Note from BW of Brazil: I’ve been wanting to cover this story since I first learned about it over a month ago. Today, I won’t comment on it. First, I want readers to weigh in on what they think and I’ll share my opinion in a follow up post. The subject has basically divided opinions into two camps. Which side are you on?
BlackFace: Former consul’s exhibition irritates black community before opening
By Silvia Nascimento
The black community is ignored even in actions aimed at reducing racism. The list of cases where the receiver of the message is thought as a white person is growing, ignoring black people as reader, listener, consumer or viewer.
The case of Criança Esperança was exemplary in this regard. An emotional game involving black children was meant to make them talk about racism, as if it were something unattached to sadness, bad memories, shame, and even humiliation. Result: black children and teens crying, a lot.
Another project of repercussion was the exhibition Exhibit B, where real black people were part of the show, using handcuffs, chains and shackles. All in the name of reflection by a racially conscious society. But how would black people feel about it? No one ever wonders.
The most recent case is the exhibition Pourquoi pas? (Por que não/Why not?) by Alexandra Loras, a black journalist, speaker and former consul of France in Brazil and one of the favorite sources of Brazilian journalists to talk about racism. The event is creating chatter in the social networks long before its launch.
The exhibition, which will be inaugurated on December 2 in São Paulo, features 20 portraits of white personalities that had their faces darkened (black face) through digital manipulation and according to the material of the campaign, have received “African descendant” features. Donald Trump, William Waak, Michel Temer, Ana Maria Braga, Dilma Rousseff and even the mayor of São Paulo, João Dória, were the faces chosen for the exhibition.
Pourquoi pas? Exhibition
The project was embraced by art gallery owners in São Paulo, but not by the comunidade negra (black community), which is outraged.
“Ser preto (To be black) is not to be pintado de preto (painted black). To paint personalities in black, it is not provocative … it is a caricature, useless, rude and does not say anything to anyone. Neither for blacks much less for whites,” warns militant and architect, Joice Berth, in a post on her Facebook profile.
“There is an incessant process of reconstruction of the black imaginary that has been lost. Producing images of white people painted ‘black’ is a step backwards in the struggle for watering and appreciation of the black population. It makes no sense to attribute blackness to the figures that potentialize the genocide of black people. There is none”, protests Renata Martins filmmaker, award-winning screenwriter and creator of the Empoderadas project.
Art Activism at whose service?
The proposal of the “blackface in the name of a cause”, according to the disclosure pamphlet, bring “a dose of humor and irony about the leading role of blacks in history.”
For Envio, a graffiti artist and curator of the exhibition, what is intended is to reflect on what our positions would be if these important names of society were black. “Would we make the same biased comments? Would we treat the different in the same way?”
Loras who also wrote the controversial book Racismo Gourmet, choosing once again to use humor, as she herself said at the time “to raise the debate about black women” (sic), now trying to show an inverted reality to provoke a reflection.
“I present an inverted reality to prove how far we are from a racial democracy, which will only happen when we have 54% of Brazil’s black population in Congress, in the Media and in leadership positions,” argues the ex-consul in her account at Instagram.
Another curiosity of the exhibition is the list of guests, who appear with photos in the material of the event, but some say they have not been formally invited. The Youtubers Murilo Araújo, Gabi Oliveira and Nataly Neri were some of these cases and their agent Egnalda Côrtes issued an official statement on the subject:
“Their image is linked to this exposure is misleading and malicious, since they are digital content producers known for their activism, so the image stamps an exhibition that does not represent the ideals defended by the digital influencers cited,” explains the manager.
It is past time for projects with racial themes to be provocations. Racism is a crime, and there’s nothing casual about it.
‘It’s not blackface because I’m black’, defends former French consulate on exhibition
For Alexandra Loras, the exhibition would only be considered ‘blackface’ if it were promoted by a white person
“If the Dilma were black would she be a cleaning lady?”, provokes Alexandra Loras, a former French consulate who chose to move to Brazil While calling herself an “artivist,” Alexandra is the target of blackface accusations, when white people darken their skin with makeup to portray black characters. The practice is often seen as a stereotyped way of portraying a black person. “It’s not blackface because I’m black. If Gisele [Bünchen] did the exhibition, it could be considered (as such),” Loras responds categorically.
