Cover of “Afro-Brazilian Art: Ups and downs of a concept”, by Renato Araújo da Silva

Already advanced in the text, at a certain point, the writer tells us a hilarious and very interesting episode, from when he worked as a mediator at the Afro Brasil Museum, in São Paulo. One day he had to accompany a Finnish gentleman during his visit to the museum. Perceiving him as an intelligent subject, but deprived of any knowledge about the history of Brazil, the issues related to slavery and racial prejudice among us, the then Afro Brasil mediator went out of his way to make the visitor aware of all these processes so complexes, of which the issue of Afro-Brazilian art stood out.

At the end of his speech, already tired, our writer heard the question from the Finn: “But do you think the Portuguese are white?”

The reader certainly noticed that it was precisely from the visitor’s question that I took the title of this article – an “albeit late” review of Afro-Brazilian art: Ups and downs of a concept, published in pdf, in 2016, by the curator of African art and historian of philosophy, Renato Araújo da Silva.

The quoted passage is in the midst of the unimaginable 726 pages of Renato’s text, precisely at the moment he chose to introduce into the debate instituted there on the concept of “Afro-Brazilian” art, the problem of miscegenation – one of the most interesting points of the whole the work. And, in fact, this is one of the many points of interest in the text, but not the only one. Taking into account the level of its historiographical and critical reach, I understood, as soon as I read its first pages, that I was facing one of the main events in the field of art history in Brazil in recent years: a document, a monument.

Afro-Brazilian art: Ups and downs of a The concept reflects on practically all those who have focused on the concept of “Afro-Brazilian art” – a crucial subject within art studies in Brazil –, developing a chronology of the various contributions. However, his work is not limited to just narrating this chronology. In doing so, Renato rewards each author he cites with critical comments, observations that are almost always profound, but all of them full of humor and irony. Renato narrates distrusting his own narration and the narrated object, and this strategy tones the texts on which he leans, allowing readers to also position themselves on the narrative that is constituted under their eyes.

But do not think, reader, that Afro-Brazilian art: Ups and downs of a The concept can be confused with any other book on the history of “Afro-Brazilian” art or, at the limit, with any other conventional book on any subject. Renato's text should not even be characterized as a book, and the reasons for such a conclusion follow.


According to Renato, the idea of ​​producing Afro-Brazilian art: Ups and downs of a concept arose from the encouragement of some friends who thought he should publish the annals of a series of lectures he had carried out with his friend and colleague, Juliana Ribeiro, at the Pinacoteca de São Paulo, in 2016, at the invitation of the institution. At first, the title that both thought to give to the meeting was, precisely, “Afro-Brazilian Art. Ups and downs of a concept”. However, a series of setbacks (among them, financial) meant that the original project needed to be reduced and the pair of specialists ended up proposing and carrying out a less comprehensive seminar, but of the highest level, dedicated to the issue of Afro-Brazilian art: “Perspectives on Afro-Brazilian Art”.

Even more modest, the meeting brought together some of the most significant specialists in the field – Marta Heloisa Leuba Salun, among others and others – and artists who were emerging in the field of Brazilian art: Janaina Barros, Rommulo Vieira Conceição and Tiago Gualberto[1].

At the end of the seminar, instead of publishing only his annals – which would already be something important for the area – Renato seems to have wanted to rescue the original project of the meeting, which was to scrutinize the ups and downs of the concept of “Afro-Brazilian art”, and it was precisely from there that the “book” that I now present began to emerge.

Someone might find it strange that I used the word “book” in quotation marks in the paragraph above. At first it may seem strange, but I attest that such a way was the only one I found to get close to Afro-Brazilian art: Ups and downs of a concept, in order to present it to readers.

Reading this work by Renato immediately came to my mind the distinction made by Roland Barthes – it's been so many years! – made between the concept of “work” and that of “text”. For the French thinker, the traditional concept of “work” – a work with a beginning, middle and end – was linked to the concept of “author” – that all-powerful being, unique orchestrator, omnipresent and omnipotent. Barthes distrusted this binomial (author + work) and opposed it, on the one hand, to the death of the traditional author – or his replacement by the scriptor – and, on the other hand, the transformation of the “work” into “text”. From Author to scriptor:

[…] The Author, when believed in, is always conceived as the past of his own book: the book and the author place themselves on the same line, distributed as a before and a after: it is assumed that the Author feed the book, that is to say that it exists before it, thinks, suffers, lives with it; he has the same antecedent relationship with him that a father has with his child. exactly the scriptor modern is born at the same time as its text; he is in no way provided with a being that would precede or exceed his writing, he is in no way the subject of which his book would be the predicate; there is no other time than that of enunciation, and the entire text is written eternally here e now [...][2].

From work to text:

[…] We now know that a text is not made up of a line of words, releasing a single meaning, in a theological way (which would be the “message of the Author-God), but a space of multiple dimensions, where they marry and intermingle. contest various writings, none of which is original: the text is a fabric of quotations, coming out of the thousand foci of culture […][3].

nothing would define better Afro-Brazilian art. Ups and downs of a concept as text, as well as the role of Renato Araújo as his scriptor, categories that bring us closer to the unique characteristics that the work presents.

Although Renato has divided his writing into nine parts (and not chapters, as expected)[4], I believe that, for this commentary, it is possible to divide it into two large segments: the first would gather from the first to the seventh parts, forming a text that, like few others, well exemplifies Barthes' proposals. In it, Renato unravels a series of fundamental texts to think about the issue of artistic production called “Afro-Brazilian”, but not only.

