Attempts to write a history of art from inside the circle of Black life are proliferating. Emerging from the long history of Black and Indigenous cultural spaces—including communities in the periferias, or outskirts of sprawling cities; quilombos, settlements of enslaved people; as well as the religious meeting grounds known as terreiro—contemporary artists and curators are actively shaping the narrative of Black Brazilian art. In the past decade, their commitments to mutual aid have shifted the racial discourse of Brazil’s most powerful museums and universities and offered a resource for self-organization that dovetails with the structural changes Black people have effected in US institutions. In both Brazil and the US, Black artistic and curatorial work are characterized by variability and the specificity of their local communities, even as the horizon of possibility is part of a shared global practice.
Against this backdrop, the Cisneros Institute presents Espaço preto (Black Space), a series of conversations between artists and culture bearers that asks: How do the radical cultural traditions that Black and Indigenous Brazilians have created in the wake of colonialism and racial capitalism offer a blueprint to imagine a future of our own design? How are our ways of knowing transmitted through the process of art making? How are resources redistributed via experimental forms of narration? At a time when our everyday lives are being revealed in their full fragility, these conversations offer cover to come together and build relationships beyond national boundaries.
The second installment in the program, “Other Foundations?,” considers the 2020 Vozes contra o racismo (Voices Against Racism), a public art project with videos, photography, graffiti, and installations across São Paulo co-organized by curator Hélio Menezes. This project features artist Aline Motta’s trilogy about the relationship between West Africa and Brazil; the last video, titled (Other) Foundations, (2017–19), considers personal and historical connections between Lagos, Nigeria, and Brazil’s Cachoeira and Rio de Janeiro. Projected on the facades of cultural centers and a public school in São Paulo’s outskirts, the videos intervene in the current global debate around the status of historical buildings and monuments. Based on their ongoing collaboration, the conversation digs into the notion of Black space across multiple locations and lived within the city’s enclosures.
Aline Motta works across video, photography, and installation, drawing from her personal experiences to create archives where they do not exist. She recently participated in such exhibitions as Afro-Atlantic Histories (MASP/Tomie Ohtake, 2018), The Rio of Navigators (Museu de Arte do Rio, 2019), and Feminist Histories: Artists After 2000 (MASP, 2019). She 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 in New York.
Hélio Menezes is a researcher and curator specializing in Afro-Brazilian art. He has recently organized or co-organized exhibitions including Afro-Atlantic Histories (MASP/Instituto Tomie Ohtake, 2018), New Republic (12th Architecture Biennale de São Paulo, 2019), and The discovery of what it means to be Brazilian (Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, 2020). He holds a master’s degree in social anthropology from the University of São Paulo (USP), where he is currently a doctoral candidate.
Thomas J. Lax is the organizer of Espaço preto (Black Space), which is a part of their research as the inaugural recipient of the Cisneros Research Grant for MoMA and MoMA PS1 Curators. They are a curator in MoMA’s Department of Media and Performance in New York.