A critical look at black representation in film, television, theater and literature. Perhaps this is the axis that best unites the new facilities and projects opened today, May 28th, in Inhotim.
The movement known as Harlem Renaissance encompassed, even in the 1920s, poetry and prose, painting and sculpture, jazz and swing, opera and dance – uniting diverse art forms for the real construction of what it meant to be black in America, what the writer Langston Hughes considered to be the “ expression of our individual dark-skinned 'selves'”, as well as a new militancy in the affirmation of their civil and political rights.
A few years later, Hughes would receive a letter from the Brazilian Abdias Nascimento who, around here, questioned the absence of culture and black bodies in the national theater – he wanted the right to take Hughes’ texts to the stages of Brazil through black authors.
A few decades would pass before the English artist Isaac Julien resumed the texts of the intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance to talk about the racial restrictions suffered by black immigrants from the former colonies of his country, questioning the lack of black actors in cinema and television.
Today, the artist Jaime Lauriano inaugurates a library inspired by the Quilombismo of Abdias, where horizontal and transparent knowledge wheels guarantee the reading of black authors for all ages and intellectual levels. At the same time, Arjan Martins installs windsocks created from nautical flags, suggesting a redirection of thought and colonial movements.
The main projects opened today are marked by decades of struggle for the representation and recognition of black intellectual production. Check out!
Abdias Nascimento and the Black Art Museum (MAN)
Since last year, the curatorial teams of Inhotim and IPEAFRO have started to organize a series of temporary exhibitions, or acts, dedicated to the Museu de Arte Negra – an institution idealized by Abdias Nascimento. If in the first exhibition the idea was to establish a dialogue between the works of Abdias and Tunga, this second moment is destined to the presentation of the Teatro Experimental do Negro, a movement headed by Abdias that is at the origins of the Museu de Arte Negra – an institution idealized by the artist, playwright and activist in the early 1950s to be a “future-oriented museum”.
MAN was thus born with the objective of “collecting and disseminating the work of black artists [or those who had a relationship with African culture], without distinction of gender, school or aesthetic tendency, thus promoting the documentation of their creativity, stimulating their imagination and invention in the wide range of artistic expression”, as described by Abdias himself.
With the predominance of yellow colors (a reference to Oxum) and green (representative of Oxossi), the expography is very well thought out, forming the symbolic bow and arrow also of Oxossi, guardian of the forests and Orisha of the throne of knowledge. On one side, photographs, newspaper and magazine clippings, documents and posters of the most radical pieces presented by TEN, on the other, some works from the IPEAFRO Black Art Museum collection, which includes paintings by Heitor dos Prazeres, Sebastião Januário, Rubens Valentin and Tunga, as well as sculptures Agnaldo Manuel dos Santos.
Finally, some of Abdias' impactful paintings, including the first experiments on canvas made by the artist that would be developed during the period of exile from 1968. The activities of Teatro Experimental do Negro, in fact, lasted until AI5 and it was within one of them, the 1st Black Brazilian Congress, held in the city of Rio de Janeiro in 1950, which gave rise to the Black Art Museum project.
“For Abdias and its people, art is an integral part of society and is deeply related to everyday life, life and love. For him – and in accordance with the philosophical tradition and the African ancestral way of life -, art is part of community life, it integrates human relationships and human interaction with the environment, the planet and the cosmos. For this reason, it necessarily relates to politics, which informs and shapes these relationships”, explains Elisa Larkin Nascimento, widow of Abdias and director of IPEAFRO.
The title of the show, Dramas for Blacks and Prologue for Whites, part of an anthology of black theater with the same name, organized by Abdias Nascimento, published in Rio de Janeiro, in 1961, and with texts staged by TEN. In “Prologue for whites”, Abdias breaks with the traditional perspective of Brazilian theater that, until then, reduced black people to an adjective, folkloric and stereotyped condition. It is one of the first texts published in Brazil that affirms the classical Egyptian civilization (in this case, its theater) as African and prior to Greek. In this way, Abdias breaks the barrier of color in discussions about theater in Brazil and re-dimensions the importance of black people and their culture in the tablados.
Looking for Langston, by Isaac Julien
It was 1983 when Isaac Julien, Martina Attile, Maureen Blackwood, Nadine Marsh-Edwards and Robert Crusz teamed up to create films and texts aimed at drawing attention to the neglect of black identity in film and television. From that moment on, the collective would be called Sankofa ( Sanko = return; fa = seek, bring) – a concept that originates from a traditional proverb among the Akan-speaking peoples of West Africa: “se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yenki” in Akan can be translated as “returning to the past to reframe the present and build the future”. The group's symbol would be formed by a bird with its head facing its tail.
In line with other contemporary film groups such as the Black Audio Film Collective, Sankofa emerged at a time when Margaret Thatcher's economic policies aimed to undo the welfare state, creating a worrying economic disparity. It was also a period marked by the government's racist stance towards immigrants from former British colonies in Africa and the Caribbean - which caused tensions races and protests in London, Liverpool and Birmingham. In this context, the discussion of the racial issue became even more urgent and postcolonial theories were already reformulating the fields of sociology, anthropology, literature, visual arts and cinema.
