We have evolved, but there is still work to do
19 Mar 2019, 4:29 pm
From the 2010 Demographic Census, the statistics provided by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) show that 51.03% of the Brazilian population is composed of women. Also according to IBGE surveys, between 2012 and 2016, the number of Brazilians who declared themselves blacks increased to 14.9% – against 7.4% declared in the previous survey released by the institute. Adding to 46.7% of the population that claims to be mixed-race, the Brazilian population is formed, in its majority, by women and non-white people.
Bringing this reality to the field of art, although most of the exhibitions are staged by white men and the numbers seem discouraging, it is possible to observe that we have evolved a lot in recent years. In 2018, exhibitions dedicated to discussing gender and race themes formed a large part of the programming calendar of larger institutions and independent spaces in the city of São Paulo.
I see this drive for diversity and equity not just as a matter of agenda, but as an essential part of creating spaces that welcome contemporary social and cultural changes. It is also a way of treating art institutions as models for a more inclusive and pluralistic society, especially during this moment of political turmoil in which the country is.
In this sense, it is also important to think about how these issues apply to SP-Arte and how an art fair absorbs these demands in a commercial context. Looking at the list of artists participating in the curatorial sectors of this edition, I notice a significant change in the artists announced: following the same direction as the artistic scene, they are increasingly diverse in terms of gender and race. Women are already almost half of those selected, but the number drops dramatically for the number of black women: around 1%. Black artists, although they are contemplated, are also a minority.
It is not new that these demands have been absorbed by the market. In 2018, curator Paula Garcia selected five long-term performances to occupy the Performance sector during SP-Arte. Upon entering the space, more than a balance between gender and race, an attempt was made – led by Brechó Replay – to blacken and highlight minorities within the Fair space, even if concentrated in the area destined to the sector.
For more artists from the so-called “majority minorities” to become more and more inserted in the circuit, it is necessary that the whole industry continues to rethink itself, day after day, as such changes require systemic efforts that involve the entire art chain, from institutional to commercial realms.
Aware of these demands, both SP-Arte and the galleries have been thinking about inclusive strategies. One of the Fair’s commercial efforts is to promote awareness and give prominence to art outside the white-Eurocentric axis: Bianca Leite and Ana Beatriz Almeida conduct guided tours with itineraries focused on Afro-descendant artists. The galleries, however few, feature black artists as highlights of their stands. Gentil Carioca presents Arjan Martins and Maxwell Alexandre; Mendes Wood DM will come with Sônia Gomes, Paulo Nazareth and Antônio Obá – who at the same time of the Fair gains individual exhibition at the gallery -, and Leme/AD brings works derived from the latest research and exhibitions by Jaime Lauriano, who also participates in the Performance sector.
These actions, even if small within the entire market context, show that we have evolved, but there is still a lot of work to do. So, in addition to the inclusion of artists in institutions and in the market, we need to think of women and blacks in leadership and decision-making positions, as there is no point in addressing such themes in exhibitions and this is not reflected in the internal structures of these places. And here I talk about opening positions like chief curators and directors, as blacks and women are already an active force in the market, but what positions do they still occupy?
We know that the problem is structural and follows economic paths based on the education system. But at long strides we are changing. SP-Arte itself has attempted to minimize such issues throughout the editions. In this edition, the very choice of curator Alexia Tala is already an attempt to decentralize white-Eurocentered curatorial thinking. Hélio Menezes, Lilia Schwarcz and Diane Lima participate in Talks with the round table “New curatorial narratives in Brazil”, to talk about their curatorial experiences in the exhibition Afro-Atlantic Histories (MASP and Instituto Tomie Ohtake, 2018) and Valongo, International Image Festival (2018), respectively. And who knows, in the coming years, we may see black curators taking over sectors of the Fair as well, and the number of minority artists occupying more and more prominent spaces.