“While certain countries present a very violent racial problem, we don’t see it here. In Brazil, we all live very well,” Bishop Bertrand de Orleans and Bragança said recently, in the midst of international protests against racism. The declaration of the great-great-grandson of emperor Dom Pedro II, for whom in Brazil there are no racial inequalities, illustrates the reality of the country. The myth of Brazilian racial democracy only makes sense, after all, for the white man who enjoys the benefits of a structured system that perpetuate his privileges and that he refuses to give up.
Such a mistaken statement arises amid anti-racist discussions and protests in a country whose protagonist is a despotic, racist, stupid and macabre anti-president; in the background is an alarming pandemic. Brazil has the second-highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the world. The Black population, more exposed and vulnerable due to the lingering marks of a colonial and slave system, represents the largest portion of these numbers. Thinking about the urgency of the present, Newcity Brazil decided to discuss these events with seven Black Brazilian women artists: Aline Motta, Janaina Barros, Lidia Lisboa, Mariana de Matos, Rosana Paulino, Sheyla Ayo and Val Souza.
They spoke about the challenges of being Black women in a country where violent and structural racism is not recognized, their artistic practice during quarantine, concrete actions for an effective resistance movement within one of the most elitist fields of culture and the long road that we still have to go through—within a white structured system—to open paths for other narratives and allow Black people to finally occupy places of power.
What are the challenges of being a Black female artist in Brazil? What do you think about a production that does not address identity issues?
Aline: From what I have observed, we are not creating lasting structures where the work of Black women artists can be seen, debated, criticized and that offer a financial income compatible with a dignified life in our society, regardless of the subject with which those artists work. The challenges are enormous for anyone who dares to create in this field. I hope these so powerful emerging works in the Brazilian visual arts scene can be seen in a wide way and valued at a time when these voices, which have been historically silenced, are coming to the surface with such force.
Janaina: It is impossible not to think about power relations and how racism, as a structure, was reasoned by science, by the construction of a fiction that erases subordinated authorship and by hegemonic education. The big question for me is not to be seen, both as an artist and as a Black woman, from an ethical and aesthetic homogeneity. Not considering Blackness and the feminine as forms of subjectivities is an erasure strategy in which the art system points out what is or is not relevant. I would like to highlight the questions: Who determines what is relevant? What is expected of Black authorship productions? What issues can we talk about in our research? Determined from which places? What would we like to talk about considering our subjectivities?
Lidia: It’s very difficult. I hope that one day people will see others not by their skin color but because of their work, their potency. I always use to say to myself a mantra: “This shame is not mine.” I believe in the creative freedom of artists. Identity themes are very important, but the artist must be free to create with what inspires her/him.
Mariana: This challenge is related to the second question. What could be identified as identity themes? Assuming that whiteness is also an identity and that artists narrate from their place in the world, I understand that all production starts from a location, from an identity, from her/his perspective, among other things. There is a claim to universalism and neutrality behind the “whiteness” that categorizes what would be “identity issues” and that makes it difficult for us to look at knowledge productions from their places of enunciation. Perhaps this is the biggest challenge for me as Black artist.
Rosana: To be an artist in Brazil you have to have a lot of courage. Just look at how the country treats culture. Or you have to have such a desire that you can’t do anything else. This is what happened in my case: I had such a need to speak that I couldn’t do anything else. So being an artist in Brazil is a “quarry,” always has been. Being a female artist is worse, because you have a whole historical burden behind you about the attributions that accompany women. Being an artist and a Black woman is even more difficult. When I started, the art system was totally refractory to the feminine issues and, especially the Black feminine ones. So how to be a woman and address those issues? It’s a matter of survival. I have always been very independent and my luck is that I have always enjoyed teaching, which provided me some financial autonomy. I also worked as a restoration assistant, I did crafts, I did a lot of things, but always keeping my production because it just had to keep going. You have to have time to study, have material and bear the cost of your home. The point is how to do that when your artistic practice, instead of bringing money, drains your money. This is the point. Now on the second question: I think everyone is free to do what they want. I am totally opposed to the idea that certain groups have to address certain issues. This is also a straightjacket, an example of racism. I start from the assumption that those who make art are free to look at what bothers them. If the person is uncomfortable with any aesthetic issue, let them talk about it.
