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.
Osalufa, Performance Ana Beatriz Almeida. Photo: Shai Andrade
Vagas (Spaces), de Kássia Borges. Five thousand pieces of terra-cotta pottery measuring 5cm x 3cm. Cora Coralina Cultural Center, Goiânia, 2019. Photo: Courtesy of the artist
Tchidohun, Performance Ana Beatriz Almeida. Photo: Luara Dal Chiavon
The idea of knowledge used as an instrument of colonial domination has been debated in the Global South since the first half of the 20th century. The essays of Martinican philosopher Frantz Fanon, Guinea-Bissauan Amilcar Cabral, and of Brazilians Paulo Freire and Darcy Ribeiro are references. In the 2000s, the Peruvian sociologist Aníbal Quijano probed the question more deeply by proposing a fundamental distinction between colonialism and coloniality. Whereas the concept of colonialism harkens back to the geopolitical control of one nation over another, coloniality reveals the complex web—racial, patriarchal, sexual, of knowledge—of hierarchies and privileges constructed by colonial domination. As a result: five centuries of oppression on the earth, bodies and knowledge still in progress, even after decolonization.
Guided by the decolonial spirit, in 2009, Bolivia enacted a new Constitution, which recognized that it is a Multinational State comprised of more than 36 indigenous and diasporic nations. So, how is it possible for the country to have a National Museum, inserted in a plural context? The issue gave rise to a process of change at the National Art Museum (MNA) in La Paz, put into practice between March 2019 and June 2020. During this time, the institution was directed by the philosopher and curator Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz, who established the aim to decolonize, democratize and de-elititize “the Museum as much as it would do the same for the dominant notions of what art is.” The initiative echoed not only the ethical-political repositioning of the country, but also of all of Latin America at the beginning of the 21st century.
The first step was to open an institution. La Paz is a city whose population is predominantly ethnically Aimará. Neighbors who would pass daily through the intersection of Calle Comercio with Socabaya, at the doorstep of the National Museum, did not feel welcome in that colonial building, a jewel of the Andean baroque of the 18th century. Guided, free visits in the Aimará language, offered since 2019, provided key access to the Palácio de los Condes in Arana. A rich exchange of perceptions was the result of the interaction of the new public with the mediator, who was also Aimará, such as bringing to light the intranslatability of the concept of “art” for the vision of the Andean world. “In what way do we speak about art, if we do not have the word art available and if we do not agree on its meaning? What does this teach us about our understanding of art?,” Hinderer Cruz contemplates.
Ideas of Art
In the early 1980s, curator and visual artist Karajá, Kássia Borges, felt uncomfortable during her classes at the Faculdade de Artes in Uberlândia (MG), in the Brazilian southeast, in which the faculty defined what was and was not art. “For us Karajá, everything is art. And what was being taught was coming from a Eurocentric idea which was born out of Modernity. The figure of God was replaced by that of the White man to justify—aesthetically— the process of invasions. The fact that we did not share the same aesthetic did not exclude our eternal relationship with Beauty. Our objects can be sacred and also have use in our day-to-day; writing is a tool and is also used for corporeal adornment. But the colonizer only sees an exotic object,” says Borges, today a professor at the Federal University of Uberlândia, his alma mater. “The role of curators and institutions, including art programs, is essential in this new possible and urgent journey.”
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.
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