Brazilian ‘Black Consciousness Day’: meet artists who elaborate on blackness

November 20 is the day, in Brazil, dedicated to the discussion and recognition of African heritages in the country. The ‘Black Consciousness Day’ claims for a historical repair in a nation that was hurt by the memories and reminiscences of structural racism implemented by the colonial past in the Americas. This date was chosen due to the day when Zumbi, one of the most active anti-slavery and quilombola leaders in Brazil, was dead. The anniversary suggests us to recognize and value the cultural and historical roots of our African ancestors and indicates that we are still far from living in an egalitarian society.

Slavery in Brazil left extreme fractures and social inequalities. Everyone must see the system of racial oppression in which we live and, from that, act on real changes. A survey conducted in 2019 by the artist, curator, and researcher Alan Ariê showed that, of the more than 600 artists represented by galleries in São Paulo, only 5% are black. Another analysis prepared by the educator, curator, and researcher Luciara Ribeiro concluded that, in big institutions, only 76 of the curators are black, out of a total of 300, and that in positions of artistic director of large museums, this number drops to 3. On the other hand, several initiatives are emerging intending to change this reality: platforms such as Keyna Eleison’s 0101 is an example of pressure from the art market for greater inclusion of black artists in art collections.

To try to symbolize the scars that remain alive in Brazilian daily life and to pay tribute to the resistance struggle of black Latin artists, we selected some works by PIPA Prize finalists from all editions that reflect blackness in the country. Antonio Obá, Arjan Martins, Jaime LaurianoMaxwell Alexandre, Paulo Nazareth, and Renata Felinto are relevant names in contemporary Brazilian art, each with its theme and experience. The artists speak from a place of blackness in different individual perspectives. For example, solo motherhood for a black woman, a childhood lived in a favela in Rio, the violent relations maintained between institutions of power and control of the State with black bodies, the legacy of slavery, besides the mirroring of oneself in religions of African origin and other afrodiasporic cultural signs.

See below the PIPA Prize finalists and winners who elaborate on these themes:

Antonio Obá (PIPA Prize 2017 finalist)

Born in 1983, in Ceilândia, a satellite city of Brasília, Antonio Obá reconfigures in his work aspects of a rural tradition that permeates the Brazilian religious universe, which reflects critically on the idea of a so-called syncretism and historical situations linked to ethnic prejudice. He brings in his works an affective memory, which proposes the intimate reflection on the body (his miscegenated body, black), but that occurs (in the strictness of the term) in sacrifice in narratives that tell a Brazilian history seen from a body that plunges its feet in the roots of a tradition, in various contexts, still marginalized.

Arjan Martins (PIPA Prize 2018 winner)

Arjan Martins’ works address the matter of the African diaspora and Afro-Atlantic migrations that occurred in the Brazilian colonial era. His production revolves around the incorporation of signs and codes excluded from history, and his canvases and drawings retell the history of colonization and slavery from the oppressed’s point of view. Through daily activities, immigrants and African descendants are portrayed from their arrival to the new continent to the present-time, as a fundamental part of his art. “In a very explicit way, Arjan’s paintings highlight the colonization and slavery oppression aches – which are still so present in our daily social conflicts – but they do this with a violent exuberance of form, that doesn’t let themselves to domesticate in illustration”, declares Luis Camillo Osorio.

Jaime Lauriano (PIPA Prize 2019 finalist)

His works synthesize the content of his researches and formalization strategies, calling us to examine the structures of power involved in the production of history. In audiovisual pieces, objects and critical texts, Lauriano shows how violent relations maintained between the institutions of power and State control – such as the police, prisons, embassies, borders – and subjects shape the subjective processes of society. Thus, his production seeks to bring to the surface historical traumas relegated to the past, to confined files, proposing in alternative to collectively revise and rework history.

Maxwell Alexandre (PIPA Prize 2020 finalist)

Maxwell Alexandre (Rio de Janeiro, 1990) lives and works in the favela da Rocinha. Raised in the evangelical church’s beliefs, the artist’s served in the army and has also been a professional street roller skater for 12 years. He’s graduated in Design from a Catholic university, PUC-RJ, in 2016. In 2018, he was recognized by the Archdiocese and received the prize São Sebastião de Cultura. Maxwell considers his works as prayers and his atelier as a temple. His young career has international recognition.

Paulo Nazareth (PIPA Prize 2016 winner)

Born in 1977 in the city of Governador Valadares, Minas Gerais, Paulo Nazareth carries with him the baggage of a wanderer, having traveled long distances, from the village of Caiová to New York, from Miami to Mumbai, among several curious destinations. Of these experiences, one might conclude that Nazareth’s narrative signals have been lost, but no, the artist succeeds in combining different references to foster a pluralist relationship between Brazil’s aesthetic historiography and mankind’s path stretching back to its origins.

Renata Felinto (PIPA Prize 2020 finalist)

PhD and Master in Visual Arts from the Institute of Arts of UNESP and specialist in Curatorship and Education in Art Museums from the Museum of Contemporary Art of USP. Visual artist and assistant professor at URCA/CE, in which she composed the Scientific Research Committee, she was coordinator of the Visual Arts Degree Course and the PIBID subproject of the same course and coordinates the Research group NZINGA – Novos Ziriguiduns (Inter)Nacionais Gerados na Arte.

The art produced by women and men of black-African descent has been the main theme of her research and this reverberates in many ways in her production on visual arts.

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