Alternative RoutesFriday, January 7, 2022
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How do contemporary Black and Indigenous artists reflect on the legacies of the historical experience of race and ethnicity in Latin American art institutions? With this question in mind, we asked eight young Afro-Latin American and Indigenous artists to discuss an artwork by an artist from a previous generation by exercising their historical imagination: to create a genealogy that connects the chosen artwork to their own current practice. This remarkable group—composed of May Agontinme, Carmenza Banguera, Sebastián Calfuqueo, Yhuri Cruz, Venuca Evanán, Juão Nÿn, Lily Sandoval Panduro, and César-Octavio Santa Cruz—offer different perspectives on the symbolic and social experiences that shaped their art. Moreover, their artistic genealogies exceed modern Latin American art’s canonical authors, trends, or idioms. Their texts constitute alternative routes to the past that highlight the historicity of racial and ethnic relations within Latin America’s art worlds.
In recent decades, mainstream art institutions in Latin America have reckoned with the historical exclusion of Black and Indigenous artists, leading to initiatives like the Museu de Arte de São Paulo’s 2018 exhibition Histórias Afro-Atlânticas and the creation of the Programa de Estudios Descoloniales en Arte in 2019 at the Museo Nacional de Arte in La Paz.  These initiatives are not new in the region—the Museo del Barro’s Museo de Arte Indígena, for example, was founded in Asunción in 1985. The more recent decolonial turn in Latin American institutions brings new questions and problems. In what ethical terms should Indigenous and Black arts be narrated? How can diverse artistic practices become accessible for equally varied audiences? What strategies can we develop to avoid predatory relations that replicate political and social vulnerability in the artistic field? And how can these relatively recent institutional undertakings account for and visibilize decades-long initiatives led by Black and Indigenous art workers in Latin America?
To be sure, decades before the current “decolonial turn,” Black and Indigenous artists in Latin America have found ways to preserve, historicize, and display their art on their own terms. Consider A Mão Afro-Brasileira, an exhibition opened on August 26, 1988, at the Museu de Arte Moderna in São Paulo.  The show resulted from the extensive research conducted by Black artist and curator Emanoel Araújo and, as suggested by its title, it featured artworks made exclusively by Brazilian people of African descent. The project refuted a widely reproduced narrative in art institutions that claimed that there had not been many great Black artists in Brazil. Until then, this idea had justified the lack of representation of artworks made by Black artists in mainstream art collections, exhibitions, and historiography. By systematically researching and collecting Black art—that is, by accumulating empirical evidence—Araújo contested said narrative and the silent racism underlying it.  Araújo’s prominent role within Brazilian art institutions granted him the cultural networks to build a vast and diverse collection. 
Nevertheless, A Mão Afro-Brasileira was neither the first nor the only instance in which Black or Indigenous artists from Latin America organized themselves to research and display the art of their respective communities. In 1950, the actor and playwright Abdias Nascimento conceived the Museu de Arte Negra as a space to critique racial inequities in art institutions.  While the museum did not operate within a physical building, it developed varied activities—among them, the 1955 exhibition Cristo Negro, which bolstered a heated public debate during its time.  As discussed later in this text, many Andean artists united around “asociaciones de artesanos” and “asociaciones de artistas populares” in the second half of the twentieth century, creating significant spaces for collective learning and creation.  In the 1970s, Quechua weaver Nilda Callañaupa organized workshops with other women from Chinchero (Cusco) to weave, study, and recreate then vanishing textile traditions, leading to the creation of the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco in 1996, which operates today as a museum, research center, and platform for the dissemination of the traditional textiles of Cusco and pre-Columbian techniques from Peru. 
These projects, based on narratives of race and ethnicity, often resonated with coeval socio-political contexts. A Mão Afro-Brasileira, for instance, was part of the centennial celebrations of Brazil’s abolition of slavery. The show’s closing nearly coincided with the signing of Brazil’s 1988 national constitution—a document that abolished authoritarian laws established during the military dictatorship (1964–1985). As the direct result of the longstanding activism of Indigenous and Black social movements, this document was the first to assert the legitimacy of their cultural rights. But these groups had to wait until the 2000s, and only after years of pressuring, to see the law finally materialized in intercultural schools, affirmative action policies in universities, and the recognition of Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous knowledge in institutional spaces. Framed by this context, Araújo founded the Museu Afro-Brasil in 2004, which houses some of the artworks presented in his seminal 1988 exhibition.
As in these precedents, the genealogies proposed by the eight invited artists here also reveal strong links between older and younger generations. Moreover, they highlight how social relations mediated by race, ethnicity, and gender have shaped and continue to shape the art world in Latin America.
