Being a black woman artist: Rosana Paulino’s vision on past, present and future
Marina Dias Teixeira
18 Nov 2019, 9:51 am
In a series of interviews, SP-Arte pays homage to Afro-Brazilian women artists for the occasion of Black Awareness Month. To close the series, we hear what Rosana Paulino has to say about her artistic production and her inclusion into the contemporary art system.
The São Paulo native illustrates how being a black woman triples the challenge of being an artist. Recognized today as a national reference even beyond Brazil, Rosana Paulino explains that it took her 21 years to see her work exhibited in a traditional institution like the Pinacoteca in São Paulo, and that she only started to have a consolidated presence in the art market in the last five years.
On the other hand, she praises the importance of productions that come from alternative circuits, which “contaminate, in a positive sense, more conservative spheres of artistic creation”. The artist goes on to affirm that there is an “up and coming young generation, who is very good and who [she] wants to get to know more”. Check out the full interview below.
What are the challenges of being a black woman artist in Brazil?
Rosana Paulino: The challenges of being an artist in a country that doesn’t consider and ultimately starts to demonize education and culture are huge for anyone. When you apply this to black women, the challenge triples. Firstly, for us, there is a greater difficulty in accessing good schools in the arts. This also means less contact with other languages, that can open doors to formative residencies, for example. Secondly, we often carry the burden of the home, of children, for those who have them, and of having to start working very early to pay for our studies. And, when we do overcome this, we have to face an art market that is still very male oriented, white and Eurocentric. In other words, in our case the already great challenges are tripled, at the very least.
How was your work integrated into the art market?
My work was integrated very slowly. It took 21 years for an important work, Parede da memória [Wall of Memory], to get into an important institution, in this case the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, and 25 years for me to have a big solo show at the same institution. We must take into account how a work’s inclusion in a big collection and an exhibition of weight validates an artist’s production, and how that helps with sales. We can see then how the process in my case was slow. In terms of sales, in fact I started to sell just a few years ago. Perhaps no more than five. Before, I would sell one piece and it would take years to sell another.
What references and influences inform your work?
I think the principal conceptual and aesthetic references are those concerning Afro-Brazilian culture. In recent years, I have also been doing a lot of research into scientific racism. When I was a student, I looked closely at the baroque, at African and Australian aboriginal art. Unfortunately, in regards to artists that influence me, I don’t have a lot of influences because, being interested in the Afro-Brazilian question, I wasn’t able to find much material. We have to remember that I was trained in a pre-internet age. It’s the same thing in relation to female art. The female artists who I have had contact with, like Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith, Belkis Ayon, for example, didn’t have a formative influence on me because they were around at a time when I had already finished university and had already advanced a lot in constructing my poetics. In these examples, although I have great admiration for these artists, they have less influence on me.
Decolonial curatorships have started to gain ground in more traditional institutional Brazilian environments – what is your take on that? Which paths are we yet to go through?
This type of curation is starting now, but it’s happening very late and partly by force, to tell you the truth. For a long time, Brazil has been criticized, both from the inside looking out and the outside looking in, for its curators who privilege just one vision of art. From the inside looking out: with the insertion of new agents in the art field. Producers who are black women, black men, women, LGBTQI people are starting to put pressure on the area. And from the outside looking in, from art fairs, international exhibitions, universities and others, who come to us questioning the lack of diversity and inclusion in Brazilian production. It is common, for example, for me to arrive at universities outside Brazil and to be questioned about where the productions by Afro-Brazilians are, about how many teachers there are in the Afro-Brazilian department, who the most representative artists are…and I know from people who have intense contact with art fairs and museums that it’s the same picture there. So, these demands around the country do exist, and have existed. These two factors caused Brazil to, very slowly, start to advance in accepting these productions and to consider decolonial curators who will take into account even indigenous art. But I must emphasize that this is very late in happening and it is a long way from happening in the whole country. It is easy to forget that São Paulo works kind of like a “bubble” in terms of certain issues, and this is one of those.
In your view, how important is the artistic circuit outside galleries and institutions, and how do you think it influences artistic practice?
This circuit is very important because it tends to be more experimental, it is the circuit that puts pressure on and that questions more vehemently what is being established. It is a mistake to think that the conventional artistic circuit alone can handle all the demands of contemporary art. It’s often the opposite. Some artists, for fear of risking their positions of prestige, can be more restrained in what they create than those who exist at “the margin” of the official circuit, if we can speak in such terms. These productions tend to expand the list of issues addressed in art and to “contaminate”, in a very positive sense, more conservative spheres of artistic creation.
Do you have any black women artists to recommend?
I generally don’t like to mention names because I always end up being unjust and forgetting someone, but without question we can name artists like Renata Felinto, Priscila Rezende, Michelle Mattiuzzi, Juliana dos Santos, Charlene Bicalho, Janaína Barros, Lidia Lisboa, Sonia Gomes, Aline Motta, Mariana de Matos, also known as Maré, Ana Lira and Kika Carvalho, amongst others. And those are the more well known, who have been in the fight the longest. There is a very good up and coming young generation who I want to get to know more, and who, I’m sure, in the not so distant future will also be mentioned here.
About the artist
Rosana Paulino (São Paulo, 1967). Visual artist, researcher and educator. Her production focuses on social, ethnic and gender issues, highlighting discussions on the symbolic social space occupied by black women in Brazil. She has a doctorate in Visual Arts and a bachelor’s degree in Arts from ECA-USP. She has works in important museums such as MAM-SP, Masp and UNM – University of New Mexico Art Museum (USA). She has participated in various exhibitions in Brazil and abroad.