Mothly Guest Author: Araújo, Emanoel
GAM – Global Art and the Museum
This month it is a great pleasure for us to present as our fifth guest author Emanoel Araújo, founder of the Museu AfroBrasil, who was interviewed by Hans Belting on the occasion of the first GAM Platform in São Paulo in 2008. In this interview Araújo not only discusses the role of contemporary art in today’s Brazil, but also provides us a deep insight into the creation of this unique institution throughout the world.
The Museu AfroBrasil in São Paulo. A New Museum Concept
The Museu AfroBrasil was created by municipal decree on November 20, 2003—Black Awareness Day—in a ceremony attended by state representatives and the Afro-Brazilian community of São Paulo. On this occasion, the Governor of São Paulo, Geraldo Alkmin, donated the Manoel da Nóbrega Pavilion, designed by the Architect Oscar Niemeyer, and located in the beautiful Ibirapuere Park, the city’s central park, to house the Museu AfroBrasil.
The museum opened on October 23, 2004 with Museu AfroBrasil: um Conceito em Perspectiva [Afro-Brazil Museum: a Concept in Perspective]. On November 20 of the same year, the exhibition Brasileiro, Brasileiros [Brazilian, Brazilians] was dedicated to the presence of the three races in Brazil. “Some people may not accept the idea of racial mixture that Brazil represents,” said Araújo, current director of the museum. The Museu AfroBrasil, as the visitor’s guide explains, “aims to tell an alternative Brazilian history. This means it has the complex task of deconstructing an image of the black population constructed from a historically inferior perspective, and of transforming it into a prestigious image founded on equality and belonging, so re-confirming a sense of respect for one of the founding populations of Brazil. [...] In the 20th century the artistic division created by [... ] academic art widened. On [the other hand] there were distinguished Black artists who, because they were outside the canon of [...] art, were considered merely talented craftsmen or, at most, ‘popular artists’– [...] By putting these artists side-by-side the Museum would like to highlight the historical and ultimately arbitrary nature of this separation, and emphasize the intrinsic value of the works by Black artists for which these distinctions lose all meaning.”
Interview with Hans Belting
Hans Belting (H.B.): What is the role of contemporary art in Brazil today?
Emanoel Araújo (E.A.): I think it was important to create the Bienal de São Paulo to pull Brazil out of her cultural isolation faced by the hegemony of other countries. It was also important for Brazilian art to invite the Swiss artist Max Bill, and his Unidade Tri–Partida [Tripartite Unity] to the biennial in 1951, as his presence consolidated the Concretism movement. Currently, globalization meets with a certain commitment of the galleries and art fairs throughout the world; however, contemporary art in Brazil is marked by a discourse that is not necessarily comprehensible abroad, where the regime of international curators pursues other interests. Usually, artists in Brazil looked beyond borders and identified with the ‘established’, or the ‘civilized’, without paying tribute to their roots and to the fact that they mixed with others to become Brazilian. This type of anthropophagia led to a certain mystique without which all artistic expression on this side of the Atlantic would look like second class art…
…H.B.: How would you describe the relationship between the museum that you have founded and the community museums of the United States?
E.A.: I do not care for the community museums of the United States, and I am not even sure whether they exist. However, I should add that we are worlds apart from their racial problems. Our ethnic composition is rooted in Portuguese colonialism, and we are Catholic. The Portuguese, a people born out of many races, where ethnic mixing comes with enforced rule, are very different from the Calvinist protestant formation of the United States. Our colors, and there are many, were perversely created to allow for a system of racial democracy, where the white established a pact in the definition of race according to color. Brazil was not only a slave- driven society, but also the last country in the Americas to free its slaves on whose labor wealth was based. This labor was used to grow sugarcane, tobacco, coffee and to mine for gold and precious stones, and today Brazil has still not come to terms with the question of this slave-driven society. In the nineteenth century, when slavery was flourishing, some blacks were more important than they are today. There were Negro poets, journalists, jurists, physicians, editors, writers and engineers. Negroes were forgotten after slavery was abolished in 1888, with the military coup of the republic carried out by the land-owning elites, the oligarchies of Brazil. The exodus to the periphery of major towns and cities, and the lack of any formal education for the people made, and continues to make a very big difference between Brazil and the United States…
Read the entire interview here.