The category of Afro-Brazilian art allows for a large number of artists to be grouped under this term which, broadly, can be divided between those that take blackness as a theme of their plastic production and those that do so, above all, because they approach the theme based on their social experience of being Black in an environment replete with barriers. In Brazil, many racist manifestations are concealed under the discursive mask of equality and universality of modern rights and duties. In the case of many Black artists, it is the social experience that nurtures the poetics, when, often the aesthetic of their works lead to political discussions that raise questions for the art world as a whole.
In the first group, notable are European artists who, as travelers, recorded aspects of enslaved Black people’s lives primarily during the 19th century. Later, modernist artists like Tarsila do Amaral, Lasar Segall, Anita Malfatti, Candido Portinari and others were interested in the Black man as object of their creative speculations. Today, among contemporary artists, photographers Mário Cravo Neto and Miguel Rio Branco are examplary of this thematic interest.
Concerning the second group: the inclusion of Black sculptural production in the category of “Fine Art” would only exist from the 20th century onwards, through an article written by the doctor Raimundo Nina Rodrigues in 1904, published by the journal Kosmos. The text in question not only saved a group of pieces considered fine art from cultural vandalism, but its publication would come to humanize a population that was historically treated not as people, but as things or as an integral part of the slave economy. Rodrigues was interested, however, in the ethnographic aspect of this art, and for this reason argued that it must be studied anthropologically for its uses and functions performed in Candomblé rituals. Following this author’s work, and later his student Artur Ramos’s, a greater interest came about not only in collecting this sacred art, but also in its study and dissemination.