In conversation with

Nádia Taquary: Uncovering Afro-Brazilian Stories

Inspired by Afro-Brazilian jewelry, Nádia Taquary’s works are based on research that seeks a more authentic view of history, especially on Afro-descendant female power. The artist transforms commodified objects, seeking to reclaim their roots in resistance and politics.

C&AL: Almost all of your works are based on research into little-known or inaccurately known stories. Can you explain your research process?

NT: We have a story of the “discovery of Brazil”, but it’s really a very romanticized story of the invasion of Brazil by colonizers. In my work, I try to always update history from another perspective, no longer the Eurocentric perspective, but from a more truthful place. I learned about the history of pre-colonial Africa through many readings, such as Damilare Falade’s work and historian Juana Elbein dos Santos ‘s doctoral dissertation on the Geledes, female ancestral cultures about which little has been said. Her dissertation gave me understandings that were very important for me to begin my exhibition Ìyàmi Aje, which talks about this generative feminine power. Within a Eurocentric and patriarchal society, understanding of this feminine power in our culture of African descent was blocked. My work talks about the story of these women, which is an Ìyàmi Aje*.

* Ìyàmi is a Yoruba term that means “my mother”. Ìyàmì Aje is a term of respect that describes an African woman who possesses spiritual powers.

C&AL: Some people criticize the way Afro-Brazilian culture has been commodified and made pleasant and welcoming to tourists, instead of being political.

NT: It is precisely from this place that I wanted to take these objects—from this touristy and seductive place in the sense of enchantment. I wanted to say that behind all this charm, all this beauty, there is a very strong history of women who came together to buy their freedom or that of someone else in their family, there were struggles against the oppressive systems of patriarchy and slavery.

C&AL: The visual arts are a distinct way of talking about this history, different from doctoral dissertations and academic books. Do you think art can tell these stories in a way that other media cannot?

NT: I think everything is connected and important. My language is art and I think art will lead you to a kind of questioning: what exactly is this and what is it talking about? Maybe a work of art captures that gaze or thought more quickly. Maybe it’s accessed more quickly, because a work of art does something to you—either it will completely enchant you with its beauty or it will disturb you. It brings about emotions and those emotions generate questions or demand understanding.

C&AL: You worked with researchers like Roberto Conduru, professor of Art History at Southern Methodist University. How important is collaboration to you?

NT: I think a curator is fundamental in an artist’s life. They have the perspective that the artist, immersed in their own world, doesn’t have, and brings a range of information and guidance that forms their trajectory. I understand my trajectory a lot better thanks to curators who showed me pathways for it, such as Ayrson Heráclito, Roberto Conduru and Marcelo Campos, in Defeito de cor (2022-23), at the Rio Art Museum. Everyone brings the next step, not the next step of creation, but the paths that the work will take. For example, in Defeito de cor, one of my works, made for Ìyàmi Aje, I saw in a new light, because it became part of a different narrative and was related to other works. I realized that from the moment it leaves me, it has a life of its own and will tell its own story. It’s no longer up to me to tell its story, and I found that very interesting. I learn a lot from these dialogues, and I grow and mature as a result.

C&AL: Do you find it a little scary that your work can have this life of its own?

NT: (Laughs) No, I hope my works have this life that I didn’t plan. After they leave me, there is this empty space from which I can create something new. So I don’t see it as scary, but as nourishment. It fuels me to create, think and desire again.

C&AL: You’ve exhibited your work outside Brazil, in Paris, at the Agnès Monplaisir gallery, in 2015, and in the United States. Have you noticed a difference in the reception of your works in Brazil and abroad?

NT: Yes. Here in Brazil I was able to talk more about its political nature. Abroad, this political nature was weakened a little. In the United States, I participated in Axé Bahia, at the Fowler Museum (2017-2018), and I did an artistic residency at the Fifty-Five Project, in Miami. Through this residency, the Met Museum and the Perez Museum acquired part of my installation, Oríkì. The discussions I had in the United States were as rich as those in Brazil, in part because of the appreciation for African-American cultures.

C&AL: Throughout your career, have you noticed many changes in the art world in Brazil?

NT: Yes. Although there have been important Afro-Brazilian artists before me, I saw, as soon as I started, that I was always in a circle of men. I was always the only woman in that exhibition or in that book. It also happened that few women spoke of the sacred within their art. Today I see more women in Afro-Brazilian art and an increasingly growing diversity. There are also many young artists who are welcomed and have spaces to exhibit. A great example of this is Afro-Atlantic Stories (2018), at the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP). And more and more spaces are promoting art that talks about our own identity and about Black people in Brazil. If Afro-Brazilian art doesn’t speak, how will we?

This conversation took place on May 5, 2023. Nádia Taquary is one of the artists participating in the 24th Biennale of Sydney in Australia, from March 9th to June 10th, 2024.

Nádia Taquary‘s (Salvador, Bahia) works engage Afro-Brazilian religious cultures and forgotten stories of Black women’s leadership. Her first solo exhibition opened at the Rio Art Museum (MAR), Ònà Irin: Railway, on October 28, 2023.

Lynne Lee is a PhD candidate in Art History at Rice University, specializing in modern and contemporary Afro-Brazilian art. Her dissertation examines the influence of medical discourses on race and eugenics on early studies of Black art in Brazil.

Translation: Zoë Perry