Rosana Paulino, "Wall of Memory", 1991-2015. Photo: Disclosure/Courtesy of the artist

the reading of The decolonial turn in Brazilian art (Mireveja Publisher), by Alessandra Simões Paiva[1] –, raised several questions that, although they concern the culture and art produced in Brazil, are of different natures and therefore need to be thought out separately.

The former would be linked to the production of works of art that, before the “decolonial turn”[2], already distanced themselves from artistic and aesthetic assumptions established in Europe and the United States during modernism. The author herself is aware of this fact and, therefore, it would be important to recall here some works produced after the end of the Second World War in Brazil, thinking of them as “preparators” of the decolonial field.

A second set of issues should also be debated: the theoretical positions contained in Alessandra Paiva's book, which propose methodological strategies for thinking about the recent art produced in Brazil, understood by the author as the result of a “decolonial turn”.

Finally – and before dwelling on the two sets of issues mentioned above – I believe it is important to reflect on the subservient way in which some Brazilian intellectuals viewed local art and culture, vis-à-vis Europe and the United States. The survival of this submission until today makes it difficult for us to think about the decolonial issue in the art studied by Paiva.

Cover of the book "The turn in Brazilian decolonial art", by Alessandra Simões Paiva (Editora Mireveja; 240 pages.)
Cover of the book “The turn in Brazilian decolonial art”, by Alessandra Simões Paiva (Editora Mireveja; 240 pages.)


I begin these considerations by paying attention to the positions on Brazilian art and culture defended by two intellectuals born here in the 19th century. the theme of Paiva's book.

The first of them, the writer and art critic Gonzaga Duke, at a certain point in their novel Dead Youth – and through the character Camillo (his alter ego) –, ponders the impossibility of a national art and how we Brazilians should act as heirs of Europe:

[…] We Americans are products of a heap of all races, in which this predominates more than that and, therefore, our spiritual life results from the affinity of the predominant race, which, for us Brazilians, is the Latin, by the Portuguese branch […]

[…] Our spiritual preceptor… is Europe. From it we receive the ideas coordinated, labeled, ready for the consumption of mental beings […][3].

The other intellectual would be Menotti Del Picchia, active as a novelist, journalist and politician. On April 6, 1924, Del Picchia published a summary of the speech given a few days earlier by Washington Luís[4], on the occasion of the banquet that the Italian community of São Paulo offered him. The synthesis produced by Del Picchia translated what one of the most important Brazilian politicians of the time thought about Brazil and Brazilians, thoughts in agreement with those of the intellectual:

He [Washington Luís in his speech] gave a clear and concise organic structure – defined in its bones, specialized in its vertebrae – to a complex series of ideas, the confusion of which resulted in sterile debates and fruitless misunderstandings.

“We are a country of immigration”. All the ethnological plasma that constitutes a nationality – apart from a few meager indigenous extracts, not amalgamated or absorbed – and resulting from the displacement of excess population from other countries. The foundations of our race, whose backbone is Portuguese, are made up of a complex Babel of human types, brought aboard ships from other skies and other climates. We do not have the clear pride of the Greeks, who boasted that their people's origins were lost in the legendary mists of the autochthons, who left the Earth like the amazed listeners of the orpheonic lyre. Our civilization, purely Western, was grafted on and came in the wake of the first colonizers' caravels and later on the immigrants' steamships.

And the summary continues:

“We live with western immigration, we were born with it, we will live with it”.

If this is true, it has major consequences for the appreciation of Brazilian sociological phenomena. The absence of a basic indigenous ethnic element, with a long history, with a millenary typical character, special morphological characteristics – registering only the Latin preponderance – removes the hypothesis of the appearance of the “foreign” metic, in the sense of the transplanted person. It is therefore easy, in our environment, for the immigrant to adapt, who cannot feel, on the part of the natives, that instinctive natural hostility, which manifests itself in those peoples with a typical racial character, shaped by a long historical elaboration. [5].


Nowadays, it is even embarrassing to see how the two texts – despite all the differences –[6] – stand out the silence and neglect for the indigenous people who lived here, when the colonizers arrived, and for the Africans who were brought here as slaves. For Gonzaga Duque and Del Picchia it was as if these two contingents simply did not exist.

To reinforce the importance of launching the decolonial turn, it is important to deny that such prejudices have now been overcome. The still rarefied presence of black and indigenous people in the most diverse areas of society points to the permanence of a racist structure that makes it difficult for everyone to understand that the term “Brazilian” should encompass more ethnic groups than just those who came here “in the bulge of the caravels of the first colonizers and later on the steamships of the emigrants”.

The subservience that the white elite has always nurtured in Europe still persists in Brazil. Desiring to be the “heir” of European civilization, she fails to understand two crucial questions: even though she is made up of “white men and women” – and, therefore, of Euro-descendants –, we are not Europeans; on the other hand, this elite also does not understand that the art and culture produced here are not – or should not be – mere derivations of what was produced in Europe and, more recently, in the United States.

It is for contributing to the removal of this colonized dimension of society that I consider fundamental the launch of The decolonial turn in Brazilian art. The book has all the conditions to at least narrow a significant gap in the local debate: if in several areas of human sciences the decolonial issue in recent years in Brazil has already gained unavoidable visibility, we needed a publication that tackled this issue in the field of visual arts.


the decolonial turn brings together a series of articles published by Alessandra Paiva over the last few years and it is precisely this characteristic that, in my view, lends it a vivacity and urgency not often seen in work carried out by academics[7].

Would the fact that it was a collection of articles for the press bring one or another more superficial reflection by the author? Yes No doubt. Aimed at a diverse audience and certainly with limited space, etc., it is clear that the author was not always able to deepen one or another argument. But that doesn't detract from the book's interest.

In my opinion, this is the price that the decolonial turn it pays for distancing itself from the “good writing” paradigms of the academy, opting for confrontation. Alessandra Paiva makes use of a quick, activist and engaged speech in the presentation and valuation of the transformations that she perceives in the Brazilian scene. In the various texts that make up the publication, the objective is to proclaim and praise the decolonial turn in the country's arts.

The author mainly discusses the production of Afro-descendant, original and LGBTQIA+ artists – a fact that, as will be seen, determines the decolonial condition – confronting it with structural racism and with that subservience to Europe (and the United States), perceived in Gonzaga Duque and Del Picchia, but which could be found in many texts by some intellectuals who are active today.

It is also notorious that Paiva – despite the urgency present in all his texts – operates premises that he never abandons and that give the book even greater interest. For example: she notes in the production she studies that it would be less attached to the old prerogatives and aesthetic assumptions that for centuries headed the production of art in Western countries. Thus, Paiva ends up paying attention to a curious fact: most of the artists who are seen by her as responsible for the “decolonial turn” in Brazil, in addition to (or because of) this posture, tend to put in the background – and, in some cases, , even overcome – productions linked to traditional artistic modalities (drawing, painting, etc.), opting for solutions far from these traditional aesthetic precepts.

Acting in such a way, these artists, for the most part, would continue an artistic production that emerged with strength after the end of the Second World War. The decolonial artists remembered by Paiva in his book should be perceived as forming new generations who, imbued with concerns with an explicit political and ideological nature, begin to superimpose other possibilities of meaning on that opposing production to the old modern canons.


The protagonism (perhaps excessive?) that Paiva grants to the art circuit does not mean that the author does not recognize that the “decolonial turn” arose from the production of artists[8]. However, in practice, his approach will always tend to privilege the institutional mechanisms that propitiated or encouraged the phenomenon:

In recent years, several events have confirmed the phenomenon of the decolonial turn in Brazilian art: exhibitions curated by indigenous peoples, such as the Vexoa: we know, at Pinacoteca de São Paulo (2020), and the Moquém Surari: contemporary indigenous art, at the Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo (2021); Pipa, the main award for contemporary art, which has mostly contemplated decolonial artists; large urban intervention projects […], in São Paulo […] and […] in Belo Horizonte, with sequential editions featuring a large presence of black and indigenous artists; representation of decolonial artists by important galleries; numerous publications in the specialized press and books; events at various art institutions, such as museums and biennials […] [9]


Only after characterizing this “insurgency of artists and theorists […]”[10] – is that the author will dwell on the definition of the term “decolonial”. At first, she will explain why the use “decolonize” instead of “decolonize”.

