Artistic director of MASP and one of the curators of the exhibition Histórias Afro-Atlânticas, Adriano Pedrosa interviewed Emanoel Araújo in 2013. The artist and director of the Afro Brasil Museum opened up the Brazilian art circuit. The text was published in issue 26 of the ARTE!Brasileiros, in September 2014.
Emanoel is one of the artists participating in the show Afro-Atlantic Stories, a partnership between MASP and Instituto Tomie Ohtake. The artist was also honored by MASP with an exhibition of 70 works, which was on display until the beginning of June 2018. Read the interview:
*By Adriano Pedrosa
Adriano Pedrosa - You come from a unique experience as an artist. How did you start working as a curator in exhibitions, collections and museums?
Emanoel Araújo – I worked at the Feira de Santana Regional Museum, in Bahia, created by Assis Chateaubriand, within the regional museums project, opened in 1967. The museum recovered the civilization of leather and its artifacts in Feira de Santana, which is in the mouth from the hinterland. There was also a collection of Brazilian art put together by Odorico Tavares, director of the Associated Diaries, in Bahia, and by Chateaubriand, through their friendship with artists such as Djanira and Di Cavalcanti.
What was your activity at the museum?
I worked on the assembly, on the museography, with the architects.
And did you develop, in parallel, your work as an artist?
What's your training?
I'm from Santo Amaro da Purificação and I studied Fine Arts at the Federal University of Bahia, in Salvador. But I didn't finish the course, I went to work professionally. In 1965, I exhibited at Galeria Bonino, in Rio de Janeiro, and at Astreia, in São Paulo, the most important in Brazil at the time. In 1963, I worked with Lina Bo Bardi on the exhibition Northeast Civilization, at the MAM in Bahia. In 1972, I went to the United States, at the invitation of the Department of State, and I visited, from coast to coast, museums of American, Chinese, European, African-American art, and I was lucky to have curators who showed me the collections, the technical reserve.
Were you invited as an artist or as a museum professional on this trip?
as an artist. At that time, there were no museum professionals in Brazil. In 1981, I was appointed director of the Bahia Art Museum, in Salvador, where I stayed until 1983.
So begins your journey as a curator?
Yes, even with the renovation and change of the Museum. This was one of the demands I made to the governor of Bahia at the time, Antônio Carlos Magalhães, to return to Salvador. We moved the museum to its current headquarters, in Palácio da Vitória. I set up a painting, porcelain, furniture restoration group, creating a museum from the point of view of design and decorative art. It was eclectic, with painting, porcelain, furniture, religious imagery, jewelry, like several museums in Bahia, Pernambuco and Ceará. The museum was in disrepair, the renovation lasted a year and after it was ready I left. During this period, I made important exhibitions: The 400th Anniversary of the Monastery of São Bento, Bahia School of Paintingand, in 1982, Africa BahiaAfrica, when I started to develop this research.
How was the exhibition?
I programmed performances at the opening, with the Filhos de Gandhy, the biggest afoxé of the Carnival in Bahia, and an Afro-Brazilian dance group. There were 1.500 people at the opening viewing photographs of Pierre Verger, candomblé objects, among other things. Later, in 1987, I developed the theme in the exhibition AHandAfro-Brazilian - Meaning of Artistic and Historical Contribution, at MAM in São Paulo, with director Aparício Basílio da Silva.
How was this project developed at MAM-SP?
The project was born in Senegal.
What was your first trip to Africa?
To Nigeria, in 1976, at the Festival de Arte Negra, with Roberto Pontual, a critic and art historian from Pernambuco.
How was your experience with the II FESTAC World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, in Lagos, in 1977?
Disturbing, I missed the opening. The plane from São Paulo to Dakar was delayed and we missed the connection for the direct flight to Lagos. There was the exhibition organized by the Bahian critic Clarival Prado Valadares. I showed huge reliefs, it was pandemonium for them to get to Africa. Pontual wrote the text The Locator Root. In that circumstance, I met a Brazilian, Mister da Silva, who lived there.
From Brazilian ancestors, from freed slaves who returned to Nigeria in the XNUMXth century?
Yup. But he didn't speak Portuguese and didn't know anything about Brazil. For him, Brazil was an abstraction. He had a travel agency, Da Silva Travel. I became his friend and arranged a trip to Osogbo, the land of Oxum, with the writer Gumercindo da Rocha Dorea, Roberto Pontual and Cleusa, the daughter of Dona Menininha do Gantois. We passed through Ife and Ibadan, to see the Osun River, and there I was surprised to meet Susanne Wenger.