Sheyla: The idea of being a female artist itself is already a problem. Although we have advanced, we still suffer and compete with Black and white men for the places of speech; we bear the stigma of being a hypersexualized and tortured body, due to the high rate of feminicide in the country, as well as carrying emotional and mental illnesses as a consequence of a system that has been swallowing us up every day. Being woman, Black and artist is the worst case. We have to re-signify our work many times, seek space to show our research, which is often viewed with reservations and suspicion, a reflection of the racist and slave system in which we are inserted. But I keep producing every day because it makes me feel alive. I believe in my work and the fact that my research will contribute to other Black women, regardless of the market and curators. Here are some words from Nina Simone: “We must take a political stand and reflect our time.” Brazil, one of the most racist countries in the world and the last to abolish slavery, still has, in the middle of 2020, high numbers of genocide among the Black population through criminalization and abuse of police authority in the context of poor communities. Our militancy screams through texts like Carolina Maria de Jesus, Lélia Gonzales, the theatricality of Zezé Mota, the charisma and freedom of Jorge Lafon and the kind and respect of Rosana Paulino, one of the greatest artists in Brazil that I have the joy of cultivating a friendship with.
Val: If identity here refers to skin color and other physical features, I think we need to move forward with this discussion and urgently! Because that concept defines the place of invisibility of our Black women bodies. The biggest challenge for me is, precisely, that of not freezing my work within the racist colonial thinking. I am an artist who focuses on sketching and exercising desires and for that I research the tools and art grammars for the construction of an imaginary. To be a Black artist in Brazil is to deal with a malicious project that fits us in a perverse imagery linked to the argument that we are part of a pamphlet speech or mere activism. The artistic community weakens our way of production and sabotages our participation, performance and presence. To be a Black artist in Brazil is to try to overflow this denial of our presence that still presents itself as an open wound.
How has your routine been during the pandemic and how and with whom have you spent this quarantine period?
Aline: We are going through a period of enormous mourning in Brazil. We are daily affected by the negligence of a government that practices an eugenicist policy even in the twenty-first century. I have been trying to maintain my physical integrity and some sanity to continue answering interviews like this and fulfilling the requests that come to me.
Lidia: I have been working a lot on a new series. For me, this is a moment of protection, of reflection on myself and my work, where I have reaffirmed that I cannot live without creating. I have been staying at home longer, despite having to go out to work during the week. I haven’t felt any major changes in my creativity because my head is always creating something new. I miss going to the theater, cinema, exhibitions and socializing with the people I like. But I have converted fatigue into creative power and that keeps me alive and strong to deal with it all.
Janaina: It has been a very reflective moment about dealing with adversity. But I also understand the act of retreating as a way to reinvent everyday life from a new place. What is essential for this moment in the field of relationships? What is care? In this way, I think that family life is this space of confluences. I am with my husband and my twelve-year-old son at home. We live in Belo Horizonte (MG) but during this period of the pandemic we are in Santana de Parnaíba (SP) in a house we are building and where the internet is fluctuating, which transforms somehow the communication with the outside world. It has also been a moment of silence for me to look at what I have produced and reflect on what I would like to produce. I understand it as a moment of closing and beginning of cycles. Recently, I have been conducting some photo-performance experiments with my cell phone camera in the backyard, or terreiro, as my grandmother Nair called this space, clay with plants that were born through various planting processes. It is also a moment of vertigo, whether due to the large flow of images or the excess of information and strategies to establish other modes of interrelationships through a screen. Dealing with healing processes has been of extreme urgency at this time as well as reinventing everyday practices. It is a silent movement of brief suspension of the gaze and vertigo that has generated more questions than answers.
Mariana: I have been living in a permanent state of questioning and used my time to connect with essential things like taking care of my plants and reading poetry. I’ve been thinking about how to design ways of life that are not so stuck at an external speed, although I can’t always do it. I also have a feeling of horror when I think of our country. I have been at home all the time, leaving only as a matter of urgency, completing processes like my master’s degree in theory of literature, at UFPE. Despite feeling an aggravation of anxiety, my creative process, which has always been based on questioning, has manifested itself more intensely during the isolation. I have produced from questions like “How to learn from the unpredictable? How to redesign pyramids?’,” among others.
