C&AL: The part of the exhibition at Instituto Tomie Ohtake begins with a large timeline, starting from the Lei Áurea (‘Golden Law’, which abolished slavery in Brazil in 1888), and includes recent events, such as the assassination of Marielle Franco. What is the importance of that collection of events and of the cornerstone of the 130th anniversary of abolition in how the show was conceived?
Hélio Menezes: The timeline is the result of research begun by Flávio Gomes and Lilia Schwarcz, in which I also took part, and that resulted in the book, Dicionário da Escravidão e Liberdade (Dictionary of Slavery and Freedom – published by Editora Companhia das Letras). For the exhibition, we’ve expanded on it and included other events. This is a show that demands a historical range from the viewer, hence its importance. At both MASP and the Instituto Tomie Ohtake, we don’t present the works in chronological or geographical terms, or by language. So having it planted firmly in time was important, because it’s an exhibition that aims to question the ways in which Brazil’s history has been told.
Until the 1980s, Brazilian historiography was rather conservative in that it devoted little, for example, to the micro-histories of enslaved people and the formation of quilombos. In general, in schools, slavery is presented as if there were almost no resistance. In that respect, the events included on the timeline relate to key moments about slave revolts and insurrections on the Afro-Atlantic axis, the creation of social movements, important events from this region that don’t make it into our history books. The 13th of May of 1888, which marks the 130th anniversary of an informal, incomplete and conservative abolition, is an inescapable date. But what was on our horizon is that this 130-year anniversary wasn’t a date of celebration, a question long raised by black Brazilian movements. Equally inescapable in 2018 is the 220th anniversary of the Bahian Conspiracy (1798), so we asked Dalton Paula to paint the portrait of João de Deus, one of the movement’s leaders.