Knowledge as Resistance

“The Colonizer Only Sees an Exotic Object”

Afro-diasporic and indigenous artists face conditions that are completely different from those faced by Whites. This context of representation on the art scene needs to change, breaking with the symbolic field permeated by rigid hierarchies and strong traditions. Occupying curatorship is an important step.

In the Western academic contrarian view, the University of International Integration of Afro-Brazilian Lusophony (Unilab) began operation in 2010. With its headquarters in the city of Redenção, in Ceará, in the northeast of Brazil, Unilab employs an Afro-centric and multidisciplinary teaching methodology and welcomes students from all Portuguese-speaking countries. Art curatorship is but one of the course of study offered in the Humanities. Joana D’Arc de Sousa, a visual arts curator and professor on the Redenção campus, explains that it was only possible to shape an institution like Unilab within a public framework of decolonial politics in education, culture and international relations that the Brazilian governments supported between the years 2003 and 2016.

Enormous Disputes

In de Sousa’s evaluation, the results of these activities are evidenced today by a greater insertion of racialized artists on the art circuit. In artistic direction of institutions and curation, however, there is still space to be filled, she points out. “We are dealing with a symbolic field that contains rigid hierarchies, rituals and strong traditions, and disputes are enormous. And so, there is also the need to build training spaces that will open up possibilities not only for artists to enter the market, but also for black and indigenous curators,” she concludes.

The recent hiring of native curators represented a step forward for museums from the decolonial perspective. In London, the Modern Tate has the Guatemalan Pablo José Ramirez, a cultural theorist in the field of contemporary indigenous art practices. In Brazil, Sandra Benites holds the position of assistant curator at São Paulo Museum of Art, the first indigenous curator to hold such an important position in a museum in the country. In New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has Patrícia Morroquin Norby, a Mexican from the Purépecha nation, on its team. In November 2020, the Pinacoteca of the state of São Paulo inaugurated the exhibition “Véxoa: nós sabemos” (Véxoa: We Know), curated by Naine Terena.

Mapping and Cartography

Data from Mapping Women in the Arts in Bolivia (1919-2019), produced by researchers Mary Carmen Molina Ergueta and FernandaVerdosoto Ardaya for the Goethe-Institut’s project O século das mulheres (The Century of Women), identified 500 professionals in the plastic arts over the last 100 years. A low number with regard to classical artistic expressions, like painting and sculpture. The authors of the mapping warned that “we must take into consideration the fact that plastic arts have been considered a man’s domain.” Moreover, in many studies about art history in Bolivia, especially through the decade of the 1990s, there is little or no mention of Bolivian plastic artists.

In Brazil, mapping is also being done with the objective of documenting Brazilian professionals who were committed to curatorial practice. The study is linked to the Bisi Silva Laboratory of Exhibitions Curatorship at the School of Fine Arts at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and run by the Research and Training in Exhibition Curatorship Network, coordinated by Professor Carolina Ruoso (UFMG), in collaboration with art researchers from other regions of the country. In its first phase of data retrieval, the Network identified 300 curators working in the country.

Connecting African and Afro-descendent Artists

Among the examples of artistic re-existence is the 01.01 platform, defined by its founders as a mechanism for decolonial education: an artistic residency, a curatorial school and a space for sustainable exchanges between African and Afro-diasporic artists (the artist keeps 70% to 80% of the work’s value). The first residency occurred in 2020, in the Bahian Recôncavo, connecting African and Afro-descendent artists.

Visual artist Ana Beatriz Almeida, co-curator of the platform, reinforces that slavery and racism must be understood as crimes against humanity of global dimensions. As a result, “the presence of Afro-Brazilian, African and Afro-diasporic artists in the art market is completely different from that of White artists. Our primary role is to change the context of representation and commercialization of these artists, connecting them with one another and with communities who resisted slavery and racism.”

Ending the Process of Westernization

Little by little, art is delineating its decolonial strategies—an idea that is distinct from “discolonial,” a term associated with decolonization, or the de-occupation of nations that were invaded through a process which is thus already over. In the new scenario, the key action word is re-exist, Argentine semiologist Walter Mignolo points out. “The global Westernizing project collapsed at the beginning of the 21st century. This did not mean the end of the West. It only meant the end of Westernization in its last attempt: neoliberal globalism. The Westernization of the world is no longer possible because more and more people are resisting being subsumed in it. Contrarily, people begin to re-exist,” Mignolo summarizes in his essay A colonialidade está longe de ter sido superada, logo a decolonialidade deve prosseguir (Coloniality Is Far from Over, and So Must Be Decoloniality), produced by the online event Art and Decolonization organized with the São Paulo Art Museum.


Anna Azevedo is a journalist, filmmaker and artist interested in the intersection between cinema and the visual arts.

Translation: Sara Hanaburgh