The term “decolonial” would have been conceived within the scope of a study group called Modernidade/Colonialidade/Decolonialidade (MCD), and formed by intellectuals born in Latin America or residing here, and which – from the end of the 1990s onwards – will discuss the power relations between European countries (and the United States) and the rest of the world.

For the members of the MCD, “coloniality” would be “a system that survived historical colonialism, still remaining in contemporary times as a matrix of asymmetrical power relations perpetuated in recent centuries”. Still according to Paiva, the North American theorist working in Latin America, Catherine Walsh, explains that removing the “s” from the word “decolonialism” would be introducing a difference to the Castilian “des”:

Thus, the terminology would be more adequate to the group's guidelines, whose proposal is not only to disarm or undo the colonial, but to understand and combat it as a phenomenon that is still current. The author [Walsh] explains that the terms post-colonial and decolonial also denounce the asymmetries of power resulting from the project of colonialist domination and oppression, but these nomenclatures are more linked to the theoretical matrices that emerged in the context of the struggle for decolonization in the post-war period Cold and related to Asian and African studies (by authors such as Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, Aimé Césaire, Edward Said, Stuart Hall and Ranajit Guha) […]

[…] Finally, the MCD group defined the term decolonial as the most pertinent for analyzing colonization as a permanent event, even with certain ruptures.[11]

Continuing his reasoning, Paiva will reflect on decolonial thinking in Brazil stating that, despite “the publication of numerous texts on decolonialism in various areas, there is still a significant lack of approaches that profoundly articulate this perspective in the field of arts.”[12]

To fill this gap – thus creating a possible direction for decolonial studies on art in Brazil –, Paiva will look at two essays by Walter D. Mignolo, an Argentine scholar based in the United States, and member of the MCD[13]. For the author, these texts would be fundamental for those interested in understanding the decolonial in the arts:

Published with an interval of almost ten years, they articulate with each other to make important considerations about the visual arts and their relationship with decolonialist thought, whether based on the analysis of works by some artists, or supported by reflection on the possibilities of a decolonial art criticism […] his two articles provide the greatest scientific contribution to a possible decolonial theory in the arts.[14]

I agree with Paiva when she establishes Mignolo's two essays as possible references for thinking about the “decolonial turn”. And I tend to go further: in my view, resuming these studies by the Argentine researcher will make it possible to reflect on the question raised just above: Mignolo instrumentalizes us to understand that – before the arrival of the decolonial in art – there already was, indeed, an artistic production unlinked of traditional modern aesthetics, which would reinforce the idea that the decolonial in contemporary art would be one more layer to be deposited over the post-war artistic debate, a layer with strong political potential, but still a new layer for a previous whole .


The point I consider central to Mignolo’s first essay – decolonial aesthesis – is the origin of aiesthesis, the basis of the term “aesthetics” in Western culture[15]. Of Greek origin, the word was absorbed by European languages ​​meaning, at first, “sensation”, “perception process”, “gustatory sensation”, “auditory sensation”.[16]. However, from the 17th century, the concept of aesthesis begins to become more restricted, starting to mean only the “sensation of beauty”: “Thus, aesthetics as a theory and the concept of art as practice are born”[17].

If aiesthesis is a phenomenon common to all living beings – as it relates to the world from all its cognitive possibilities –, “aesthetics” would mean a theory created to think only about sensations related to beauty. That is: arbitrary and historically circumscribed, there would be no universal law that would make necessary the relationship only between aesthesis and beauty. Despite this, such a situation would have strengthened in the context of the 18th century in Europe, and then spread “naturally” to the rest of the planet, becoming “universal”.

According to Mignolo: “the mutation of aesthesis into aesthetics laid the foundations for the construction of its own history, and for the devaluation of all aesthesic experience that had not been conceptualized in the terms in which Europe conceptualized its own and regional sensorial experience”[18].

From the recovery of this first meaning of the word aesthesis, Mignolo will analyze the works of some artists from the North American and European scene, whose productions subvert the notion that art would be just a demonstration, in practice, of what aesthetic theory advocates. [19]; works that would not conform to the aesthetic precepts of painting or sculpture, but which – through the installation of certain objects in institutional spaces (historical museums, art museums, etc.) – brought other possibilities of interaction with the public, leading them to to broaden their cognitive perception beyond “beauty”.

