Maria Auxiliadora da Silva, 'The preparation of girls', 1972.

With the month of March, an old and pressing issue resurfaces: the lower representation of women in the Brazilian art scene. When looking at the programming of the main institutions and galleries, it is possible to notice an emphasis on the presence of women artists. The list is extensive and includes important names in Brazilian art, from different generations. Among the attractions, we highlight the exhibition by Anna Bella Geiger, at Caixa Cultural SP, by Jeanete Musatti, at Galeria Bolsa de Arte and by Laura Vinci, at Galeria Nara Roesler. Museums also have good surprises in store: Mira Schendel at MAM; Maria Auxiliadora, at Masp; Josely Carvalho at MAC; and Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) at the Pinacoteca do Estado (see page 32). Such density, however, does not cover the uneven structure, which perpetuates itself year after year.

As the majority of students in visual arts courses, women are underrepresented in all instances. In-depth studies are still lacking, but some quantitative information shows distortions. According to researcher Bruna Fetter, there is no record of a national institution that has more than 30% of works by women artists in its collections. Examination of the list of artists represented by the main galleries in the country also shows a much greater weight of male artists. And a recent survey, released by the Instagram page #arteparaquem, reveals that among the main cultural institutions in São Paulo, only Vídeobrasil has a majority of women making decisions. In second place would be the Bienal, where 73% of decision-making positions are held by men. In others, the imbalance is even greater.

But the web of invisibility is not always so evident. Often the barriers are more insidious, masked. And they are usually associated with other forms of exclusion, related not only to gender, but also to racial and geopolitical issues. The celebrated arrival of Tarsila do Amaral at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), in New York, is an example of this slow process of absorption of minorities by the mainstream. The situation is even more difficult when acute problems such as gender and race discrimination are at the heart of the work. This is the case, for example, of Maria Auxiliadora (1935-1974), now remembered by Masp within the curatorial axis “Transatlantic Stories”, chosen by the museum to guide its 2018 program (in 2019 it will be the institution’s turn to focus on the women's art). Simplistically associated with the label of “primitive”, the self-taught painter developed a very combative work, giving visibility to black and popular culture. Discovered by the great critics (Mario Schenberg and Pietro Maria Bardi), it had a moment of expressive success in the 1970s and 1980s, only to be ostracized again, only now to have this late and necessary rescue.

Lenora de Barros, 'Homage to George Segal (Homage to George Segal)', 1984

The same instability, which left Maria do Rosário at the mercy of the market's tides, affects most contemporary artists. With an exhibition on display in New York and a retrospective scheduled for December, also at the Pinacoteca (the institution that by far carries out the most feminist programming of 2018), Rosana Paulino recalls that for years she had her work – based on her experiences – and by close groups, such as black women – more recognized abroad than in the country. She says she has received several invitations to take up residence abroad and that she only stayed out of stubbornness. “I decided to stay because I thought the Brazilian scene needed discussions like the one I was proposing. And I confess that I do not regret this choice. It's very good, surprising even, to see the production that is coming around. I thought I wouldn't see this in life. And of course this is reflected in my production, when I choose to discuss topics that Brazilian society has always swept under the rug, such as the marks left by slavery in the country,” she says.

The artist considers that this greater openness stems from the urgent nature of the issues she works with and from a greater freedom to choose the path to be followed. “We live in greater openness to other ways of thinking and producing art”, she says. This change stems from multiple factors, such as greater political and social awareness, the cooling of formalism as a single path, and the internationalization of production. “It is no longer possible to ignore this new world posture, to pretend that it doesn't exist, with the risk of being stuck in the XNUMXth century when the rest of the world has already entered the XNUMXst”, she notes.

This historical mismatch, the need to continue the mobilizations started decades ago, is also raised by Josely Carvalho, whose exhibition “Diário de Smeiros – Teto de Vidro” is one of the highlights of the season at MAC. The artist, who moved to the US after the military coup and has lived in New York since the 1970s, where she has been involved in the feminist contemporary art movement, says she is “astonished that we are saying the same thing as in the 1980s”. Annoyed by the fact that she has long been labeled a “feminist” in Brazil, she believes that we are living in a propitious moment to destabilize complacency. And there are several weapons for that. “Today I'm in the scent, but it's the scent of female sensitivity, it's something you don't hold back. So I hope to be able to reduce this fight for space, for power”, she says when talking about the olfactory installations she created for the MAC project. The exhibition “Radical Women”, which the Pinacoteca exhibits in the second half of the year (after a season at the Brooklyn Museum) is, according to her, an initiative that promises to bring out with intensity the need to fight for a more egalitarian space, the strategies collective and artistic practices adopted by the pioneering artists of the 1960s and 1970s and their similarities with the current politics of struggle.

Another path that has been gaining strength, and not just in the arts circuit, is the union of women around common flags, creating mechanisms of denunciation and also effective policies for occupying space. CODEM.RED – Cooperation of Women in a Network is one of these actions, which has been bringing together artists from all over Brazil and even abroad. Among its proposals are the promotion of mutual and solidary support, the creation of a large database with the profile of the associates and the offer of legal assistance to the associates. “In less than two weeks we already have the adherence of almost 110 women across the country: PE, SP, PR, RS, RJ and DF”, says Ana Luísa Lima, one of those responsible for the initiative.

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