Titus Kaphar, Space to Forget, 2014

By exposing “the art of the colonized or post-colonial world, showing the work of the marginalized or minorities, unearthing forgotten or abandoned 'pasts' – such curatorial projects end up supporting the centrality of the Western museum”, says the Indian Homi Bhabha, in a quote used by Adriano Pedrosa in the catalog of Afro-Atlantic Stories, on display at Instituto Tomie Ohtake (Ito) and at the São Paulo Art Museum (Masp) until October 21.

The question is essential when museums around the world seek to expand their audiences by dialoguing with communities that were previously distant and without a presence in the daily lives of these institutions. However, how is it possible to approach these audiences using a museological language that belongs to a tradition that has been neglected and, why not say, even denied? Is an effective turnaround in museums' inclusion policies possible without actually reviewing their own practices?

Afro-Atlantic Stories, organized by five curators, is superlative in terms of numbers – more than 400 works, eight modules, occupying almost the entirety of two institutions – but not very bold when it comes to thinking about how to deal with a more than necessary topic without resorting to the same expository devices. conventional ever.

Adriano Pedrosa’s Masp has been characterized by paying homage to Lina Bo Bardi (1914 – 1992), the most innovative figure when it comes to rethinking the museum, but unable to propose new models in the 21st century.

The need and urgency of the topic of Afro-Atlantic Stories it is undeniable, especially in a country with a black majority, with this population underrepresented at all levels of power, especially that of the arts. Therefore, the famous track Where are the blacks?, from the Frente 3 de Fevereiro collective, which was exhibited at Ito at the opening of the show, and in July, at Masp, becomes a more than eloquent question.

After all, in the circles of power of both institutions, where are the blacks? Among the five curators – Pedrosa, Ayrson Heráclito, Hélio Menezes, Lilia Moritz Schwarcz and Tomás Toledo – they are a minority, but at least they are present. However, in the council, in the direction of the museum, in the permanent curatorship, the question becomes relevant but unfinished.

There is no doubt that the research is extensive and the show encompasses a comprehensive compilation of works, from the immense paintings by Albert Eckout (1610 – 1665) depicting a couple of slaves, in 1641, one of the first images produced in America, to commissioned works. for the show. However, the procedure that has been adopted in the Masp exhibitions, in grouping works by theme, in modules such as Rites and Rhythms, where there is an exhaustion of paintings depicting Afro parties and ceremonies, greatly simplifies the works, in addition to transforming them into illustrations. of a concept.

Of the eight modules of the exhibition, the most vibrant, both for its thematic content and for the expository form, is Resistance and Activism, curated by Menezes and Schwarcz. In it, the emphasis is on representations that point to black empowerment, both through Afro religions, in images by Pierre Verger, and the Black Panthers, in a photo attributed to Blair Stapp. Among the highlights is the painting “Mãe Preta ou A Fúria de Iansã”, by Sidney Amaral, who died early last year. There is not a merely formal grouping here, as occurs in the Masp modules, but a meeting of intense dialogues.

Afro-Atlantic Stories is a kind of continuation of Mestizo Stories, held at Ito itself, four years ago, then organized by Pedrosa and Schwarcz, then curators
independent. Now, both participating in an institution the size of Masp, it was to be expected that the show would not only focus on a review of the history of art, but on new attitudes within the museum. This question does not seem to be answered with the show.

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