Public funding

Black Art in Brazil: An Uncertain Future

Despite the toll from Brazil’s current political setbacks, several initiatives have been taking place within the Brazilian black art scene. After taking steps to generate public policies for the segment, the current major challenge is being able to maintain them.

Beyond this exhibition, one of the world’s best that year, which opened up institutional and private collections, as well as those of the artists themselves from various countries, other interventions have taken place within the Brazilian black art scene, in spite of the toll following the coup that removed then-president Dilma Rousseff from power in 2016. Among the many detrimental effects brought about by this impeachment without high crimes and misdemanors was the dissolution of the Ministry of Culture in 2019, now absorbed by the Ministry of Tourism.

Essential resources in a racist society

This dismantling of culture spilled over into two important institutions for the black arts scene: the Brazilian National Arts Foundation (Funarte) and the Palmares Cultural Foundation. Created in 1975, it was only in 2012, following pressure from black cultural and artistic movements and due to the responsiveness of the PT government at the time, that Funarte launched the Edital Artes Negras (Call for Submissions in Black Art), earmarking resources to finance projects in this segment, despite criticism and opposition.

It was these resources that allowed, for example, curator Claudinei Roberto da Silva to put on the solo show of São Paulo artist Sidney Amaral (1973-2017), whose career, abruptly cut short, was booming. O banzo, o amor e a cozinha de casa (Banzo, love and the home kitchen), exhibited in 2015 at the Museu Afro Brasil, where the artist’s works were already on display as part of its long-term collection. This exhibition was Amaral’s largest solo show to date, which brought together the diverse facets of his work with almost 50 pieces. The question remains: in a racist society, without the allocation of these resources, would this exhibition and its catalog have been possible? The discontinuation of this program, however, which took place even before the impeachment, is indicative of the enormous difficulties of keeping public policies for the black community going after their creation.

Created in 1988 to advocate for the interests of black Brazilians, the Fundação Cultural Palmares is another example that emerged from the historic fight of black movements that helped draft Brazil’s 1988 Constitution. The foundation held four editions of the National Award for Afro-Brazilian Cultural Expression. Created in 2010, winners include São Paulo artists Rosana Paulino, in its first year; Lídia Lisboa and Renata Felinto, both in 2012; as well as artists from Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Bahia, Tocantins and Pernambuco.

Obtaining financial resources, however, does not imply that exhibitions will be held in renowned visual arts spaces — on the contrary. As an example, for the installation/setup of “Afro Retratos”, by Renata Felinto, three rooms in a commercial building in downtown São Paulo had to be rented, and minimally prepared to receive the exhibition on display for a month, in addition to offering educational interventions for children and young people living downtown.

Zone of “vulnerability”

In November 2019, the Palmares Foundation’s president, Sérgio Nascimento de Camargo — son of the famous writer, journalist and black activist Oswaldo de Camargo — openly opposed historic black civil rights movements, reducing them to a left-wing minority, thereby also dismissing his own father’s story. Under pressure from the organized black community, he was removed from office.

As you may recall, government intervention, in the sense of drafting and implementing public policies specific to the black community, was what led to the establishment of the Museu Afro Brasil, in 2004, with funds from Petrobras. This investment made it possible for the museum to manage and expand its collection, as well as to invest in research, publications, and educational programs.

These few examples listed here, among many others, demonstrate, however, just how far the black art world is from leaving the zone of “vulnerability”. Artists, curators, critics, researchers, and, not least, the works of art themselves, are still in need of public funding. Unlike the traditionally narrow contemporary art market, this group of people bets, risks, believes, and invests — providing the benefits are in fact broadly distributed across society.

Alexandre Araujo Bispo is an anthropologist, critic, independent curator and educator.

Translated from Portuguese by Zoë Perry