Among the works carried out by Sankofa, the team of curators from Inhotim selected the film Looking for Langston in which Isaac Julien weaves an allegory of transhistorical and transatlantic encounters between the worlds of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and strongholds of Afro-diasporic culture such as Brixton in the 1980s – a period also marked by the HIV epidemic.
From the beautiful film, photographs were born that are interspersed with poems by Langston Hughes – one of the members of the Harlem Renaissance -, where Julien unites sexuality with the discussion about race, highlighting the fundamental and intrinsic role of queer politics for the black intellectual production of the time. The work also makes references to other artists such as Alain Locke, Bruce Nugent, James Baldwin and Countee Cullen.
As with the central idea of Sankofa, Julien looks back with the aim of recovering the idea of freedom – suffocated by both racial discrimination and heteronormative sexuality. Here fact and fiction come together in a sensual and fantastic way to write a story forgotten by History.
“In 1954, Langston Hughes exchanged correspondence with Abdias Nascimento, authorizing Teatro Experimental do Negro to stage his plays. In this sense, Hughes, Abdias and Julien, each in their own time, sought representation and recognition of black artistic and intellectual production”, says Julieta González, artistic director of Inhotim. ”Many of the members of the Harlem Renaissance were homosexual. Julien thus creates this fabric of references at the height of the AIDs crisis. If art ever had a strong and effective influence in the field of public life, it was during the AIDS epidemic. The visibility that the artists gave was very important not only for destigmatizing the disease, but also for mobilizing investment and public policies”, points out the curator. “The entire artistic community was greatly affected by this disease, almost all the actors in this film, for example, died from the consequences of the virus a few years after recording”, he adds.
Occupation Jaime Lauriano
Interested in the organic and horizontal way of learning in the terreiros, Jaime Lauriano transformed the institute's traditional library into a “terreiro do knowledge”. The idea was to think of a library that would escape the rationality and rigidity of libraries created by colonial and Eurocentric thinking, especially Enlightenment thinking. That would break the hierarchy of knowledge.
The idea is to remove publications from the “sacred places” of traditional libraries and facilitate exchange by suggesting a more open, low space distributed in circles – an essential way proposed for sharing ideas and knowledge. “Our happiness will be to see the books marked and really dirty. This is the only way they will leave this elite place of knowledge”, proposes the artist. “I have research on furniture from candomblé fields. This furniture is inspired by the apotis, which are the initiation benches in the terreiros. We created benches with a new format that would facilitate transport to other areas of the park and, together, create new ways that encourage the sharing of knowledge”, he explains.
Jaime explains that he wanted to create a warm and welcoming space – in dialogue with the Quilombismo of Abdias, where there is a mixture of knowledge. Books, therefore, are messed up for people to access organically. You'll find you have a comic book next to a Malcolm X bibliography or a Frans Fanon theory book or a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie novel.
The artist's proposal is to take the project to the park and to the region of Brumadinho: benches, mats and possibly some hammocks will be distributed by Inhotim for people to take their readings outside the space destined for the library. The selection of titles, composed by black or white authors who reflected on black history and culture, was initially made by Jaime, but there will be an email so that the public can suggest new purchases. “If it were just my selection, the space would tell just one story. Our will is to build something plural and collaborative. He is also organizing a collaborative playlist with songs that address black culture across America and represent the resistance of a people. In addition, the artist and the curatorial team intend to publish a book and a podcast with oral stories told by members of two quilombola communities in the region! May Afro-diasporic wisdom gain the space it deserves.
Windsocks, by Arjan Martins
In dialogue with these exhibitions is the installation windsocks, by Arjan Martins, recently acquired for the institute's collection and shown to the public for the first time on top of a mountain between Jorge Macchi and Marilá Dardot's swimming pool.
It is a work about Afro-Atlantic migrations that dialogues with the anchor produced by the artist for the last Bienal de São Paulo. By appropriating the nautical element that indicates the direction of the winds and the international codes used to transmit messages between vessels and ports, Arjan proposes a discussion on the displacement of black bodies and presences between spaces of struggle and power in Afrodiasporic territories. “In the fusion of these two elements, windsocks and nautical flags, Arjan deals with the transit of bodies across the oceans, the trafficking of enslaved people and the diasporas caused by colonial movements”, explains Douglas de Freitas, Curator of Inhotim. Here, it may be possible to envision new winds and paths to stop, once and for all, these gaps and historical violence.
Abdias Nascimento and the Museum of Black Art: Dramas for Blacks and Prologue for Whites
Until September 2022
Looking for Langston, solo by Isaac Julien
Until September 2022
Occupation of Jaime Lauriano
Until November 2022
*The Inhotim Library project, which will annually invite artists and researchers to establish dialogues with the Institute's library.