HOA and Diaspora Galeria are two Brazilian galleries created by and dedicated to people of Asian, Black, and indigenous origin. They not only aim to create commercial spaces to sell art by artists who have been disadvantaged by white hegemony, but also to foster anti-racist solidarity.
Solo show by Lais Amaral, HOA artist, THE ARMORY SHOW in New York, in partnership with M+B. Publicity photo
Workshop with children at the #Vilão exhibition, solo show by Ramo, at Casa PretaHub. Press photo
In 2020, at the height of social distancing restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, visual artist Igi Lola Ayedun realized that as her artist friends tried to survive by working for food delivery apps, there was an influx of cash driving the cultural market. Restless, and with her experience and knowledge for devising and bringing to life various art, educational, and communication projects, she decided to act to bring these things together.
And so, HOA was born, a mixture of gallery and artistic residency, dedicated to Latin American contemporary art, with the aim of decolonizing and creating conditions that offer visibility and the production and sale of artwork by Black and indigenous artists.
She spoke to Brazilian Elle magazine about the initial process of creating Brazil’s first art gallery led exclusively by Black people. “I looked around me and said: ‘this isn’t right’. If there’s a flow still breathing, a beating heart, I need to create a path to bring that flow here, to dissident Black and trans artists.”
In an email conversation with C& América Latina, Ayedun added that HOA was born out of necessity, urgency, and nonconformity. “Never in my life did I think I’d become a gallery owner, despite having always been attached to projects for developing artistic practice and coordinating across various creative scenes,” she said. “But HOA – as a gallery – emerges from a process of financial derailment, from the idea of diverting economic flows from the art market to communities of high social vulnerability in Brazil in terms of race and gender.”
HOA SP-Arte 2021 @ Wallace Domingues
Cultural genocide and castration of artistic production
The artist says that the dynamic of HOA, which also has a location in London, is totally linked to the fact that a large part of the political plan of cultural genocide of Black and indigenous populations in Brazil is related to the castration of these groups’ artistic production through expropriation and inaccessibility. “When the practical, spatial, and intellectual tools of producing art are elitist within a social circuit, we lose the right to circulation, transmission, and memory, simply because, for most realities, there is no means of conceiving them as a document, as a portrait of an expression, thought, time, or a generation. When this is ongoing and vicious, it becomes fatal to our own ancestries and future ancestries.”
According to her, HOA’s existence as a residency has always been a dream and the idea of claiming generations of artists, supporting movements and confronting universalist forms of organization based on academic dogmas. The artist recalls Brazil’s historical debt to Black and indigenous people and says that a racialized gallery is not just for insertion in the market, but for any basic parameter of quality of life.
“People need to understand that advancing [the careers of] artists in vulnerable situations goes far beyond the well-known artistic bourgeoisie vanity of recognition among elites and static iconography,” says Ayedun. “We need to stop believing in the cult of success and understand that our development is linked to a process of healing the social violence that has plagued us for generations”.
Little representation and racial diversity
In the year before HOA’s creation, another project arose in São Paulo, also with the purpose of giving visibility to the production of racialized artists. While visiting art fairs and gallery openings, cultural manager Alex Tso, the son of Chinese migrants, realized there was little racial diversity and representation.
Mindful of the issues of prejudice and exclusion in these spaces, and in touch with the progressive agendas of Black, indigenous, and Asian movements, he decided to propose something that would overcome the difficulties of inclusion and visibility.
At the end of 2019, he launched a public call for applications to put together the inaugural line-up for a gallery, whose only criterion was that they be racialized artists. In one month, 150 people applied. And so Diáspora Galeria was born, bringing together artists and curators of Asian, Black, and indigenous origin.
“Diaspora is fully active, with anti-racist solidarity as its prerogative, and with the understanding that joining together and shared struggle are ways of politically and socially strengthening ourselves in order to deal with the status quo of prejudice and exclusion,” Tso told C&AL. According to him, the idea was to think about the racial dynamics at play in Brazil, and the values and ideals that promote white bodies as hegemonic and create divisions among other minority races.
“Bearing in mind that a structural transformation of the art system and the art market was necessary, one of the basic premises of the Diaspora Galeria project was to foster a collaborative relationship among people of color throughout the network of artistic production. That is, not only are the artists non-white, but the staff and strategic partners also have racialized experiences,” he added.
Current exhibition: Every Body is a Center at Casa PretaHub. Press photo
Structural order changes
Tso says that understanding that these changes are structural and systemic is one of the assets that ensure the gallery’s legitimacy and support from the artistic community. “For that reason, we don’t limit ourselves to seeing our work as a purely commercial endeavor, but as an engaged movement of discussion and proposing new ways of collaborating and organizing,” he said.
Tso also highlighted the need to create a breeding ground so that this transaction, which isn’t just financial, but also symbolic and discursive, can become the basis for a cultural democracy that reaches the art system as a whole.
According to Tso, their initial objectives are being achieved. “The institutionalization of the racial equality agenda in the arts is already an unavoidable reality for galleries and museums that seek to participate in the construction of the contemporary art circuit,” he says.
Fábia Prates is a journalist whose work has appeared in major Brazilian media outlets. She currently writes on topics related to culture, behavior, and corporate communication.
Translation: Zoe Perry