In Conversation with Moisés Patrício

“Fascism is a ghost who keeps on haunting us”

Brazilian artist Moisés Patrício talks about his career, filled with “travel after 400 years of imprisonment in Brazil”, comments on “inroads for black artists” and reflects on the current Brazilian political context.

C&AL: Your Aceita? series, which discusses the role of manual and intellectual labor historically perfomed by blacks, has traveled as part of exhibitions and is already in Brazilian private collections, although still no public collections. How did this photographic series come about and become so important, and what is the relationship between the images in it, and with painting and performance?

MP: The Aceita? series came out of this interaction between my skills in the online world and the desire to be heard. I’m a painter, and not because of the paint I use, but for the way I see and act in the world. My orixá is responsible for visual communication. Social media is what I’ve been left with to communicate. It’s the tool I’ve had access up to now, and the visual results that I’m able to achieve on social media effectively communicate with a wide audience.

C&AL: Could you say a little more about your relationship with candomblé, the Afro-Brazilian religion born, as anthropologist Marcio Goldman says, from a mortal and lethal experience, and an important subject in the work of artists such as Carybé, Mestre Didi, Rubem Valentim, Djanira da Motta e Silva, Eneida Sanches, Ayrson Heráclito, Nadia Taquari and many others?

MP: My relationship with candomblé comes from my family: my maternal grandfather, João Bento da Silva or Pai João de Ayrá, has been a candomblé priest for over 40 years. I’ve been tasked with continuing their studies and caring for the culture of the orixás. Everything I know about the definition of candomblé—respect, ethics, resistance, community, art in religious and political acts—I learned on the terreiro. I have access to their knowledge, science accumulated for centuries by black Brazilian and African peoples, and this has been my foundation, my framework for reflecting on my surroundings. And this has a strong presence in my art.

C&AL: How do you see the current situation in Brazil, the impeachment of Dilma Roussef in 2016, the unjust imprisonment of former President Lula, the growing inequalities and violence against blacks and poor people? What have you done or are doing to speak out about state and institutional violence in Brazil?

MP: We are experiencing a crisis of globalization. We can’t think about Brazil without making this distinction, after a parliamentary coup, and with a global economic crisis. The situation of blacks and the poor here and in the world has worsened, and it’s worth remembering that everything started in the U.S. financial sector in 2008. And I follow my mother’s instructions, who keeps repeating: “Don’t get into trouble, stay alive. The black man in Brazil has always been the shield for everything, always the first to die…” I’ve been doing what she says.

Anyway, I’m closely following the story as it unfolds. I was born in 1984, during the transition from the military dictatorship (1964-1985) to the democratic period. What we are witnessing today is that the few civil rights won during the terms of former presidents Lula da Silva (2002-2010) and Dilma Roussef (2010-2016) are being snatched back. I’ve been speaking out in lectures, I’ve been creating and producing work that speaks out against it, but it’s an unfair fight since the other side—the right and the extreme right—has blood and gunpowder on their hands. Unfortunately, fascism is a ghost who keeps on haunting us.

C&AL:You just came back from being abroad, traveling for more than three months. Tell us a bit about the itineraries you’ve chosen and the new possibilities that have opened up from your experience on the trip?

MP: As my grandfather would say, I’m hitting the road after 400 years of being imprisoned in Brazil: I’m the first one in my family to travel abroad. I chose to start my travels in the countries of the African continent. In 2018 I went to Dakar, Senegal, and at the end of that same year I went to Morocco. In 2019, I spent two weeks in Benin (Ouidah) for the annual Voodoo Festival. In February, I went to New York, for a residency for Brazilian artists. In July of 2019, I’ll be back in the city. In São Paulo, I continue to run Ikorita Studio (which means crossroads in Yoruba), where I develop activities to integrate black people into the art world. From now on, my idea is to keep traveling and complete this first stage of wandering in Tokyo, in 2020. In other words, I want to understand the world and its inroads for black artists.

Alexandre Araujo Bispo is an anthropologist, critic, independent curator, and educator.

Translated from Portuguese by Zoë Perry.