Rosana: I hate routine! I am not a disciplined person like, “I get up, drink coffee, clean up the house and go to the studio.” I was never like that and I didn’t change because of the pandemic. I get up and observe how my mood is and what is possible to do with it. There are days when we produce more, others less. My studio is very close to my home, I walk and return without crossing anyone. So I can go without any problems. If I’m working on something and it’s doing well, I sleep in the studio. I am very nocturnal, I enjoy working at night. I have managed to produce a little but not as before the pandemic. Our mood fluctuates a lot, doesn’t it? And I also had family issues at the beginning: I had to cover one of the caregivers who help my parents, so it was a period that I was unable to work. Now I’m starting to get back to normal. I have been living alone for a few years and I enjoy this freedom of being less caring when entering the house. The everyday of those who work with visual arts is lonely—unless you are part of an art collective—then it doesn’t change much. I just miss weekends, drinking a beer with friends and going to a boteco [type of a Brazilian bar]. I love a boteco! I have tried to solve it with an online boteco, I set up with friends, each one in his/her house, and we open a beer and eat a snack. Obviously, it’s not the same, but it helps a lot.
Sheyla: My routine in the pandemic has been focused on hygiene and food care as I was already adept to natural food. Mental health care also doubled. I keep in touch with friends and relatives and have meditated and prayed whenever I can. I have the company of my son João, now twenty one, with whom I talk a lot and live one day at a time. The impact of the moment was big: the fear of contagion, the mismatched information and the political situation left me a little paralyzed at first. But now I have managed to make some drawings, paintings and watercolors that I have shared on Instagram. I have been feeling the fatigue of quarantine: there are days that in fact I do not produce anything, I lie down and do not go online. We are social beings. Brazilians have the habit of going out a lot and meeting friends. Cutting it out of the routine suddenly is very frustrating.
Val: I have been working with historians, architects and engineers for almost two months on a concept and sharing my capacity for imagination and dreaming. It has also been a master overthinking and a time to challenge myself. I decided to turn my home into my studio and I have been sharing thoughts with close people without the need for a deadline and this has been great. There have been loving and profound exchanges, but, of course, this is not a bucolic landscape. I am fortunate to have partners who challenge me, question me, making me enter into debates full of enthusiasm. The pandemic has accentuated social issues that no one wanted to see and the fallacy of a democratic country is crumbling. However, I do not allow outside disorders creating conflicts in me. It is a very intense task to stay focused and my artistic practice helps me with that, connects me with what I want to bring into the world.
Did you go to any of the anti-racist and anti-fascist marches that took place in the last month? If so, what impressions did you have about the intention of these acts?
Aline: The demonstrations and marches are very important, there is no doubt, but personally, I wonder if we could create ways to not become targets of police brutality or risk having our eyes hit by a rubber bullet. It is necessary to create new strategies to destabilize those in power. Here in Brazil, there is also the aggravating factor that removing current government officials from power, although it something absolutely urgent, will not actually represent a rupture, since we live in a historical continuum of centuries of very fixed positions between those who boss and those who obey. These are structural issues in our society and will require much more political imagination to undermine these forces and dissolve their bases. However, our ancestors bequeathed us the technology and resilience to stay alive through the ages in situations of extreme oppression. It is necessary to know how to listen to these voices from the past and apply their sense of collectivity in the present. They had projects of freedom and emancipation that allowed me to be alive today and somehow try to honor these trajectories and their strategies of resistance. To paraphrase the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Perhaps what these ancestors dreamed of was seeing us in the future doing what they imagined for us.”
Janaina: Unfortunately, I was not able to follow these manifests closely. However, I understand the importance of this political articulation in the midst of this context that has irremediably produced many economic and social asymmetries, still fruits of a colonial power. Especially resized in a systematization of necropolitics as a technology to control racialized bodies.
Lidia: I didn’t go to the protests but I followed all the news. I keep fighting against racism on a daily basis. I have always been like this. Now is the milestone moment when things cannot continue as they were, they must change! I have always had and will have the conviction that, one day, racism and any other form of prejudice will not be tolerated.
Mariana: I have not been to any protest since the beginning of the isolation. Although I consider the permanent state of urgency to respond to the racist daily life that we face, I do not encourage Black people to place themselves in contexts of double vulnerability.
Rosana: I was dying to go, but, as I said, I have to be careful because of my parents, so I didn’t go. Anyway, I think we are, mainly in Brazil, on top of a powder keg. All these years of racism, prejudice, sabotage by the privileged population. It was lit up in the United States and the fuse ran through the whole world. In Brazil, later on, the tendency is to increase this type of march due to issues related to the genocide of Black youth. It’s about time!
