C&AL: And Djass is emerging precisely in the context of the decolonization of Portuguese thought?
BD: Since it was founded in 2016, Djass has aimed to examine the decolonization of knowledge. We based our work on the investigative works of historians, sociologists and anthropologists who are also reflecting on this decolonization. On one side, epistemological decolonization, bringing knowledge produced by other authors to think about how knowledge is produced and how we can alter existing dominant Eurocentric conceptions and bring to the discussion other ways of knowing.
We sought out US, African and Afro-descendant black thinkers and the contributions they made to freedom movements. All those ideas are modeling our discourse, are influencing it and the way we are thinking what is necessary to do in order to decolonize thought in Portugal, to give centrality to racism and racial discrimination and to understand that racism crosses different dimensions of our collective life with an impact on the life of Black women and men, but also on the hegemonic ideas of mainstream society.
C&AL: You all defend the inclusion of African peoples’ contributions in school curriculums. Is the aim of this to recover the African continent’s art history?
BD: In Portugal, school textbooks continue to disseminate a Eurocentric vision of knowledge, which is making diversity and the richness of African cultures invisible or paints them as stereotyped or subaltern. We need to dismantle this vision, inscribing in our curriculums and textbooks the contribution of African civilizations to the scientific, technological, economic, social and cultural development of Humanity. The Interpretive Center – part of the Memorial – will also be essential to affirm this decolonial thinking. We want to look at the contributions of African civilizations to knowledge, to technology, to social development, in a way that allows us to dispute and confront the narrative that treats these civilizations and these cultures as being backward, uncivilized, primitive and which establishes a hierarchy that qualifies these civilizations, always in comparison to European civilization. We want to fight Eurocentrism in order to bring this very important information to write this incomplete history that is told about these civilizations, about these cultures. We are planning for the Interpretive Center to have regular programming, to collaborate with art curators who are not only reflecting on decolonial and post-colonial thought, but who also have knowledge about the different cultural manifestations of various African civilizations over this whole historical moment – while colonialism was happening as well as the pre-colonial and post-colonial periods.
We’re also counting on community participation. We want to create a museology community where curatorship of the exhibitions are made in partnership and coordination with associations that are locally based and with the Afro-descendent social movement, in a way that will not only allow us to construct a fluid dialogue with the communities, but also a robust narrative that confronts the national hegemonic narrative, where these communities are always depicted as subaltern in the production of knowledge and we want to dispute this narrative. Additionally, we want to establish an articulation between different facilities that exist in European cities that deal with the same themes, like memory and colonial history, memory of African populations and Afro-descendants in European countries as well as in Afro-European memory. It is important to think of Europe as a plural space, with multiple cultures.
Beatriz Dias is a black Portuguese woman. She was born in Dakar, Senegal, in 1971, and lives in Lisbon, Portugal. She has taught Biology and Geology on the elementary and secondary levels since 1994. An activist against racism and the founder of Djass – Association of Afro-descendants, she is also a militant, the leader of the Left Block and served as Mayor of Lisbon from 2009 to 2019. She is currently an assemblywoman on the National Assembly (Portuguese parliament).
Gisele Navarro Fernandes is a Brazilian who has lived in Lisbon since 1996. She is a psychologist involved in Portuguese social movements. She is also a member of the association for anti-racism, Djass, and the Andorinha Collective – the Brazilian Democratic Front of Lisbon.
Translated from Portuguese by Sara Hanaburgh