In line with Adriano Pedrosa and Lilia Schwarcz’s curatorial rationale for Histórias Mestiças (Mestizo Histories, 2014), and focused on the abundance of material references to racial mixing in Brazil, the exhibition Afro-Atlantic Histories, revealed the complex network of social relationships in which an infinite number of historical and art objects circulates. As many private galleries and collections as public museums and institutions aided in putting together its multifaceted narrative, which by pluralizing the term history suggested a desire to escape the dangers of a single story.
Curated by Pedrosa, Schwarcz, Ayrson Heráclito, Hélio Menezes, and Tomás Toledo,a total of 450 works by 214 artists were on exhibit, spread between MASP (the Museum of Arte in São Paulo) and the Instituto Tomie Ohtake. With this grouping, the exhibition offered different cultural temporalities, without attempting to establish a chronology of events that would begin in the sixteenth century and culminate in the twenty-first century without further tensions. Rather, the exhibition signaled – although through an excess of works interspersed with documents – formal and thematic approximations. It was organized in eight areas: Maps and Margins; Emancipations;Daily Life; Rites and Rhythms; Routes and Trances: Africas, Jamaica, Bahia; Portraits; Afro-Atlantic Modernisms; and Resistances.
One example of formal-thematic approximation was in the Portraits section, which included: Amnesia, a figurative bronze sculpture by young artist Flávio Cerqueira; two enormous paintings by seventeenth-century Dutch painter Albert Eckhout, representing a woman with a boy and a Black man by himself; the painting Girl from Guinea, by Nigerian artist Uzo Egonu (1931–1996); and an untitledpainting by late Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, donated to MASP in 2018. This curatorial arrangement pointed not only to the renown of some works, for instance Eckhout’s pieces, seen in the country since the huge Brazil 500:Rediscovery Exhibition (2000), including at Mestizo Histories, but also forced into visibility works that are confined to museum collections and rarely moved around due to a lack of projects addressing specific themes – even those of major importance and urgency, such as the debate on race.