Waleff Dias and the Identity of Black Male Bodies

Dias, an artist from the state of Amapá whose work was selected for an exhibition focused exclusively on the production of Black artists Dos Brasis – Arte e Pensamento Negro, reflects on the process of miscegenation in Brazil’s far north.

In academia, as part of his doctoral research, Dias looks at self-image from the ethno-racial process. In the art field, he is an interdisciplinary artist and, through appearance/performance, a concept borrowed from the South African artist Lhola Amira, he creates performance pieces, photos, installations, texts, audiovisual works and more.

“I try to recall what my ancestors went through and elaborate perishable procedures,” he says. That’s what he does in the film Lembrar que a dor não é o único jeito de existir (Remember that pain isn’t the only way of existing). In the short film, the artist investigates masculinity and his training as a man through his relationship with his father, a dark-skinned Black man. The synopsis tells us that the film is based on a dialogue with his father figure: a reminder to Black men of today’s encounter tomorrow about the absence that arose yesterday. “The film was born out of physical violence that I experienced, when I heard two phrases, ‘Being attacked made your skin more beautiful’, and the main one, ‘Who’s going to want to listen to a Black man?’” says the artist.

According to him, as a Black person, even as a victim, he was automatically in the wrong in the system. “I go back to my parents’ house and find a man as quiet as I am,” says Waleff Dias. “And the film is a dialogue with my father, forging a place of existence beyond violence.”

After participating in several exhibitions, Dias, who currently lives in Rio de Janeiro, where he is studying for his doctorate, celebrates being one of the 240 artists who will exhibit their works in the exhibition Dos Brasis, but laments being the only one representing the state where he was born. “I’m super happy to be together with so many Black artists and friends who I admire, but at the same time, it’s with a funny aftertaste, being the only Black artist from Amapá,” he says.

The exhibition, which opened in August 2023 at SESC Belenzinho in São Paulo, will tour around Brazil for ten years. Dias’s work Even Vultures Are Born White appears in the photographs by Pablo Bernardo.

One of the main premises of the Dos Brasis exhibition is to give centrality to Black thought in the field of Brazilian visual arts at different times and places. With overall curatorship by Igor Simões, the exhibition brings together works produced since the 18th century in several artistic mediums, such as painting, photography, sculpture, installations and video installations.

Waleff Dias is a PhD Candidate in Psychology and has a master’s degree in visual arts. The artist uses the body as a support for his art. In his appearances/performances he reflects on the process of miscegenation and the identity construction of Black male bodies. He lives between Amapá, in the Northern region of Brazil, where he was born, and Rio de Janeiro, where he continues his academic studies.

Fábia Prates is a journalist and writer.

Translation: Zoë Perry