Sheyla: I didn’t go because I had the flu. But some close friends went and told me that the atmosphere of revolt was very strong. However, the open TV does not televise that. There were cases of infiltrated people (who were certainly racist and not part of the movement) that created riots and confrontations with the police to encourage them to respond with truculence and to dispel the demonstration that went on peacefully.
Val: My greatest protest is to be alive and aware! Anti-fascism in Brazil is racism in disguise! And I don’t have time to pack the dreams of those who want to target me. As Clementino Rodrigues, popularly known as Riachão, would say, “This business of the Black mother being a milkmaid has already filled your bottle. Go suck somewhere else!”
How did you enter the art market? And how did the financial impact of the pandemic affect you?
Aline: My insertion took place through public calls and my works were shown mostly in exhibitions in museums and art institutions. Even though I have won important scholarships and awards, I’m not represented by any gallery so far.
Lidia: I started very early as an assistant in the atelier of haute couture fashion designer Demi Queiroz and, later, in the studio of the artist Aldemir Martins, where I learned a lot about painting, art and the art market. But we go on living in our own way and learning a lot on a daily basis, in the enriching exchange relationship with people. I had some exhibitions scheduled to open now that had to be postponed, but we moved on and we never stopped working.
Janaina: I work on several fronts. I have been in education and research for almost two decades. These are experiences that feed me and allow me to continue producing from different research cycles and, recently, I became a university professor. About my insertion in the market: I had the opportunity to initially have sensitive Black curators like Claudinei Roberto, Rosana Paulino, Fabiana Lopes, among other agencies that produced important reflections on artistic processes in my research. I was part of a gallery a few years ago. I participated in conferences in different institutions through the invitation of different curators. I have participated in public calls together with my partner Wagner Leite Viana. Two other exhibitions that I would participate in are suspended at this delicate moment. I am currently participating in the Mercosul Biennial that has been unfolding virtually. I also participated, with my partner, in a call for Diaspora, Alex Tso’s gallery, to form the gallery’s initial team at the end of 2019. We were selected this year together with the artists Edu Silva, Claudia Lara, Lucas Soares, Marcel Martins, Lacerda Diogo, Nilson Sato, Ramo Negro, Moisés Patrício and Yoko Nishio. In this sense, the entire process, since the selection, has been dialogical for the construction of this team. Throughout this process, we have produced fruitful discussions about this contemporary art scene based on racialized or non-white authorship.
Mariana: Through exhibitions like ⦿ at Galeria Leme, (SP) in 2018, curated by Catarina Duncan and “SERTÃO: 36 Panorama da Arte Brasileira,” curated by Julia Rebouças, at MAM-SP, in 2019. Also, through international fairs like Not Canceled, which is virtually happening now and where I represent the gallery Amparo 60 (Pernambuco). Although exhibitions, lectures and projects are in suspension and some even canceled, I have tried to articulate other forms of production, such as the Quarantine and Birico project, a collective initiative of visual artists. Both projects reinvent economic models for the arts.
Rosana: My insertion was very late. The first art office that represented me was Adriana Penteado’s. After it closed, I spent a period without a gallery and then I entered the Galeria Virgílio. But there was no acceptance of Black production at that time, so I sold very little. If, on the one hand I didn’t make money, on the other hand it gave me a lot of freedom to continue my research exactly the way I wanted. I started selling only when I reached more than twenty-five years of work. How has the art market affected me? It didn’t affect me at all. I already have my production very consolidated. It took a long time for me to sell regularly, so when sales started to be a little more regular, I already had the poetics formed. At my age I feel like, “This is my poetics, if you want, ok, if you don’t want, ok.” The biggest problem is when you enter the market at a very young age and do not yet have a consolidated poetics or sufficient maturity, then you can be dazzled. So, after more than twenty-five years of work, what is going on in the market doesn’t affect me anymore.
Sheyla: The important milestone was the exhibition at Baró Galeria and then an invitation to Kaaysá Residency. In the last I made contacts with important artists and the experience reflected a lot in my production.
Val: I think that I will only be in the art market when my work is able to emerge and generate an ecology capable of providing me with these dialogues with institutions, with my national and international peers, with curators and collectors. Currently what I have seen is an effort by some punctual people, especially Black people, to understand that my work is necessary within the construction of the national artistic scene. The fact that there are works of mine that some institutions are more interested in, such as “can you see it ?!”or “piriguete é dois reais,” is due to the fact that in many ways they reveal and open the exoticism around my image. As an artist, I am interested in repeating, redoing and undoing some things and I have been testing ways of producing. Absolute certainties bother me. It is in the process of continuity and investigation that possibilities are anchored and that can shape a path towards autonomy and the maturation of my production. I want assiduity and frequency in my creative processes that involve research, displacement, dialogue, incentives and economic stimuli that allow me other ways of thinking and accomplishing.