An unavoidable fact that must always be reinforced: it would be the presence of racial, ethnic and/or gender themes attached to these installations, which would underlie decolonial artistic practice, separating it from the modernist production of the first half of the last century that, for decades , sought to banish the subject from the work of art, opening new directions for the art that emerged after the Second World War[20].


If in this first essay Mignolo breaks with the postulates that linked art to aesthetics, in Epistemic/aesthetic reconstitution: the decolonial aesthesis a decade later the argument is treated again, now in more depth. To this end, the scholar recovers the concept of gnosis from the new meaning given to it by the American philosopher born in the Republic of Congo, VY Mudimbe, who used it to “name the praxis of thinking in Africa” – broader and more inclusive , relating to any form of knowledge. A type of knowledge that would have been repressed by colonizing European thought.

Mignolo will distinguish gnoseology from epistemology, stating that, if the first refers to knowledge in general, the second refers only to scientific knowledge. Thus, in opposition to aesthetics (restrictive) we would have aesthesis, and in opposition to epistemology (also restrictive), we would have gnoseology.

After making reference to the production of the Guatemalan artist Benvenuto Chavajay, the Argentine scholar summarizes his thoughts: “thinking decolonially is a constant detachment (unlinking) of modern/colonial epistemology and a constant gnoseological/aesthesic work”[21].


This synthesis of Mignolo's thought is undoubtedly incomplete, but I believe that it establishes a basis for us to follow the other reflections of Alessandra S. Paiva in her book.

In the text in which the author, based on the cited essays, focuses on the constitution of a decolonial vision of the visual arts in Brazil[22], in addition to the enunciation and analysis of the most relevant topics thought by the Argentine researcher, it is explained that what Paiva most admires in him is his attitude as a scholar and critic active outside the chains of European thought. The author states: “Mignolo says that his own text is not an analysis, but a decolonial doing; after all, to break away from the colonial matrix is ​​to start with the vocabulary”[23].

This “doing decolonial”, this “detaching oneself” from the colonial past also present in Paiva's text is, in fact, what gives it that character of urgency and commitment already underlined. And he is also the one who leads the scholar not to dwell – or to dwell very little – on the production that ends up serving her only as a backdrop.


Reiterating the thought of the Argentine scholar, Paiva will explain that:

[…] In recent decades, in the social sciences and in the humanities, several studies have proliferated that have produced criticism of the matrices of Eurocentric thought, such as the anthropology of art itself, which shows how beauty and ugliness are relative and changing categories, and that adapt to each context and historical time[24]

And, in addition to theories: “[…] artistic practice provides the keys to its understanding. After all, one of the great tasks of artists […] is the questioning of their own languages”[25]. If such transformations have been taking place for decades, what would the decolonial issue bring to the debate? About this, Paiva will go in the same direction as Mignolo:

It is from the racial point of view and in its intersectional articulation with other issues, such as gender and ethnicity, that decolonial thought began to question more directly the canons of Eurocentric artistic historiography, also reflected in Brazilian historiography […]

[…] it is important to emphasize that the decolonialist current does not propose, in the arts, the simple destruction of the past, but the recognition of cultural heterogeneity and the plurality of forms of artistic expression of non-Eurocentric origin […][26]

Once again, it is the racial issue in its articulations with other demands present in contemporary times that will become the hallmark of distinction between decolonial production and its “antecedents”.

As it will be impossible in this review to account for all the countless and interesting aspects addressed by Paiva in his book, the way to finalize these comments is to pay attention to the possible connections between decolonial art in Brazil and that production that, by preceding it in chronological terms , may have served as a basis for the work of its authors.


If we observe the Brazilian scene from 1960 onwards, it will be seen that a series of local artists develop productions in which the traditional and “internationalized” modernism schemes are overcome. Artists who break with painting, sculpture and other traditional modalities, in favor of an experimentalism that seeks a more totalizing and totalizing involvement with the public.

Hélio Oiticica's penetrables, for example, can be thought of as propositions linked to a more aesthetic conception (in the mold proposed by Mignolo) than exactly aesthetic. In them, the former spectator is led to establish a totalizing relationship with the environment, experiencing sensations linked not only to the interest in beauty. Penetrables may not have any obvious political connotations, but it is undeniable how revolutionary their proposal is, insofar as it is so far removed from the modernist premises of the beginning of the last century.

