I created this blog to explore the dilema that Latin-American art faces when trying to build true modernity outside the canon of Western Modernism as showcased in canonical institutions such as MoMA. Those institutions are built upon an idea of Latin-American art produced from the point of view of the way local elites (usually wealthy and white) have dialogued, in the past, with its European counterparts after being educated in their practices. The show on Tarsila de Amaral currently on display at MoMA, curated by Luis Perez Oramas is an example of that refusal to historise the conditions that have made such dialogue possible which, also, involved an exotisation of local cultures for a foreign audience.
These days, some voices are raising against the idea that Brazilian Anthropofagia does not represent and has not represented the true reality of the country’s cultural output during the first half of the XX century. As I argued in a previous post, that movement might even have functioned as a diversionary fuzz to avoid asking questions such as where the money that funded Oswaldo de Andrade and Tarsila de Amaral’s education came from. That be done, it would be apparent that both artists where heirs to landowning coffee plantation families which were the main reason for why it took it so long to Brazil to abolish slavery. In this context, one of the voices that are raising against the historical validity of that kind of cultural hybridation is artist and educator Rosana Paulino for whom the idea of Anthropofagia has lost its appeal.
“The problem with Anthropofagia in relation to black individuals is that it devours other cultures, including ours, and does not give us back something useful or even the real recognition of this swallowed black culture. We are only devoured.” she says. “Afro-Brazilian art, up until now, has been at the margin of a hegemonic system, while Anthropofagia is one of the narratives created by an urban elite in São Paulo. The place of blacks in this narrative is that of object of study, not that of partners in the construction of a common narrative.”
I think Paulino is too generous saying that black people are for Brazilian modernism an ‘object of study’ for in Tarsilia de Amaral they come across as an attribute of the landscape. Having said that, there is something in her work that cancels her own subjectivity in order to become a catalogue of images that fit into objectified protocols of politically correctness. This makes us wonder what is the point of art for someone whose access has been denied for such a long time and, all of a sudden, with the new policies of tolerance, seem to get a fast track to the centers of (white) artistic power. As a matter of fact, Paulino received part of her education, like me, in London and took advantage of a residency financed by the Rockefeller Foundation to produce some of the work showed in the video.
The visual evidence of her work brings about, at least, three visuales languages: candomblé (that is, the spiritual traditions of the Afro Brazilians), images of Positivist scientific cataloguing and, finally, ID vintage photography as a way of evoking the dead through the presence of the State. Through the media of print, collage, textiles and assemblage she creates a visual language that immediately refers to a black reaction to white domination without allowing us to see what black sensitivity is. When invited to delve deeper into her own subjectivity, things become too allegorical and, again, objectified. That is why I think these images speak to a public that already knows what she is going to say and how they have to feel. Keeping it between the boundaries of the safe discourse of tolerance the already established anti-hegemonic beliefs are reinforced preventing anything new (or true life) to emerge. It is from this point of view, I believe, that the work of the apparatchiks (bureaucrats?) of black counter-hegemonic thought should be read as oriented to keep that energy stagnated. J A T