The visual arts circuit is recognized as one of the most elitist fields in culture. How can we develop an effective resistance movement within it?
Aline: Sometimes I think the problem is the lack of vision and engagement of its agents, mostly white men. Sometimes I think they are afraid of losing their role and the prestige of dictating the rules of the game, even if it means that, in a few years, they could be seen as backward directors of a museum that prevented the career of an entire generation from flourishing. They have all the tools available to make the “diversity” discourse truly practical. It remains to be seen whether they will give up their already well-established places and the belief that they occupy it only by “merit.”
Janaina: It is difficult to have a concrete answer about this. We live in a moment when we are able to access different productions of racialized artists and, contradictorily, we do not know about everything that has been produced in different parts of the country. I highlight the importance of mapping, organized by different non-white agents, on the curatorship, artistic production, education and art criticism by Black authors carried out on different platforms. In this sense, I was part of the construction of a digital archive of contemporary art of Black authorship in Belo Horizonte, coordinated by three Black professors from UFMG, during my post-doctorate, in 2019. These interlocution processes comprise epistemologies and methodologies of artistic process, forms of work, formative aspects of the artist and the production spaces. Or, even, the performance in itself of these different non-white professionals tensioning a narrative writing where the myth of a Eurocentric universality reflects gaps and violently naturalizes the framework of an expected discourse about a Black presence camouflaged in an idea of representativeness, which apparently define which speeches would be relevant. Black artists have always existed in other periods. Those things I mentioned are some of the colonial pitfalls that are necessary to reflect on. I believe that collective articulation without creating hierarchies allows us to reflect about what strategies contemplate us in our subjectivities so that it is possible to produce art and survive with dignity by producing art.
Lidia: The growing focus on issues of gender, identity and anti-racism that have been intensified are now essential to this movement, but the actions of raising people’s awareness, visibility of these problems and solutions must be increasingly intense and comprehensive.
Mariana: The way that elitism is seen as a value in the visual arts is unsustainable and it is time to be reviewed. A state of transition, which generates conditions for sharing spaces of visibility, power and knowledge production, is a demand of contemporary times. The perspective we need to discuss is the elitist resistance itself in its efforts to keep it as the guidance of the visual arts circuit.
Rosana: This resistance comes from an insistence on a production that refuses to adapt itself to the market. We have insisted so much that part of this recognition of this Black production ended up coming from outside to inside. In the beginning, I was much more recognized outside Brazil than inside. Brazilian institutions end up being pressured by this group that is imposing itself. I also think that the question of quotas is very important. There are a number of young artists who have used the quota feature and that is pushing the system. The Brazilian art system has this internal pressure (from producers and young critics) and an external pressure that comes from questions like, “Where are your Black artists?” A good example is the Mercosul Biennial, whose chief curator is the Argentine Andrea Giunta, co-curator of the fantastic exhibition “Radical Women”, who brought this perspective to Brazil, for Black production and who made a point of inviting two Black curators: Fabiana Lopes and Igor Simões. It is a very interesting alliance between a curator of international prestige, who realizes this need, and Black agents within Brazil. So, this resistance starts to show itself and pushes the circuit that, willing or not, will have become more flexible and learn to look at the demands of this population, of this group of Black artists who are coming around.
Sheyla: Good question! It is necessary to create strategies, possibilities, art groups to show our production. I am part of an uprising of cis/trans, Black, indigenous and yellow women called TROVOA. The movement’s idea is to catalog the production, foster research and create dialogues between these groups of artists from other states. In 2019, I was invited by the artist and articulator Gabriela Monteiro to participate in an activation in São Paulo that resulted in a great exhibition, curated by Carollina Lauriano, at Galeria Baró, which brought works that spoke about the political issues that permeate the universe of these artists. Since then I work independently, through calls-for-papers and sending projects to Sesc. I already sold some works but I still teach to compose my income and buy my materials.