Yes, the Austrian artist. I recently saw her work in the 1945 catalog of The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa 1994-2001 by Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor. Was she an interesting figure?
very interesting. I wrote an article about this trip. In the middle of the forest I began to see large terracotta sculptures. She did a very European version of the Oshun cult. They were great monuments, 5 m, 6 m high, completely surrealist sculptures.
Were you looking forward to reconnecting with Africa?
Not. So much so that I fought with Gilberto Gil, who was there with Caetano Veloso. He asked me: “What did you come to Africa to do?”. I replied: “I came to see Africa”. And he said to me: “I have come to gather my roots”. Then I replied: “You were wrong, your roots are in Bahia, not here”. But what I wanted to say is that it was so far away from us, that the closest one was Bahia. We didn't know about Africa, as Africans didn't know about us, like the travel agent Da Silva, who had no idea what Brazil was. He knew of his ancestry, but nothing more.
At this point, had you already gone to Europe?
Yup. In 1972, I went to Italy, Austria, and later to the United States and England. My vision of Africa was distant, although I was the son of Santo Amaro da Purificação, a city with many slaves, many Africans, because of the sugar cane mills. I returned to Africa in 1987, at the behest of President José Sarney, at a meeting in Dakar, as they were thinking of redoing FESTAC. There the idea of Afro-Brazilian Hand. Visiting the island of Goré, at the Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire (IFAN), a school guide saw us and told the students: “Look, these are our cousins across the Atlantic”.
How was the research for this exhibition?
It was all done in six months, crazy stuff.
That was a lot of material, a lot of research, a lot of time. But was it a job you had been collecting for a long time?
Six months. Things I knew, I had saved. And also worth the research for the Africa Bahia Africa.
The book is impressive, and the 2nd edition, from 2011, is even more so.
At first, the Itamaraty provided the translation into English, but the translator was prejudiced and wrote The Afro-Brazilian Touch, saying that there was no Afro-Brazilian “hand”. He had a Eurocentric vision, in which black people had not created anything.
Are there images from the exhibition? Maybe they have it at MAM.
Maybe, but I don't think so. The exhibition was a public failure.
Yup. The exhibition coincided with the invitation for me to be visiting-teacher at the City University of New York – CUNY, and teach drawing and engraving.
The exhibition is from 1987 and not from 1988, on the centenary of the abolition of slavery in Brazil.
It was in 1987, but it was to celebrate the centenary of abolition. So, I went to the United States, stayed there for two years and it was really worth it.
More The Afro Hand is a truly pioneering study. Looking at the divisions you made in the book – “Baroque and Rococo”, “19th Century”, “African Heritage in Popular Art”, “Modern and Contemporary Art”, and “Multiple Contributions”, which is music, literature, cuisine –, how did you get to this division?
I started with the Baroque period because this is the moment when there is greater emphasis on this issue, with the sculptors from Minas Gerais Mestre Valentime Aleijadinho, Francisco de Paula Brito and the Bahian painter José Teófilo de Jesus. The XNUMXth century in Brazil has a completely black art, because it is black people who do it, although the pattern is European, Portuguese. It is Thebas (Joaquim Pinto de Oliveira), for example, who was a slave and later became a construction foreman, here in São Paulo, and built the Sé Cathedral.
Where did this interest come from?
I had studied with Manoel Quirino (1851-1923), an intellectual from Bahia, a pioneer in this issue of black and Bahian artists. He wrote about religious art, food, the African as a colonizer. Another important researcher was Marieta Alves, one of the few who gave the person's origin and color. When I came back from Africa in 1987, I focused on that. Although I refuse to say skin color, I think of it as a foundation and a principle. When I did the Timothy brothers exhibition recently, that was my focus. It was the discovery of these extraordinary XNUMXth century painters from Rio: Estêvão Silva, Antônio Rafael Pinto Bandeira and Firmino Monteiro.
There is this issue of the pardo, the mestizo. If every mestizo or pardo has something of the African, he also has an Afro hand…
I start from the principle that all pardo is black.
So the Afro Museum could be a Black Museum…
In fact, it is a black museum.
But if all of us Brazilians are mestizos, is the Afro Museum also a Museum of Brazil?
