Afro-Brazilian Manifestations

“Territories” Exhibition

The Territórios exhibition set out to highlight the importance of artists of African descent in the history of Brazilian art.

Apart from these two painters, other works are distributed among the rooms which are set up to reflect three categories: European Matrices, African Matrices, and Contemporary Matrices. Firmino appears in the first matrix with the painting Bandeira do divino (Flag of the Divine, 1884), which dialogues with the bronzes Ninfa Eco and Caçador Narciso (Echo the Nymph and Narcissus the Hunter, 1785) by Mestre Valentim (1745-1813), the first cast iron sculptures rendered in the country; the watercolors of Miguelzinho Dutra (1810-1875), whose theme is landscape and the urban occupation of territories in the countryside of the State of São Paulo; also appearing in this matrix are the landscapes, allegories, and portraits in oil by the brothers Artur (1882-1923) and João Timótheo da Costa (1879-1930).

In a way, the works in this first section complement those displayed in the African Matrices room, which include pieces by Emanoel Araújo, Edival Ramosa, and Rubem Valentim (1922-1991). These artists maintained a relatively explicit “African or African-Brazilian cultural ballast,” to borrow an expression from Clarival do Prado Valladares, a foundational author in the discussion on black Brazilian artistic production. (2) Yet, is it possible to ask ourselves which Africa(s) we are discussing here? And what – if any – relationship exists between the other artists and these Africas?

Added to these two rooms is Contemporary Matrices: made up of works recently acquired for the permanent collection between 2012 and 2015, which include pieces that examine Brazil’s early history, such as Rosana Paulino’s Parede da memória (Wall of Memory), Sidney Amaral’s Incômodo (Uncomfortable) and Jaime Lauriano’s Êxodo (Exodus) or that examine the relationship between bodies and public spaces, such as Rommulo Vieira Conceição’s Estrutura Dissipativa/Gangorra (Dissipative Structure/Seesaw), in addition to works by Flávio Cerqueira and Paulo Nazareth. While these separate matrices make sense, there is an intentional interrelationship between the rooms that implies other connections between the works, sparking the curatorial imagination of the viewers.

Visiting Territórios makes clear the importance of an exhibition with this theme and creates a strong desire to see other artists with greater or lesser African or African-Brazilian ballasts incorporated into the privileged space of the museum’s collection, making it possible to circulate in exhibitions inside and outside the country, to motivate academic research and to discuss them in public forums, such as the institution’s educational initiatives and the 2-day thematic seminar. (3) Additionally, it also sparks arrays of critical thought, bringing creators and their work into broader debates within the collection itself, allowing for conversation among these works and others of diverse origin, including African-Brazilian, African-American, and African-European hands, and even perhaps contemporary African art.

Known fact

It’s a “known fact” that the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, founded in 1905, has taken a great interest in Brazilian artists of European roots and in academic production. Lesser known is the black presence in the museum’s collection dating to 1956 when Rio de Janeiro artist Artur Timóteo’s self-portrait was donated, at a time when racism in São Paulo barred the integration of black men and women in multiple areas of the city’s arts scene: theater, film, visual art, literature and music. The TEN-SP – São Paulo’s Black Experimental Theatre, active since 1948 – was one of the means through which black people sought refuge from discrimination. In this field, nonetheless, it would “find it hateful”. (4) The presence of women in the collection is also notable, foreseeing a social demand which is only now beginning to be better redressed. Among its many artists are: Georgina de Albuquerque, Anita Malfatti, Djanira da Motta e Silva and Maria Lídia Magliani, the latter also on display in Territórios.

Under the leadership of Emanuel Araújo, director of the Museu Afro Brasil, the Pinoteca, through its network of benefactors created in 1992, acquired a significant body of work by African-Brazilian artists, including Mestre Valentim, Edival Ramosa, Estevão Silva, and others, that diversified the museum’s aesthetic outlook. Even before Araújo, and shortly after the acquisition of Artur’s self-portrait, works of art in this sector were being incorporated, according to reporting in the museum’s digital catalog of the artistic collection: artists such as Otávio Araújo (between 1972 and 2014), Genilson Soares (1980), and Waldomiro de Deus (1982). Giants and pygmies, by Benedito José Tobias (1894-1944), was acquired in 2009 through resources donated by the Museum’s visitors. The permanent collection, which was initiated in the twentieth century with just twenty-six works of art, has today, in its holdings, 15 works just by Benedito José Tobias, 28 by Valentim, 3 by Antonio Bandeira, 37 by Otávio Araújo, and 33 (5) by Emanuel Araújo, among others. According to Tadeu Chiarelli, in an interview with Cult magazine, the museum’s aim is to “gain a prominent role in the broader agenda of diversity in the arts of the country.” (6)

An aim beyond noble, given that there have already been instances of an institutional inclination toward valuing diversity. I think, however, that the term Afro-descendant could be replaced by “Afro-Brazilian,” restoring to these national artists an integral belonging to Brazil’s territory.


Alexandre Araujo Bispo is an anthropologist, critic, independent curator and educator.


(1) Mr. Firmino Monteiro’s painting. In: Black in Body and Soul. Rediscovery Exhibit. Nelson Aguilar (org.) São Paulo Biennial Foundation. São Paulo: Associação Brasil 500 anos Artes Visuais, 2000: p. 336.

(2) The Black Brazilian in Plastic Arts. In: Black in Body and Soul. Rediscovery Exhibit. Nelson Aguilar (org.) São Paulo Biennial Foundation. São Paulo: Associação Brasil 500 anos Artes Visuais, 2000: p. 426-432.

(3) Teacher training was held on 04/16/2016 with the distribution of support material. The Seminar caried out in partnership with the journal Omenelick 2.

(4) Jornal Ultima Hora. Year 1, São Paulo 13 June 1952, n˚74. Personal archive Nery Rezende da Silva.

(5) Data retrieved from the online collection organized alphabetically: Accessed 3/11/2016.

(6) Black prominence on canvas in: