Image from the series 'Backstage', by Rosana Paulino, 1997. On display at MAM-SP, in 'O MAM, the marquee and us in the middle'.

*By Theo Monteiro


The 13th of May 1888 was for a long time considered a watershed in the history of Brazil. From that moment on, blacks ceased to be slaves to become free citizens, thanks to Princess Isabel, who over decades gained the status of liberator of Afro-descendants. This version, over time, not only proved to be incomplete but also came to be harshly questioned by the black movement. The narrative built around the date not only disregarded the historical process towards abolition, but also removed any role from blacks in history, attributing to them a role of passivity and conformism to the slave regime. According to this view, blacks would supposedly be devoid of agency, needing a white princess to grant them freedom.

This official history has been revisited and deconstructed by several contemporary artists, who approach the racial issue in their artistic practices, as is the case of Paulo Nazareth, Moisés Patrício, Jaime Lauriano and Rosana Paulino. If in 1888, blacks were excluded from the world of arts and culture (at the time deeply elitist), now they are gaining increasing prominence, especially after the last edition of the Venice Biennale, which had the first African curator in history, Okwui Enwezor. . In this wake, the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo presents the exhibition Territories: Afro-descendant Artists in the Pinacoteca Collection within which a series of debates are still produced around the production and reception of art produced by Afro-descendants. Despite the growing recognition in the cultural field, 128 years after the abolition of slavery, it seems that in Brazil there are more reasons for concern than celebration. The overthrow of a legitimately elected government and the extinction of ministries that are the result of historic conquests (Culture, Racial Equality, Women and Human Rights), put the rights of the so-called minorities at risk, especially racial minorities. THE ARTE!Brasileiros heard two black Brazilian artists about the meaning of the date in 1888 and today.

For Rosana Paulino, the sensation is that of having slept and woken up in 1888: “it starts with the resumption of the positivist motto Ordem e Progresso by Marechal Deodoro. The ruling elite that arrives along with Temer: white, male and old, has an absolute lack of vision when it comes to the country's project. It even sounds like a bad joke,” she explains. For her, watching decades-old achievements be destroyed in a single stroke of the pen is painful, but at the same time provocative. “The moment of mourning exists and it is important, but now is the time to roll up our sleeves and create. For me, as an artist, a woman and black, creating is an act of resistance. My work has always been aimed at thinking about issues that affect the Brazilian reality, such as racism”. The artist also criticizes the extinction of the Ministry of Culture, which for her will be harmful to all those who work in the area. “It's an absurd lack of vision. Any country that wants to be developed, modern, sustainable, invests in a creative economy. It's simple, profitable and doesn't cut down a tree. Instead, this new team wants to focus on agriculture. Practically a return to the XNUMXth century.” She also adds that minorities will be hard hit by the measures that are being initiated and that this could create great resistance “These people will already start to go to the streets. We are not talking here about the non-creation of rights, but the extinction of created rights. The Ministry of Culture had been creating interesting policies to give visibility to the production of blacks, women, indigenous and peripheral people, while the Ministry of Racial Equality allowed a very high number of blacks to enter universities. From the moment these people feel they have lost it, they will take to the streets,” she concludes.

The artist Moisés Patrício said he was still “digesting” everything that happened. “It is very difficult and violent to watch this setback. People seem taken by a strange collective energy, in which they often do not even know what they are wishing for and the consequences of it”, in a direct reference to Senator Cristovam Buarque (PPS-DF), who defended the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and ended up being negatively surprising with the ministerial team of the interim President. For Patrício, the abolition of slavery is a very recent past that has not yet healed. He sees the advances made since 1888 as few and insufficient, and criticizes the lack of acceptance of blacks in society. “This is a very present theme in my work, the question of acceptance”. famous for Accepted, a series of photographs he took of his own hand, Patrício claims that the black hand is still invisible to most Brazilian society. The artist, on the other hand, recognizes that even as a victim of erasure and repression, Afro-Brazilian culture readjusts to adverse conditions, often giving new meaning to practices that at first would destroy it. He cites as an example the neo-Pentecostal religions, which tend to persecute cults of African origin and criminalize them. Despite this, the fact that most of the devotees of these churches are black and former adherents of religions of African origin makes African elements persist and mix with the new religion. “Some things are extremely similar, which makes many blacks see meaning in that”, explains Patrício. “While advances have been few and hard won, there is a whole dimension that is strong and insists on surviving”, he concludes.


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