, for the curator Fabiana Lopes, pointing out these percentages, despite being important, is insufficient if there is no commitment to go beyond statistics. According to the curator, “the intellectual and artistic production of black authorship offers a vast field of references that contribute to an expanded understanding of Brazilian art, in addition to leaving important clues about the contemporary social context”. For her, “thinking about equity in the exhibition space must be the responsibility of every curator committed to a much-needed social transformation”. On the other hand, “the commitment to equity should not deter us from deepening the debates, references and proposals that such production presents, nor deprive us of engaging in a generous and expanded reading that this production deserves”.
Another recent action that deserves to be highlighted is the Afro Project, a digital platform conceived and created by researcher Deri Andrade. Launched on June 21, the site aims to be a place for storing and disseminating the study of productions by black authorship, both practical and theoretical, serving for experimentation and curatorial and artistic mutations. According to Andrade, Projeto Afro “will serve for consultation and dissemination of the country's artistic production, understanding the production of black authorship as fundamental in the understanding of Brazilian arts, attributing to them an adequate treatment for their complexities and specificities”. The researcher adds that “the opening of the website was already under development and that it was a great coincidence that its launch coincided with the current period of anti-racist demonstrations”. For him, the Afro Project is “a possible way to decolonize the gazes, already formed historically to see these arts as 'minor', 'primitive', 'regional', 'peripheral', among other adjectives responsible for characterizing them and entitle them in time”.
Thinking about the narrative of Brazilian arts beyond white authorship is also the objective of the Bisi Silva Exhibition Curation Laboratory. The project, coordinated by Prof. Dr. Carolina Ruoso, Prof. Dr. Joana D'Arc de Sousa Lima and Prof. Dr. Rita Lages Rodrigues, has an extensive list of partnerships, such as the School of Fine Arts of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) , the Research Center of the Aloísio Magalhães Museum of Modern Art (MAMAM/Recife), the Art-education Laboratory, curatorship and histories of the exhibitions at the University of International Integration of Afro-Brazilian Lusophony (UNILAB/Ceará), the Caderno Vida & Arte do Jornal O povo and the School of Design of the State University of Minas Gerais (UEMG), and aims to present a study of the histories of curatorships and exhibitions in Brazil.
The group, in addition to being formed by researchers from different areas and regions of the country, is concerned with carrying out the study of Brazilian curatorships and exhibitions without reproducing the already marked historical exclusions. In addition to taking the North, Northeast and Midwest as central participants in the construction of Brazilian art, the group is also concerned with contemplating different identities, ages, genres, themes, formats and models of realization and performance of curators in the country. According to Ruoso, “research on curators was born from the Theories and Methodologies of Exhibition Curatorship research line and was financed by public notice 11/2017 for recent PhDs at UFMG, but which, in any case, is an initiative that comes from the Laboratory Exhibition Curatorship Bisi Silva, whose purpose is to build a critical narrative about the arts and curatorship in Brazil, understanding them as fundamental in the construction of artistic discourses in the country”.
This concern is already visible in the name of the group, which chose to honor a black, Nigerian woman curator. Bisi Silva, who passed away in March 2019, is internationally recognized for her work at the Centro de Arte Contemporânea de Lagos (CCA) and the Escola de Arte Asiko, spaces she founded and directed for many years. In addition to promoting research, teaching, exhibition and circulation of contemporary Nigerian productions, Bisi Silva collaborated to create artistic networks with other African countries and with other territories, such as Europe.
