A major institution like the Pinacoteca could relatively easily organize loans, employ archival strategies, and rely on documentary articulations to enlarge the field of discussion. Including artists and discourses not coming from matrix of clear African descent while touching on other aspects of some key subjects could have added the questions and friction necessary to establish counterpoints and narratives deviating from the official ones that seemed, in the end, to inform the show. This exhibition reasserted a strong chronological, formal, and linear system in which not only works, but the subjects themselves, the artists, seemed to become representations again.
Even if the question of identity is key, it does not summarize the discussions on the complex Afro-Brazilian issues in the field of culture. Topics like spaces of coexistence as well as class and the rights issues remain almost unmentionable in the country, because they stumble over the very idea of national identity and over the regimes of visibility, inclusion, and social function. This ignorance generally adds to the violent situations in which the Afro-Brazilian populations are still immersed.
It is therefore imperative to recognize the religious, cultural, and popular practices of the Afro-Brazilian universe as key factors in the formation and current sociocultural developments of Brazilian society. Numerous Afro-Brazilian artists have responded to these inherent connections. Yet the question remains: Where do Afro-Brazilian culture and its actors fit in? Who can speak, and how, about their importance and value in the current state of affairs? How can they articulate and move in such a field without incurring the various types of violence that, consciously or unconsciously, are repeated and perpetuated? Violence against Afro-Brazilian culture is far from being a thing of the past. There are still countless cases of assaults and attacks on Afro-Brazilian communities today.
It is paramount that we break down the social understandings and patterns that push various Afro-Brazilian manifestations to the margin of the official narratives, especially when it comes to writing history. We therefore need to ask ourselves what cultural and curatorial actions can contribute to the understandings about the fundamental position of people of African descent in Brazilian society. If they do not escape those recurring logics of prejudice, they will at most reaffirm a long history of control and separation, which now seems to work through apparent integration.
(1) Decree 528 of 28 June 1890 opened the country to European immigration and stipulated that blacks and Asians could only enter Brazil with Congressional authorization.
Beto Shwafaty is an artist and researcher based in Brazil. He has been involved with collective, curatorial, and spatial practices since the early 2000s, and as a result, he develops a research-based practice on spaces, histories and visualities, connecting formally and conceptually political, social and cultural issues that are converging to the field of art.