C&AL: What does it mean to make Afro-themed art in Venezuela?
FP: I sold a lot of work before, with the Disney theme, but people who supported me then don’t even say hello to me now. They want people to talk about dance, music. It’s not easy to talk about slavery here. That’s why I try not to come across as resentful and instead to tell the story with a wink. I’m not going to change history; I’m just saying what happened. In Venezuela you have to be careful how you say things. For me, it’s easier to sell abroad. They don’t take me very seriously here, although there are curators and artists who help me. Times are difficult in Venezuela. Its museums are in poor condition; they close due to lack of resources.
“the wink.” In the painting, with a black background, red lips smile with white teeth, golden teeth. Jonathan Square, art critic and professor, writes: “Francisco has an approach to Venezuelan Afro-Indigenous history that is at once respectful and irreverent. He pays tribute to his cultural heritage while questioning it with black humor. The smile with the gold tooth is a reference to racist iconography, but Francisca changes the meaning, turning it into the mischievous smile of the maroon.” The piece was acquired by the MOCADA Museum in Brooklyn.
C&AL: Basquiat is an important presence in your work. How do you dialogue with artists from the diaspora?
FP: I’m always running after people who are in the know. I became obsessed with Basquiat, and I wanted to use his crown, to intervene with it, so I wrote to Al Díaz, his collaborator on the SAMO (Acronym for “The same old carp”) project. Al loved the idea and he let me use the crown. I also write to other artists, to the Cuban José Bedia. I collaborate with a platform, Africanah, and that’s where I can see the scene: Brazilian artists, Caribbean artists. Umar Rashid, an African American (US), is a good friend. I learn by talking to people.
Barlovento is 30km east of Caracas. When it was a colony, cocoa plantations prospered there. That is where the enslaved were brought from Congo and Angola. There, the enslaved fled to form cumbes, palenques (Maroon societies). Grandpa Pinto was born in Barlovento. Francisco, the painter, does not know much more about him.
The smiling Maroon is a round black emoji with a red mouth that Pinto uses to mark the facades of museums and private galleries: “to let them know the Maroon passed through here.” The Maroon is also the character in a series of collages in which he mixes references from comics and colonial archives.
“The Maroon, in the jungle, who has fled, becomes a cyborg, a superman,” Pinto says. Pinto also says that he created that series after reading about the mutilations carried out by the Belgian King Leopold in the Congo.