Val: Art in Brazil is the daycare center where the Brazilian elite places their troubled children. The presence of Black artists in Brazil, with careers and artistic perspectives, is a key point. The effectiveness of supports that involve conducting and developing research is a fundamental issue for us to start debating about the possibilities of equal production parameters in the art market, for example. In front of these ties, it is essential to note that the professionalization of art involves not only artists, but a whole chain (curators, collectors, artists and institutions) to promote the development of artists. An investment that comprises not only an economic component but actions that enable dialogues and that involve interpretations around these productions. I have understood that what I do and produce needs to be in the world and my world is not reduced to Brazil and the ghosts of fear and violence that the country insists on depositing on me. In these processes of remembering and moving, I have found incredible partnerships that go from Piauí to Sudan and from New York to Ghana. Recently, during a residency, I had the opportunity to connect with artists concerned with creating images and respectful imagery about our Black bodies. As a result, I produced the work “Nau Frágil,” a series of photographs of family portraits that point to a performative and imaginative fiction about the possible consequences of the life of a Black family who were on Amável Donzela, a human trafficking ship that landed in Brazil between 1788 and 1806. I can’t breathe…I am not resistance, I am a Black woman trying to work in a society in which white men have the power to say and do various atrocities and barbarities. I live in a space of contradiction between dreaming/imagining and wondering whether I will be the next Black woman to be shot five times and be silenced or to have my body hanged from a police car and dragged. What’s so flammable in our Black women’s voices that we need to be shut? I keep trying to exist without fear and if this is seen as resistance, there is something very wrong because some people don’t have to worry about going out on the street.
Decolonial narratives are gaining ground both in institutional settings and in literature. How do you read this process? What other actions in this regard still need to happen?
Aline: The actions would move from the discourse of diversity, inclusion, plurality to the application of consistent and lasting public policies that reflect the reality of a country with a Black majority population. There are several layers of confrontation with financial reparations and income redistribution policies. So, this sense of what would be a real decolonization goes through an understanding completely against the policies of austerity, of meritocracy, of individual success and entrepreneurship, of the precariousness of labor relations. The solutions are there, but how long will it take to reach a political consensus on the need to change for a collective well-being? Certainly the Black population of this country has waited too long for ideals of citizenship and integration that have never been truly implemented.
Janaina: I think it is an inevitable moment to rethink other writings. There has been an exhaustion of this universal narrative signaled by art theorists since the 1980s. What happens is that there’s been all this talking about a perspective of a decolonial narrative while the discourse and the power of decision remain in the same hands. It is important to review the curricula in the different affirmative processes for reviewing the history of knowledge and its gaps. However, it is necessary to have more Blackand indigenous professors in the departments of public universities. How does the process of education and access by Black and indigenous people take place in this scenario? What transits or forms of agency for these productions are possible? How many Black and\or indigenous teachers and professors were part of my academic background? How many are numerically where I work? How many curators, researchers, artists are in decision-making positions in different cultural institutions? How have dialogues been produced so that symmetrically a counter-colonial narrative can effectively be constructed? These are some crucial questions for the initial reading of this art scene for me right now.
Lidia: Much remains to be done, as there is an immense diversity of cultures and identities that need to be recognized and respected as they are, without colonialist interventions on interpretation. I think that these actions must be increasingly widespread and diversified, covering not only art but education, economics and society in general.
Mariana: I celebrate any progress towards popularizing decolonial dialogues, because they start from the struggle, resistance and life of historically subordinated peoples. Contradictorily, I perceive an excess of academicism and even an effort to “theming” what I think should be an active struggle, not a fundamentally theoretical elaboration.
Rosana: I think it is a logical process for recognizing other life stories. Humanity has reached its limit in every way, including physical and ecological, due to all the crazy things that have been done. The decolonial narratives, which call for recognition of specific stories and different experiences, point to the fact that these groups will no longer accept impositions and that it is up to the old powers to hear these voices and change the way the world works. It is a matter of necessity and survival of the species. I confess that I don’t really like that [decolonial] term, because I kind of live it. My production begins at the same time that these terms began to be studied and adopted by universities. But I did not start because I am part of a movement but because of a need to speak. What remains to be done? On the part of those who committed the historical atrocities, to recognize their responsibilities and errors and to fulfill their part. Acknowledge your mistakes because, if not, the whole boat sinks and the human being disappears.
Sheyla: I see it as a process that still has a lot to unfold. Racism haunts us. Many people are afraid to discuss topics or anti-racist programming in their institutions. Many believe that in Brazil there is the long-awaited “racial democracy” and this makes it difficult for others to recognize our place. Some institutions like SESC happily insert us in their programming creating a favorable place for the debate.