Although they explore the sensory dimension of the former spectator through other stimuli, it also seems undeniable to me that installations such as shift to red (1967/1984), by Cildo Meireles, as well as IN ABSENTIA MD, 1983, by Regina Silveira, also provoke sensations aesthetics in public. More recently, works such as Donor (1999), by Elida Tessler and wall loos (2016/17) by Ana Maria Tavares also explore a relationship that is not restricted to the gaze and space, but to an experience that takes place equally in time, involving all the senses of the observer.

On the other hand, it is difficult not to agree that the political dimension of these works also echoes clear ideological positions that, if they cannot be directly linked to the “decolonial turn”, assume attitudes that discuss the supposed supremacy of Western art among us: the work cited by Regina Silveira, for example, critically discusses the excessive “shading” that Marcel Duchamp’s work[27] exerts on Latin American art. On the other hand, the criticism of racism and proto-fascism introjected in certain segments of European modernism is undeniable, perceived in wall loos, Ana Maria Tavares.

I am sure that these and other propositions by artists who emerged on the Brazilian scene before the 2000s formed the basis for the installations and interventions that, in recent years, have given rise to the decolonial turn detected by Alessandra Paiva. The proposals by Oiticica, Silveira and others, as it were, “prepared” the contemporary Brazilian scene for the resounding arrival of artists such as Denilson Baniwa, Glicéria Tupinambá, Coletivo Coletores and many other artists or groups.


Above, I noted the fact that in this decolonial turn, many artists would have opted for the production of installations and interventions, to the detriment of more conventional works. Which does not mean, therefore, that some of them would not have produced apparently more traditional works, but none the less questioning the status quo. The know-how related to the various artistic modalities made it possible for apparently conventional works to bring a high degree of subversion of stratified canons, which could be perceived by the most attentive observer.

These considerations could be exemplified by some works by rosana paulino. With a sophisticated training in the field of graphics (but not only) – the artist studied with Regina Silveira, Evandro Carlos Jardim, Claudio Mubarac and Marco Buti – Paulino, especially in his two-dimensional pieces, deconstructs the most expensive codes to Brazilian neoconcretism, coupling ancient photographic images of people enslaved to the structures of Oiticica's meta-schemas.

This irony in relation to the utopian projections perceived in concrete and neoconcrete aesthetics can also be detected in the work Concrete experience #1, by Jaime Lauriano, which resignifies a performance by Lygia Clark – hand dialogues, 1966 – coupling a photographic image of the artist's work to others that document the helpless situation of black youths, tormented by the prevailing racism in the country.

Clark and the neoconcrete aesthetic is also semanticized with the three-dimensional pieces designed by Lyz Parayzo that act as defense/attack weapons for the LGBTQIA+ community, always beset by homophobia.

This is not about relativizing the impact that the decolonial turn in art meant and still means among us, associating it with the recent past of Brazilian art. Rather, it is about drawing attention to the power of Brazilian contemporary art that emerged from the 1960s onwards, which cannot, should not, and which is not ignored by many of the most prominent decolonial artists.

In my view, it is not gratuitous that Paulino, Lauriano and Parayzo, for example – all linked to the decolonial discourse – direct their interests towards the deconstruction, precisely, of concretism and neoconcretism. These modernist strands of local art that received (and continue to receive) credit as supposedly the main strands of Brazilian contemporary art – as well as other artistic strands introduced here – have a problematic relationship with the social and political reality of Brazil, and can and should be criticized. It is not by chance that, in my view, it is precisely from this critique of the (best) past of contemporary art, which has been located up to the present, one of the most significant parts of Brazilian decolonial production[28] .


Finished reading the decolonial turn, and having established these long considerations here, from Gonzaga Duque to the productions of Lyz Parayzo and others, I like to think the following:

After four years of daily obscurantism, I believe that the moment has finally arrived when these new generations of artists and critics will be able to continue expressing their poetics, now in a more propitious and welcoming environment. Not that this production should stop appealing to dissent and even confrontation. But that they do so based on a desirable knowledge of what has been done before and, above all, as was made. After all, even with political and social demands, when we refer to decolonial art, first and foremost, we are talking about art. And nothing will remove the peculiarity of his speech from this comprehensive area of ​​knowledge.

May the turn continue.