There are several authors mentioned who have dedicated themselves to the study of what is or what can be understood as “Afro-Brazilian art”, not only the canonical authors – from Nina Rodrigues to Kabengelê and Leuba Salun – but also young researchers who have been bringing new contributions to increase the complexity of the topic. However, as mentioned, Renato is not content to bring to the reader only excerpts from all these scholars. In this long stretch of Afro-Brazilian art: Ups and downs of a concept (almost 400 pages), the scriptor also contemplates us with a series of quotes from authors who have also thought about the racial issue in the country, although not specifically the issue of “Afro-Brazilian art” (among them, the names of Gilberto Freyre and Vilém Flusser stand out).

But let the reader not think that Renato's role in the writing of the “book” was only that of collecting excerpts from books, essays, conferences, etc. ” and/or related matters. Which makes this first part of the writing even tastier – and instructive! – It is the series of comments that Renato adds to the texts he cites. He collects, but also comments, meets the thoughts of some of the authors[5], and against others, stimulating the reading and forcing the reader to take a stand before the intelligence and sarcasm of many of his observations.

Another important fact: if in a review of a conventional “work” the possible reference to footnotes would normally be in a footnote, in the case of Renato's text the situation changes completely. And this is due to the fact that, when we read the footnotes as they appear commenting, not only the texts that Renato cites, but, above all, his own comments, we will see emerge, if not a “counternarrative”, at least another one. writing that intertwines – and sometimes unravels – the text he weaves.

the second part of Afro-Brazilian art: Ups and downs of a concept, gives continuity to the writing of the first, but now concentrated on the summaries of the speeches of the specialists and the artists invited to participate in the seminar “Olhares sobre a arte afro-brasileira”, already mentioned. Not only are the summaries of the speeches recorded there, but also the questions asked by the audience and the respective answers, accompanied by comments by Renato himself, made in footnotes – a procedure that greatly enriches this second part of the work.


Of course, I cannot speak for all readers of Afro-Brazilian art: Ups and downs of a concept, however, I think a few more words could be said about the “book”: first of all, I have no doubt that it simply would not exist if it had been sent to be produced within the standards of a traditional book. Configuring itself as a pdf document and linked to the Creative Commons, Afro-Brazilian art: Ups and downs of a concept it could only keep its immense first part because it did not depend on a publishing house and, therefore, did not have to obey the “logic” of the book market. Free from these constraints, the text managed to present itself in all its generosity and creative power, assuming a freedom of production and dissemination of knowledge that is actually accessible to all.[6].

I am convinced that if the originals went to any publisher to be published within the existing rules, all that first part would be deleted and what we would have would be a summarized version of the annals of the event that took place at the Pinacoteca. In other words, the most fraternal part of the writing – the one in which Renato opens his file of notes and comments, explaining his process of study and understanding of the “Afro-Brazilian art” phenomenon – would simply disappear.

Being able to open the guard that ends the process of formulating his conceptions, Renato, fortunately, did not write a “Work” because he never saw himself as an “Author”. Its entire objective was to demonstrate, in my view, that both the experience of studies and comments on the issue of “Afro-Brazilian art” as well as the seminar itself are part of a single process to advance knowledge about the complexity of artistic production. carried out in the country, without aiming to arrive at a single “truth”.

I leave reading Afro-Brazilian art: Ups and downs of a concept with some more sedimented postures, although full of new perspectives. In other words, I leave transformed by reading, which brings me back to what Barthes wrote about the death of the author and the end of the traditional concept of “work”:

[…] This is how the total being of writing is revealed: a text is made up of multiple writings, coming from different cultures and which enter into dialogue, parody, contestation with each other; But there is a place where this multiplicity comes together, and that place is not the author, […], it is the reader: the reader is the exact space in which all the quotations from which a writing is done: the unity of a text is not in its origin, but in its destination […][7]


[1] – In time: the Seminar “Looking at Afro-Brazilian Art” (held between November 5 and December 3, 2016, continued the activities carried out by the Pinacoteca de São Paulo from the exhibition “Territories: Afro-descendant artists in the Pinacoteca collection. Pinacoteca de São Paulo (Pina Estação), held between December 2015 and April 2016.
[2] – “The death of the author”, in BARTHES, Roland. the sound of the tongue. Lisbon: Edições 70 Ltda., 1987. Page 51.
[3] – Ditto. page 51/52.
[4] – Here are the parts of Afro-Brazilian art: Ups and downs of a concept: 1.0 The waves of institutional appreciation of the black [with two subdivisions]; 2.0 Afro-Brazilian art and the problem of its definition [four subdivisions]; 3.0 Afro-Brazilian art and its artists [five subdivisions]; 4.0 Afro-Brazilian art: theoretical sketches and case studies [four subdivisions]; 5.0 miscellany [three subdivisions]; 6.0 And now Jose?; 7.0 References; 8.0 Appendices: an event about Afro-Brazilian art [eleven subdivisions]; 9.0 Attachments [three subdivisions].
[5] – Yes, most of them can be described as Author, in Barthes' sense of the term. And that is not Renato Araújo's responsibility.
[6] – The lack of a conventional editor behind the writing of Renato Araújo is only felt, in fact, by the absence of an edition that removed a few problems in the revision of the text, something, however, easily correctable.
[7] – BARTHES, Roland. Op.cit. page 53. '

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