The initial idea of the gallery appeared a few years ago, while Alexandra painted a French princess, but with her own face. She reports that, when confronted with racism and the lack of black protagonism in the country, the idea grew. The exhibition, which opened on Saturday, 2, will be in the Rabieh Gallery, in Jardim Europa, a prime area of the city of São Paulo. “Of course the gallery site is part of the strategy of shocking society,” says the Frenchwoman in a clear response, despite the heavy accent.
São Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin
Alexandra hoped the exposure would be a nuisance, but the negative repercussion and blackface’s accusations took her by surprise. “I didn’t expect so much visibility for the reasons that have been highlighted, but I thank the media, which has taken an appropriate approach to the subject.”
“In its origin, blackface is a theatrical makeup technique adopted in the 19th century by American white actors who painted their faces with charcoal to represent blacks in a stereotypical and playful way. At no time did this ancient practice guide the conception of the works of my exhibition, which will be inaugurated on December 2. As a black artist, my goal is to reflect on the protagonism of the black in Brazilian society without giving any pejorative connotations to the characters portrayed, but rather to show how current Eurocentrism is shocking and absurd for blacks, because we are not represented in a dignified way, respectful and egalitarian. In proposing an ‘inverted’ world, with blacks in prominent roles in society, I wonder if we would make the same biased remarks or whether we would have the same positions. My desire is to provoke a reflection and not rescue a tool considered racist and that ridicules black people.”
Alexandra continued the defense of her work:
“Many artists revisited the Mona Lisa, Snow White…and also did it with digital manipulation. I didn’t makeup anyone, I did not paint the skin of any human. My work is artistic. I’m not placing a real white person as black. It’s a digital illustration, like a drawing, with an artistic purpose to lead to debate.”
Similar negative comments were posted under the photo manipulated to represent late night talk show host Jô Soares: “Even if it’s not your intention, that’s just what you’re doing, redeeming blackface. Allowing other whites to do so and call it ‘art’. I’m very disappointed in that,” an internet user said.
Surprised by the reactions, Alexandra said that she has been doing similar work for years, without any opposition.
“In my lectures, I make a dynamic that I call the opposite world, where I show black angels, black Jesus Christ, black Disney princesses, and in these three years that I have been giving lectures in Brazil, these images have never been called blackface. The worst thing is that the people who are criticizing my work, most of them have already attended my lectures with this dynamics of the inverse world, so there is a structural planning to end with blacks that has been provoking debate. We are still in the síndrome do capitão do mato (captain of the wood syndrome) (see note one) in which one has to call the black who is fleeing from the classical norm to go back to the senzala (slave quarters). It’s very strange to see how empowered black women are attacked all the time and by blacks! It’s very absurd. It’s as if the oppressors could get us to be disunited, some whipping the work of others!” she snapped.
She also claimed her place in the debate on racial issues.
“The place of the black woman is where she wishes it to be. Speaking of blackness, of the black cause, is my space of speaking. I’m not a white artist touching a subject that I can never understand exactly how it is. It’s not because I’m French that I’m less black or I feel less up close what racism in Brazil is,” she protested, also rebutting one of the criticisms of Internet users who did not include black personalities in her exposition. “I included one, which will be discovered on the day (of the opening of the exhibition).”
Loras further expressed her views in a recent edition of VejaSP: How do you see this accusation? I’m being massacred. Militants say I’m a racist. I thought the works would bother the whites, not blacks. Do you consider yourself wronged? There is a prejudice because I’m from another country and have a white husband. We blacks are disunited. One militant wants to have more protagonism than the other, there is a lot of vanity. Have they tried to persuade you to cancel the show? Yes, Taís Araújo, Lázaro Ramos, Cris Vianna and Regina Casé called me. They were dears and showed their views, but I don’t see any reason to turn back. Source: TBA Note 1. Expression refers to the black or mulatto overseer during the slavery era whose job it was to hunt down fugitive slaves and return them.