In conversation with Diane Lima

“To Displace the notion of the center, to move the margins, to question borders, categories and hierarchies”

The independent curator and director talks about her most recent curatorial and creative projects and about their relevance to the current context of Brazilian cultural production.

C&: We met each other for the first time in November 2014. You were launching the project “NoBrasil”. What exactly was this project?

Diane Lima: Yes, that was when I arrived in São Paulo. I wanted to create a multidisciplinary platform that would connect artists from different expressive areas, who were bringing to their work not only a critical perspective on social issues, but, more specifically, whose crossings were redefining their practices. How do micro-political manifestations have an effect on and work through macro-political issues? How do artistic practices and practices of resistance intersect? Those were the questions the platform raised. Now, four years later, I see more clearly how much “NoBrasil” was the fruit of the environment of optimism that we were living with the arrival of the World Cup and the promises we heard about being the country of the future or “a country for all”, as the Lula-era slogan goes.

In that regard, I belong to a generation that was in some way influenced by the policies of a popular-progressive government and that, in spite of its inconsistencies and paradoxes, left its marks on the cultural economy – whether directly, through incentive laws for cultural promotion created in the interests of the guidelines of a national plan for culture; or indirectly, through the reverberations of such policies on the cultural industry, on sociability and on the production of knowledge.

C&: So, “NoBrasil” proposed discussing the relationships between art and politics in the contemporary period?

DL: Yes, the challenge was always to reflect upon the utilitarian and artistic dimensions of language, questioning how we could expand its aesthetic and communicative potential. Since 2012, when I started designing the project, we were experiencing the emergence of that whole movement of self-affirmation and self-determination which today has fused across various areas – from the visual arts, design, cinema, to academic production and music, and which intersects different agendas, like, for instance, questions of race, class and gender; discussions about the city and migratory movements; housing problems, environmental disasters and the indigenous cause. Such a positioning didn’t mean, however, that we were only in search of manifestations that would articulate denunciation, but, more than that, were creating and aesthetically redefining themselves on the basis of the power through speech. We wanted to displace the notion of the center, to move the margins, to question lines, borders, categories and hierarchies of what was valid or not and became visible or invisible in national artistic production. Through our research, we were also proposing to have a conversation about knowledge and the production of these other Brazils that make up who we are.

C&: And how has the platform transformed?

DL: “NoBrasil”, in very little time, built a significant network on social media, but had difficulties maintaining content production due to investment shortage, since it had always been difficult to conceive of a management model that would satisfy some of the ethical parameters I had set. In spite of the national cultural policy’s positive impact, there were never public resources to support the platform, this being one example of the contradiction, of the dismantling and the scrapping from which our cultural sector suffers: stripping discourse, the corrupt use of language and the death of speech set our policy’s failure in motion.

Also, I started looking more critically at the project itself, its objectives and the relationships that were forged, and it was impossible not to question the virtual environment and what we believed to be a process of democratization of information, given the interrelations between digital culture and consumerism. We also had to question the notion of Brazilian diversity as cultural policy, since, as my research developed, I saw that this definition could lead to a version 2.0 of the myth of racial democracy, the government’s official whitening project of the 19th and 20th centuries which, derived from its eugenicist policies, makes the presence and contribution of black cultures invisible. Although we were concerned with an expanded concept of diversity that did not only focus on racial plurality, I made that sort of self-criticism. As a result, the “AfroTranscendence” project came about.

C&: So, a year after “NoBrasil” was launched, you exhibited “Afro-T” and soon after that, “Diálogos Ausentes”. Do you consider these last two projects as having developed from “NoBrasil”?

DL: “AfroT” is the first project to come out of “NoBrasil” that fulfills this desire to move off-line. It is driven by three central questions: since I am among the sixth generation of black women from a small city called Mundo Novo (New World), located in the state of Bahia (the blackest state outside of Africa), I began wondering about what would happen with the ancestral knowledge of my house, if my great grandmother, at the time 102 years old, passed away. The second question was to think about how my production would have been influenced if I had had an Afrocentric education at school and at university. The third was this reflection on a collective level: what impact would this have on national artistic production? Such a line of questioning came, of course, alongside observations of the presence and absence of black production that “NoBrasil” had brought us and we realized that our own house is a critical research site. With a program that spans ancestry and contemporaneity, memory and knowledge, through various lectures, performances, laboratories, activities and workshops, the project discusses the effects of epistemicide and the search for new epistemologies that form the basis of our creative work.

“Diálogos Ausentes” came about initially as an invitation from Itaú Cultural (the Itaú cultural institute) after the first edition of “AfroT”. A major point to recall about “AfroT” is that, more than the mobilization and visibility it generated, it ended up, for the cultural sector, being an important milestone because it was among the first programs to achieve this sort of institutional intervention. The fact that it was held at the Red Bull Station ended up enhancing the discussions about the absence of Afro-Brazilian production in museums, galleries and cultural centers, particularly based on the text I wrote about curatorship as an agent for rendering these practices invisible.

When the Itaú cultural center is accused of racism for its use of blackface in a play as part of its performance program, triggering the structural racism present in the institution, I get the invitation to help build and mediate various rounds of forums that ended up going on for a year and a half. So, at the end of 2016, we closed the round of meetings with an exhibition, that I curated with the artist Rosana Paulino. And in 2017, we put on a new exhibit in Rio de Janeiro, one of the first initiatives to focus on black culture at one of the largest cultural institutions in the country in all of its 30 years of operations. The exhibition was also one of the first curated by black women in this institutional circuit.

C&: Is there a point of convergence between “AfroT” and “Diálogos Ausentes”? And what do the experiences from these projects bring to you in terms of reflection on the political times Brazil is currently experiencing?

DL: I think the point of convergence of the three projects is the fact that all of them look toward the production of knowledge: bringing together knowledge, perspectives and other ways of seeing that help us to understand our condition in a world that, despite racialized bodies having always been in extremely precarious circumstances, is everyday improving upon its analytical tools and systems of abuse: What does it mean to live in the world in which being is tragic? A world system of body-currency, where the distribution of violence is reaching a planetary scale? Where contemporary institutions are updating and promoting the preservation of those who are ontologically devoid of rights? And where the absence of rights is practice of the state facing transnational conglomerates? Where the modes of language use and the way they framed all those categorized as black, corrupting and misappropriating their original meaning, characterize the false empire of an entire humanity?

I believe we have moved forward in several discussions over the past four years about what is behind the invisibility as well as the precarity or lack of production. In my Masters research in the Department of Communication and Semiotics at PUC São Paulo, I reflected on these value systems, the regimes of visibility and the impacts that contemporary Afro-Brazilian artistic practices have on meaning. I see the projects I carried out as laboratories and, as such, I feel that the depth itself of the solutions we gave to the problems and the way in which we related as a militant movement, compelled us to be self-critical and reflective.

Fabiana Lopes is a New York and São Paulo-based Independent Curator and a Ph.D. Candidate in Performance Studies at New York University, where she is a Corrigan Doctoral Fellow. Lopes is interested in the artistic production from Latin America and is currently researching the production of artists of African descent in Brazil.

Translated from Portoguese by Sara Hanaburgh