That's why it's called Museu Afro Brasil. It is not the Afro-Brazilian Museum, because I created the idea that we could discuss African, mestizo, Brazilian issues, including other peoples, who are also Brazilian – the Italians, the Japanese. We open this possibility. Sometimes people call it the Afro-Brazilian Museum, but that completely changes the concept, because it's not a ghetto museum.
What about the Negro de Corpo e Alma, one of the 12 exhibitions of the Rediscovery Show, in 2000, and which has the largest volume of the show's set of catalogs? It's also an impressive survey.
I wanted to look at the iconography of Rugendas, Jean-Baptiste Debret and others to include in the process.
isso already greatly expands the project.
Yup. Includes Lasar Segall, Pancetti, Candido Portinari. Then I did the exposition Innocent and Wicked Images, at the Afro Brasil Museum, in 2007, about this representation that strengthens prejudice. And the Afro Brazilian Hand which includes this iconography that is not perverse, but registers the black, and the black representing himself. These are points that intersect and create new fields of research.
Alberto da Costa e Silva, diplomat and historian of Africa, wrote in A River Called Atlantic (2012), that every Brazilian has the slave inside, something that the anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro wrote in some way in The Brazilian People, the Formation and the Meaning of Brazil (1995) ...
It is a wish of Alberto Costa e Silva, but it is not true. Or rather, I think it's true, but people don't admit it. Otherwise, Brazil would not be the country as prejudiced as it is. You watch Brazilian TV and it seems that we are in Sweden, without blacks. Rede Globo always puts black people in the worst role, and the actors accept this because they have no alternative.
Do you think it's changing?
But the Afro Museum does not play a role in this regard.
The Museum is only 9 years old, Brazil is very slow.
Do you think the art medium in Brazil is more prejudiced?
Yes, more prejudiced. When I was appointed director of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, in 1992, people said: “Like a black man from Bahia?”. I would say: “Not only black, but homosexual too”.
However, today everyone knows that the renovation that Paulo Mendes da Rocha made to the Pinacoteca during his administration is the great turning point in the history of the museum.
But there is a lot of prejudice, it's a silent thing, Brazil is silent. It's a perverse thing.
Don't you think it has improved in the 30s, 40s?
got worse. Africa does not exist for Brazil. How is it that Brazil doesn't have a museum of African art?
But the fact that the museum exists is already something important. Even if he's only 9 years old.
Yes, but I'm investing for the future. When I arrived at the Pinacoteca, the institution had already completed 90 years, and it was that disaster, a pigsty. On the second day, it rained and it looked like Venice. So, I think I need to turn 90 here at the Afro Brasil Museum as well.
At the Pinacoteca, you stayed from 1992 to 2001.
When I arrived at the Pinacoteca, in 1992, I also began my tenure with a project to renovate the museum, exposing the disgraced state of that museum to the public in São Paulo. For me, the Afro Brasil Museum is an investment, a tribute to my past.
ÀAfrica that isinside us! at the Pinacoteca, have you done Afro-Brazilian exhibitions?
I did Voices from the Diaspora, in 1993, and Heirs of the Night: Fragments of the Dark Imaginary, in 1994. We did a retrospective of Rubem Valentim, The Artist of Light, 2001, curated by Bené Fonteles, brought works by black artists to the collection. But I also brought works by Willys de Castro, bought Hélio Oiticica, expanded the museum's collection of sculptures.
Do you think your perspective as an artist working with museums and curatorship is different from that of others who only have institutional work?
I think I have a broad view of the issue, which includes restoration, conservation, education, but also the plastic arts in Brazil. The closed curator, who establishes principles and concepts, is different from a museum director, the perspectives are quite different.
How was the creation of the Afro Brasil Museum, in 2003, occupying this large building in Ibirapuera Park, in São Paulo?
Marta Suplicy, at the time mayor of São Paulo and current Minister of Culture, had thought about creating an Afro museum here, but she didn't know how to start or with what collection. The Secretary of Culture asked me if I wanted to lend my collection. There, a group was formed to build this concept; they were arguing, arguing, and I arrived and made the museum. When the discussion ended, I said: “The museum is ready!”.
And the discussion was around what?
From the concept of the museum. There was an anthropologist, a sociologist, and I don't know what else. I said, "I'm not going to fall into your trap." So, I applied the idea of the Afro-Brazilian hand.
But here there are also Amerindian objects.