Understanding curatorship as a field in dispute is also the motto of two of the prominent Brazilian indigenous curators in recent years, Naine Terena and Sandra Benites. Both demonstrate that it is necessary to think of new ways of doing curatorship. Sandra is of Guarani origin, a doctoral student at the National Museum and the first indigenous curator hired by a Brazilian artistic institution, the Museu de Arte de São Paulo. Her hiring was carried out at the end of 2019 as part of the exhibition organization process indigenous stories, scheduled by MASP to be held in 2021. Naine is of Terena origin, is a doctor in education, university professor and curator of the exhibition Vexoa: We know, which would occupy the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo this year and which is suspended due to the pandemic. She works as a curator and educator, and understands that education crosses all areas of her work. According to Naine, her work involves presenting contemporary art from an indigenous perspective, as well as the possibility of educating the eyes of the non-indigenous public. She believes that “the process of training and dialogue with managers, curators and programmers helps to combat stereotypes, prejudices and encourages the construction of respectful relationships”. The curator also emphasizes that her action is not individual, but collective, and that “it is necessary to think from the collective and listening point of view for the construction of a consistent national scenario”.
Moving collectively is also one of the premises of the Movement of indigenous Mahku artists, from the Huni Kuin ethnic group, residents of the city of Rio Branco, Acre. The region, little represented in the narratives of the history of Brazilian arts, has been gaining more space through the group. The artist Ibã Huni Kuin is the main leader of the movement and stands out for his work as an artist and cultural agent. The group's purpose is to value artistic production through local aesthetics, in addition to creating a system of circulation and conceptualization of its productions. For artist, curator and activist Denilson Baniwa, another featured indigenous artist, this movement of indigenous artists has been around for a long time, but only in recent years has it been more attentively accessed by non-indigenous networks. According to him, “it was through the defiant courage of some artists that places were opened, generating a growing network of other artists who were already producing or who started to produce with more freedom”. According to him, “this movement contributes not only to indigenous artists, but, above all, to demonstrate that there is another type of possible vision of art, which can serve as a basis for the construction of a decolonial and critical medium”.
Indigenous artists, as well as others who are racialized by the system, find it difficult to enter museum collections, art galleries and private collections of contemporary art. It is common to find Brazilian galleries that do not have any black, indigenous or Asian artists on their lists. As a criticism of this excluding market, the architect and urban planner Alex Tso, a Brazilian son of Chinese immigrants, opened the first gallery dedicated to artists whose lives are marked by racialization. According to the institution’s website, as it understands the need to take a closer look at the “issues of gender, race, class and geopolitical territories”, the Diaspora Gallery proposes to defend the “articulation of a network of collectors who recognize the value of market as inseparable from the historical value of the artistic production of the artists”, which does not understand art only by the “unique circulation as an object and monetary value”, but that expands it “as a legacy of ancestry and identity, simultaneously becoming a proponent of a new contemporaneity”. For Tso, the recognition of the Brazilian population of Asian descent should extrapolate the well-known term “Japanese-Brazilian” and Japanese migration as a reference. “It is necessary to begin to understand the participation of other Asian groups in the conformation of Brazilian society, such as the Chinese, South Korean and Indian communities, among other multiple migrations from the region”. In addition, “the recognition of this population as racialized is also a fundamental part of engaging in the anti-racist struggle”.
The gallery owner also points out that it is important to adopt policies aimed at increasing the number of people of color in the staff of art institutions, reinforcing their presence in all instances and guaranteeing them greater professional autonomy, including in decision-making and management positions. management. He adds that the Diaspora Gallery is a “possibility of creating this as an integrally racialized productive network, which can supply and distance itself from the practices of the hitherto hegemonic circuit and present other possibilities of organization within this system”. And that, in addition to this commitment, “the space presents a possibility of transformation for the arts system, believing in its ability to be less excluding, less white, less elitist; and more critical, more positioned and involved with society”.
Commitment to building a new future for the Brazilian arts is to understand yourself as an agent of change. It is understanding that they are daily actions that will make them permanent. For this, it is essential to change posture, self-criticism, belief in collective work, demanding public policies for the sector, carrying out historical revisionism, aesthetic criteria, nomenclatures, languages, terms, among many others. shares. Combating white hegemony in the arts is a challenge that must be faced by everyone. To reject it is to believe in a new project for the future of Brazilian arts.