Portraits of Benta Maria, Antonio Dutra and Manuel do Sacramento by Igi Ayedun. Photo: Courtesy Companhia das Letras and Pinacoteca de São Paulo
Portraits of Benta Maria, Antonio Dutra and Manuel do Sacramento by Igi Ayedun. Photo: Courtesy Companhia das Letras and Pinacoteca de São Paulo

*By Tiago Gualberto

MMany will remember the encyclopedias composed of dozens of volumes and many kilos elegantly arranged at the highest point of the room's bookshelf. In addition to an investment in their children's education, the collection of books was often interpreted as a sign of good financial status and appreciation for knowledge. An object that should be passed on from generation to generation and consulted by the whole family and even by neighbors and schoolmates. Prints in gold letters on wide spines reinforced its importance and that of its contents. A source of information and knowledge taken for granted and guaranteed good grades.

Part of the new generations used to the Google search system and so many other online platforms available on the Internet may not be aware of the role that encyclopedias and their Enlightenment tradition played in our way of interpreting the world and knowledge. By bringing together intellectuals and thinkers from the most varied fields such as philosophy, arts, economics, science, politics, among others, the French Enlightenment movement aimed to challenge obstacles to freedom of thought and expression from the 18th century onwards. one of the most efficient western tools for sharing accumulated knowledge and for formulating a social organization guided by the lighthouse, by the light of reason. 

However, we will not need plenty of examples to recognize the weaknesses and abuses committed in the name of this project of access to universal knowledge through “enlightenment” over the last few centuries. For now, it is enough to remember the hundreds of figures that illustrated any encyclopedias with luxurious covers, sometimes sold door-to-door. Hundreds of white, European and American men and their great deeds for “humanity”. A few decades ago, copying the contents of these encyclopedias and their undeniable stories was part of a school agenda based on reproduction at the expense of learning.

In this context, prior to the online sales market, bookstores constituted spaces of intimidation for a wide swath of the Brazilian population who saw themselves historically included in their shelves only as objects of research. One of the reasons for the success of the old encyclopedia sellers.

Cover of "Black Encyclopedia". Photo: Disclosure

O book Black Encyclopedia, by historian Flávio dos Santos Gomes, visual artist Jaime Lauriano and anthropologist Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, published in March 2021 by Companhia das Letras, presents itself as an alternative to face the structural racism present in far-reaching reference materials. This is a survey on the contribution and history of important black personalities in Brazil over the last 400 years, privileging the broad period of slavery and post-abolition. Based on a collective investigation, marked by the collaboration of different researchers and specialists, the publication brings together 416 individual and collective biographical entries, based on the Afro-Atlantic experience of about 550 deceased characters. For the authors, “if the criterion for this book was death, the objective is life.”

However, these numbers should not be considered as representative of the scope and diversity of these stories present in Black Encyclopedia. On the contrary, the book refuses the use of statistics in favor of affirming the singularities of these characters, highlighting the protagonism through the naming, the recognition of deeds, the updating the social value and complexity of the lives of these actors given the conditions of our Brazilian past and present. The result is an organized, non-exhaustive narrative, able to circulate through all regions of the country, affirming an attention to the memory of women and LGBTQI+ people rarely present in publications dedicated to celebrating contributions to the formation of our society.

In this sense, in addition to confronting the colonial historiography responsible for denying visibility to the contributions of black people, the book plays an important role in the re-presentation, organization and dissemination of information usually kept in research centers, libraries and specialized centers. It is about offering this knowledge beyond the university spectrum. Researchers, teachers, students of different ages will find in Black Encyclopedia material that is easy to access and handle, as well as indications of research references integrated into the entries.