The point of indigenous art is that the African has always had the Indian as a god of the land. So much so that every Candomblé in Bahia has its caboclo, the mestizo of white and Amerindian people. Because the orixá of the land is the caboclo who does it, it is the caboclo that means. And every Candomblé house, every mother of saint has the cult of caboclo, which is a form of honor to this heritage. That's why here at the Afro Museum we started the exhibition with the caboclo, with the Indian. This story is very intricate, but it is also very clear. You can read it, but you have to want to.
Do you think Brazil is a western country?
Yeh it's not. There's so much in here that hasn't been discovered yet.
It seems to me that anthropophagy is an incomplete project, because it has focused too much on the cannibalization of European references and could devour other matrices, the African and the Amerindian, which would re-potentiate it.
Instead of looking only at Léger, at constructivism…
This is the error of (Poetry Manifesto) Brazil, by Oswald de Andrade, from 1924, and from the Modern Art Week of 1922. The Week was made by elitists, it had only one subject, Mário de Andrade, writer and critic from São Paulo, who had a Brazilian vision, the others were alienated .
Tarsila do Amaral comes from an elite family, but she has pictures…
It comes from an elite family, and every time it manifests itself in the representation of black people, it is perverse.
But A Negra (1923) by Tarsila, do you think it is perverse?
I find it extremely perverse, insofar as it transfigures the image of the black woman with prototypes of perversity, accentuating her features, her breasts, her mouth. Portinari is also perverse. The only one that is freer is Segall.
Segall paints himself black, half-breed.
He paints himself black, mulatto. And the illustration he does for Jorge de Lima, for black poems, from 1947, all of that has a context in which he understands Brazil more than Brazilians. In fact, to understand Brazil, you need to be a foreigner. In these 500 years of Brazil, from Caramuru and Catarina Paraguaçu, Pernambuco with the Dutch, there is a whole complex history here, a mixed. We did the exhibition of the Bijagós, from Guinea Bissau – The Art of the People of Guinea Bissau, Museu Afro Brasil, 2008 – and we discovered that the first Africans who came to Maranhão were the Bijagós, who planted rice in Maranhão, their culture of origin. But nobody knows about it.
Éveryignorance. O Mestiço (1934), by Portinari, do you also consider it perverse?
Not. Portinari is much better than Tarsila in that sense.
What about Christiano Júnior who photographed slaves?
He treats the slave with dignity.
It treats naturally, although they are studio shots, it is unknown if he adds anything. The most important is Militão, Augusto de Azevedo, a photographer from Rio de Janeiro, who reveals a black society at the end of the XNUMXth century with the power to photograph itself. He has a lot still hidden. But both are important in the record of a Brazil…
I needed to know myself a lot more.
But no research money. The University does not investigate this.
But today there are many studies of slavery.
Stay at the Academy.
Yup. There's a deep anemia of it.
But this mismatch between the academy and the general public could have the museum to make the connection, the bridge, especially with regard to visual history.
Difficult, as the Museum of Anthropology of the University of São Paulo does not do. The other day, we held a seminar here on African collections in museums and the worst presentation was that of USP.
We don't have experts, specialists in the subject.
But we could have. There is a dichotomy between traditional African art and contemporary African art. It doesn't come this far.
But one day it will come.
One day we won't be alive! And Brazil will turn white, that thesis of whitening! I have observed that black with white makes white, the first generation is born white. The University would play a key role if it weren't so eugenic. You will see how dealing with this issue in Brazil is complex.
But that's where we can work on the issue.
I don't get discouraged because I have a skin color commitment and I have to carry it out. But I find it very difficult. And I'm optimistic, I'm stubborn, I'll go all the way.
Did you have a lot of support to make this museum, these exhibitions, these publications?
I do, but I don't have the echo I would like to have.
Do you think there could be exchanges and residencies, for example, between Brazilian and African artists?
Yes we are doing.
Rosângela Rennó and Paulo Nazareth were in Africa. I say there is Brazilian architecture from the XNUMXth century there and people don't believe it.
There is the Carnival party in Porto Novo, from the local Brazilian community. Only they are abandoned. I want to see if we go there this year, to give money to maintain that association. There is a beautiful mass, said in Portuguese. What is extraordinary is that in 200 years there is still a Brazilian community.
The most impressive thing is that nobody knows this here in Brazil…
There are Brazilian families there in Benin, there are many Rego, Sousa, Oliveira. It's unbelievable that this exists, alive. This connection is what is missing, it seems that it is a very distant thing, and it is not, it is very close. The level of alienation in Brazil is impressive.