C& América Latina: Recently you’ve said that black and urban men and women are producers in music and even literature, but very little in the visual arts. Why is that? How did you, who began producing work in the early 1990s, see yourself in that context?
Rosana Paulino: Historically, black visual arts in Brazil are closely tied to the religious – from Barroque to Modernism, and sometimes still today. I think black men were, in a way, allowed this area of religious production. Rubem Valentim, Mestre Didi, and Emanoel Araújo, for example, worked on black issues from their involvement with religion, which is not unnatural, since all three are from Bahia, and connected to the religious environment. In my case, someone from the outskirts of São Paulo, from Freguesia do Ó, and who listened to the music of the Racionais MCs as a teenager, what sort of black heritage was around me? It wasn’t Afro-Brazilian religious services. Obviously, this is in no way a criticism of those artists. I want to underscore that I’m not immersed in that universe the way they were. So how do I find myself? What are my references? Those were the questions I asked in the early 1990s, and for which I didn’t have very ready answers.
C&AL: On more than one occasion you’ve said your primary concern as an artist is understanding the position black women occupy in the Brazilian social fabric. Could you talk about what you’ve uncovered, in that context, in your research and work?
RP: According to data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), black women form the very base of the social pyramid in Brazil. They are the ones who most head up families on their own, the ones with the lowest incomes. She is below the black man, who in turn is below the white woman, who is below the white man. I would like to understand this in my work. I look at this question from my surroundings, from the black girls here in the neighborhood and also from the women in my family. My mother and my aunt are exceptionally intelligent women, so what happened to them? Why did a woman with such remarkable intelligence as my mother fail to develop her skills? How is the growth of a woman who doesn’t belong to a standard of beauty, one that shuts her out? Is it possible for a black woman to be successful? Watching television, sometimes it seemed like we were in the Netherlands, Switzerland. That wasn’t my daily life. So, within the contours of race, I also had to examine the contours of gender to understand my own status in the world.