Val: My life, my politics, philosophy and religion are the idea of Black women with their powerful wombs that generated love and life and now will bring about change when talking about themselves and their experiences. The question is: what do you see when you see a Black woman? As long as our humanity cannot be recognized, no theory will be enough. As long as the lives of Black women are still thought of as a foundation, support or protection so that other bodies can have their dignified human experience recognized, no theory will be enough. (Thais Gouveia, with contributions from Amanda Sammour)
About the artists:
Aline Motta (1974, Niterói, RJ) earned a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and a Certificate in Film Production at the New School University/New York.
Janaina Barros (1979, São Paulo, SP) has a postdoctoral degree from the School of Information Science (UFMG), a doctorate in aesthetics and art history (USP) and a master’s degree in arts from the UNESP Arts Institute, and is an adjunct professor in the department of fine arts at the School of Fine Arts at UFMG. She has been interested in processes of epistemologies and methodologies in contemporary art of Black authorship having as source the crossing of forms of knowledge and technologies present in her own family. “These are relationships that I see as inseparable. In the same measure, what I understand by work as a woman, mother and Black artist as a place of tension and that reflects an asymmetric structure of power,” she says.
Lidia Lisboa (1970, Guaíra, PR) has a degree in metal engraving from Lasar Segall Museum, contemporary sculpture and ceramics from the Brazilian Sculpture Museum (MuBE) and the High School of Arts and Crafts, in addition to studying painting and working as an assistant to the artist Aldemir Martins for twelve years. “My research involves issues related to memory, affections and the construction of stories—especially women—as significant powers of their own existence in the world,” she says.
Mariana de Matos (1987, Governador Valadares, MG) graduated from Escola Guignard (UFMG) and completed her academic studies, which she saw as still very much anchored in the Eurocentric perspective, with research on the work of Rosana Paulino, Rubem Valentim, Yeda Maria and Maria Auxiliadora. “I usually say that I have graduated from the gaps.” Her work exercises the tension between historical truth and polyphonic counter-narratives and the investigation of representation, the construction of the imaginary, the delusion of modernity and black subjectivity.
Rosana Paulino (1967, São Paulo, SP) holds a Ph.D. in visual arts from ECA-USP, a specialist in printmaking from London Print Studio, a bachelor’s degree in printmaking from ECA-USP and has stood out for her production related to social, ethnic and gender issues. Her practice has as its main focus the study of scientific racism and the position of Black women in Brazilian society and the various types of violence suffered by this population as a result of the marks left by slavery. “Scientific racism was used, for example, to dominate and submit these black bodies and, mainly, to delimit this place occupied by black woman,” she says. Her work comes from diverse references: from Aleijadinho, Egon Schiele to Australian Aboriginal culture and anatomy books.
Sheyla Ayo (1977, São Paulo, SP) began her artistic studies at Faculdades Integradas Coração de Jesus (Santo André, SP), a religious institution led by the Salesians and received a scholarship for the Enem quota, where she received a bachelor’s degree of visual arts. “I was a good student. I studied at dawn after arriving from college. During the day I was divided between teaching art for elementary school children, taking care of my son João (five years old at the time), housework and a troubled marriage,” she says.
Val Souza (1985, São Paulo, SP) holds a degree in education and dance and a master’s degree in dance. She has been researching the relationships between past, present and future in a quest to understand issues related to race, gender and memories from the aesthetics and ways of composing and creating including housework or those attributed to women, such as cooking and sewing. “Art and education are powerful meeting places for creating worlds. Not only do I create them, I live in them,” she says.
Thais Gouveia (1984) is half Brazilian, half Portuguese communicator and writer based in São Paulo. She has written for many national and international titles including ArtReview, Aesthetica Magazine, Newcity Brazil, Arte!Brasileiros, This is Tomorrow, DasArtes and Entretempos of Folha de São Paulo. A graduate in Art and Technology at PUC, Brazil, Gouveia studied art criticism at Central St Martins University of the Arts, London and worked as senior press officer at Pinacoteca de São Paulo, institutional and communications coordinator at ICCo (Instituto de Cultura Contemporânea), communications and content manager at Galeria Millan and Galeria Baró, communications assistant at David Roberts Art Foundation and as visual editor at Lola Magazine and Rolling Stone Brazil.