For this, the authors are nourished by the fruits of social movements and the pioneering spirit of the intellectual achievements of different generations of black and black historians, social scientists, artists and researchers. Among the numerous predecessor publications used as a reference for Black Encyclopedia, stand out Speak, Creole: Testimonials (1982), by Haroldo Costa, in which we have access to interviews with names such as Pelé and actor Milton Gonçalves, as well as anonymous characters, housewives, street cleaners and hairdressers, sharing their trajectories and perspectives on Brazilian racism. In another significant example, The Afro-Brazilian hand (1988), book organized by the artist and director of Afro Brazil Museum Emanoel Araujo, we find black protagonism in the visual arts, dance, music, poetry and literature of variousthe generations. Among many other titles, Who's who in Brazilian blackness (1998), by professor and poet Eduardo de Oliveira, and the Dictionary of Black Slavery in Brazil (2004), organized by Clóvis Moura and Soraya Silva Moura, form, alongside the research and publications of Nei Lopes, Oswaldo de Camargo, Conceição Evaristo, Fernanda Miranda, Lélia Gonzalez, ways to understand the contributions developed from Africa and their diaspora, the impacts of colonialism and the impossibility of understanding the world without this knowledge.

Therefore, Black Encyclopedia, in dialogue with these intellectual achievements, is not restricted to approaches that associate black participation in Brazilian history with the economic cycles of sugar, mining and coffee during the period of slavery. Nor does it privilege prejudiced narratives that reduce black insurrections to simple rebellion. Added to the authors' own experience in relation to studies on slavery, post-abolition and the reconstruction of black profiles, trajectories and biographies, the book presents sensitivity in the compilation of this multiplicity of references observed here and that, to a large extent, in other publications on the subject, are only observed in the midst of censorship, inattention and negligence. This situation can, unfortunately, be observed in the restricted selection of authors present in the catalogs of major publishers dedicated solely to responding to material demands after the enactment of law 10.639, of 2003, which makes the teaching of hAfro-Brazilian history and culture in schools.

Thus, the entries on singular and collective characters that describe both individual and community experiences are presented as gateways to different philosophies, religiosities, bodily practices, technologies, activism, mobilizations and entrepreneurship. They also seek to describe the daily battles and everyday life of each period, as well as their limitations, complexities and contradictions. Soon, Chica da Silva, Madame Satã, Abdias do Nascimento, Anastácia, Geraldo Filme and Heitor dos Prazeres share narratives alongside Claudia Ferreira, Robson Cruz, Rosalina, Francisca Luiz and many other illustrious strangers.

The exposure

In this effort to change the imagination of Brazilians on the subject, the realization of the project Black Encyclopedia includes the assembly of exposure of the same title at the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo museum. The exposure Black Encyclopedia, open to the public from the 1stº May 2021, features 103 works by 36 contemporary artists. Among the three exhibition rooms, the visitor observes mostly two-dimensional works, of small and medium format, including paintings, drawings, watercolors and objects authored by the artists. Amilton Santos, Antonio Obá, Andressa Monique, Arjan Martins, Ayrson Heraclitus, Bruno Baptistelli, Castiel Vitorino, Dalton Paula, Daniel Lima, Desali, Elian Almeida, Hariel Revignet, Heloisa Hariadne, Igi Ayedun, Jackeline Romio, Jaime Lauriano, Juliana dos Santos, Kerolayne Kemblim, Kika Carvalho, Lidia Lisboa, Marcelo D'Salete , Mariana Rodrigues, Micaela Cyrino, Michel Cena, Moses Patricio, Mônica Ventura, Mulambö, Nadia Taquary, Nathalia Ferreira, Oga Mendonça, Panmela Castro, Rebeca Carapiá, Renata Felinto, Rodrigo Bueno, Sonia Gomes and Tiago Sant'Ana.

Although all the commissioned works are not included in the publication, as only one work by each of the 36 artists is present in the Enciclopédia Negra image book, the set imposes itself as a collective portrait of the various proposals and attempts to compose an institutional presence. of the black in the arts. Therefore, the donation of these works, mostly figurative portraits of the biographed characters, constitutes an intervention in search of representation.

Therefore, by recovering lives marked by death, the book Black Encyclopedia aims to extrapolate the vision of black people as synonymous with enslaved, subaltern, where racism is constituted as a mechanism for refusing their humanity and legitimizing their exploitation and extermination, both physical, political and symbolic. Philosopher and professor Achille Mbembe informs us that the recognition and reparation of this violence occurs as we deconstruct colonial thought and begin to identify the black in its universal, human and multiple dimension, far from a categorical dimension, responsible for the yoke who keep black bodies as commodities. That's why it's necessary to say: Black Lives Matter! 


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