For over three decades, so-called Afro-Brazilian art — i.e. part of the collection of works by black artists from the 18th and 19th centuries, from the pre-modernist and modernist periods (post-1888 to the 1950s), as well as contemporary black artists (from the 1960s to today) — has been linked to Emanoel Araújo, the person responsible for putting forward these names, democratizing access, and safeguarding their memories and artistic achievements.
Araújo’s systematic promotional stance ensured that artists such as Mestre Valentim, José Teófilo de Jesus, Estevão Silva, the brothers Artur and João Timóteo da Costa, Wilson Tibério, Rubem Valentim, Mestre Didi, Yedamaria, Alexandre Ignácio Alves, Edival Ramosa, Bauer Sá, and many others were introduced to to a wider audience. This took place through an impressive number of exhibitions, followed by compelling publications, such as A mão afro-brasileira (The Afro-Brazilian Hand, 1988) and A nova mão afro-brasileira (The New Afro-Brazilian Hand, 2013), Negro de corpo e alma (Black in Body and Soul, 2000) and Museu Afro Brasil: um conceito em perspectiva (Museu Afro Brasil: a concept in perspective, 2006), in addition to the republication, in its entirety, of classic texts on black Brazilian art, such as As bellas-artes nos colonos pretos no Brazil: a esculptura (Fine Arts in Brazilian Negro Settlements: Sculpture, 1904) by Raimundo Nina Rodrigues, or O negro brasileiro nas artes plásticas (Black Brazilians in the Visual Arts, 1968), by Clarival do Prado Valadares.
What came before visibility?
Current, but delayed, institutional interest in black authorship – in theater, cinema and in the visual arts in particular – has created buzz in the Brazilian cultural scene, especially in São Paulo. Despite historic barriers to the upward mobility of black people, there seems to finally be recognition of the importance of black artists in Brazil. This institutional appeal – the height of which was the Afro-Atlantic Histories exhibition (2018), which presented a wide range of artistic production within the Atlantic context – should alert us to the risks of the “commodification” of black art, which leads to it being circulated as promoted by those with greater resources. It’s worth remembering that large financial investments end up burying the necessary social work that preceded the current visibility.