[1] – PAIVA, Alessandra Simões. The decolonial turn in Brazilian art. Bauru, SP: Editora Mireveja Ltda, 2022. Publication launched with the support of the Federal University of Southern Bahia, where Alessandra Paiva is a professor.

[2] – Which, as will be seen below, would have occurred from the second half of the 1990s.

[3] – GONZAGA DUQUE, Luiz. dead youth. Rio de Janeiro, Oficinas da Livraria Moderna, 1899, pp.41-42. Over time, the critic will fluctuate about what he thought about a national art for Brazil [3]. However, regarding the undisputed superiority and the matrix role that European art and culture played in the Brazilian scene – to the detriment of other cultures brought here or processed here – nothing has ever changed.

[4] – Washington Luís, among other political positions in the state of São Paulo, was mayor of the capital (1914-1919), governor of the state (1920-1924) and president of the country (1926-1930).

[5] – Menotti Del Picchia. “Organic Ideas of a Discourse”. São Paulo Post Office. São Paulo, April 6, 1924, p. 3.

[6] – The first is a novel, the second a newspaper article. Between both, a time span of almost 25 years.

[7] – In the book there are no indications about the places and dates in which the articles were first published.

[8] – Right at the beginning of the presentation of the book, Alessandra Paiva writes: “A true revolution is underway in the Brazilian arts. This is the decolonial turn, a phenomenon marked by the exponential growth of poetics that express issues such as race, ethnicity, class, gender and geopolitics articulated in an intersectional way”. PAIVA, Alessandra S. on. cit. p.15.

[9] – PAIVA, Alessandra, Idem, p. 23. It would be appropriate to ask ourselves here whether it was the offer of decolonial works that generated this interest from Brazilian institutions or the opposite. But it is not the purpose of this text to delve into this area. Will stay for another opportunity.

[10] – PAIVA, Alessandra, Idem, p. 25.

[11] – PAIVA, Alessandra S. on. cit. p. 27.

[12] – PAIVA, Alessandra S. on. cit. p. 29.

[13] – Respectively the texts “Aiesthesis decolonial” (Calle 14. Revista de Investigación em el Campo del Arte, 2010). and “Epistemic/aesthetic reconstruction: the decolonial aeshesis a decade after” (Calle 14. Revista de Investigación em el Campo del Arte, 2019)

[14] – PAIVA, Alessandra S. Idem.

[15] – Pay attention to the fact that in his first essay, the researcher will write aiesthesis to refer to the term that gives rise to the word “aesthetics”. In the second work, Mignolo uses the spelling aesthesis. This review will respect Mignolo's attitude, spelling aiesthesis or aesthesis according to the author's choice.

[16] – From here came the term “synesthesia”, so used by several modern artists.

[17] – MIGNOLO, Walter. “Decolonial Aesthesis”, on. cit. p. 14.

[18] – Ditto, p. 14.

[19] – American black artist Fred Wilson; Pedro Lasch, born in Mexico and active in the United States, and Tanja Ostojic, an artist born in the former Yugoslavia, residing in Germany.

[20] – Wilson presents installations that discuss the North American slave past; Lasch, the confrontation between Spanish imperialist culture and pre-Columbian cultures; Ostojic discusses the forced migration of women from Eastern Europe to European Community countries.

[21] – MIGNOLO, Walter. “Epistemic/aesthetic reconstitution…”. on. cit. p.20.

[22] – PAIVA, Alessandra S. “The decolonial vision in the arts based on two anthological articles by Walter Mignolo” IN PAIVA, Alessandra S. the decolonial turn... on. cit. P. 153 et seq.

[23] – Ditto, p. 164.

[24] – PAIVA, Alessandra S. “The Decolonial Turn in Brazilian Art”. IN PAIVA, Alessandra S. The turn… on. cit. pages. 35-36.

[25] – Ditto. P. 36.

[26] – Same, pgs. 36-37.

[27] – And therefore all modern art, even the most “conceptual” art.

[28] – On the subject, consult a text in this column, published on October 02, 2019, “Concrete, neoconcrete: semantização continua”.


1 comment

  1. Great reflection by Tadeu Chiarelli on Alessandra Paiva's Decolonial Turn. I agree with Tadeu about the importance of thinking about the contemporary art of the 1960s as a potential for the proposals of the decolonial turn in art.

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