Sebastián Calfuqueo and Juão Nÿn argue that Indigenous artists have developed counter-hegemonic knowledge to challenge the dispossession exerted by colonial institutions. In their text, Calfuqueo asserts that Chilean political and cultural institutions developed racist policies that silenced Indigenous cultures like the Mapuche, and goes on to discuss the work of Santos Chávez Alister Carinao (1934–2001), a Mapuche artist like themself, who faced discrimination in art spaces throughout their lifetime. Furthermore, their text reveals how the erasure of native culture and language bolsters a lack of access to institutional spaces and material vulnerability. The recovery of Indigenous languages and cultures is a particular concern for Calfuqueo, as evidenced by their work as a member of the collective Rangiñtulewfü and as editor of the journal Yene.
Juão Nÿn—artist, performer, playwright, and director—also characterizes language as a device that exerts power. His essay is written in “Tupyguês,” a linguistic hack of Portuguese that highlights the language’s colonial legacy. Nÿn’s text focuses on a drawing by Warasi, a Yanomami shaman, who participated in an art project led by Swiss-born Brazilian photographer Claudia Andujar (1931) amidst the struggle to recognize the sacred land of the Yanomami in 1976. Nÿn, who belongs to the Potiguara people, draws attention to how violence permeated Indigenous societies’ contact with the non-indigenous world. Furthermore, the artist asserts that the networks of Indigenous arts constitute an embodied space of articulation and collective recognition.
The interplay between collective erasure and resistance is central to the texts of Carmenza Banguera and Venuca Evanán. Banguera argues that the absence of Afro-Colombian artists in art history is the product of Colombian mainstream art institutions’ dismissal and lack of expectations from them: the absence of institutional support turns into effective erasure. Her essay focuses on the trajectory of Aníbal Moreno Cárdenas (1945), who serves as a metonymy for a group of Black artists working in Cali in the 1990s. An Afro-Colombian artist and art-educator from Cali herself, Banguera followed the production of this older generation closely.
Venuca Evanán, for her part, focuses on past and present collective participatory art projects. Evanán is interested in collective labor, which is at the core of the daily lives of people in Sarhua—the Andean rural town where her family is from—and the lives of those who migrated from Sarhua to Lima. In Lima, her parents and other migrants founded the Taller Q’ori Taqe in 1976, which paved the way to the Asociación de Artistas Populares de Sarhua (1982–present)—a space where artworks are made collaboratively. Evanán’s text asserts the importance of establishing networks of collaboration and solidarity between Indigenous and non-indigenous women to challenge gender inequality in Lima.
Women’s artistic dialogues are central in May Agontinme’s and Lily Sandoval Panduro’s texts. Both artists highlight how knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation of women. Agontinme’s contribution describes how Black women in Brazil have employed textile to develop affective and social bonds to affirm their existence and resistance. Agontinme, an artist and art-educator, establishes a parallel between her artworks and those of Maria Auxiliadora dos Santos (1935–1974), another Black artist from the outskirts of São Paulo. This comparison reveals the rich and multilayered artistic networks that inform Black artists’ output beyond mainstream art schools—from collective artmaking sites to knowledge production spaces such as Afro-Brazilian households and religious environments.
In Sandoval’s text, pottery enables the production and reproduction of ancestral knowledge. Sandoval learned how to create clay figures from her mother and grandmother who belonged to the Shipibo-Konibo people—one of the largest Indigenous ethnic groups from the Peruvian Amazon. Her text highlights how intergenerational artmaking enables networks of recognition and kinship between young women and their grandmothers, mothers, and aunts. Moreover, the essay asserts how this embodied knowledge manifests in specific techniques that are also a gift in the Shipibo-Konibo cosmovision.
Visual artists Yhuri Cruz and César-Octavio Santa Cruz also highlight art and knowledge networks disregarded by mainstream art institutions. Santa Cruz discusses the Afro-Peruvian music album Cumanana (1963) by his great-uncle, Black musician and poet Nicomedes Santa Cruz Gamarra (1925–1992), focusing specifically on its cover design and illustrations by Octavio Santa-Cruz Urquieta, his father. The essay establishes a dialogue between graphic arts, music, and poetry and reflects on their entering into exhibitions spaces. In alignment with Paul Gilroy’s interpretation of music albums as technologies of emancipatory knowledge, Santa Cruz celebrates the Afro-Peruvian experience along with a broader set of references in the African Diaspora that are at the core of his aesthetics and ethics. 
Likewise, Black Atlantic geographies are also present in Brazilian artist and writer Yhuri Cruz’s contribution. His “dream-essay,” inspired by the lived experience of Black Brazilian painter Rubem Valentim (1922–1991), posits displacement as the force behind processes such as the reconstitution of culture and the creation of a sense of collectivity. Cruz’s text centers on Valentim’s geographical relocations throughout his lifetime. In one of many of his provocations, Cruz focuses on the airplane-shaped urban plan of Brasilia—a city where Valentim lived part of his life—and reframes it: Could it be that the drawing was, in fact, of a bird? In Cruz’s text, the sites that Valentim visited become “nests” where people of African descent congregate to share experiences and create projects for the future.
From different positionalities, these eight artists start from concepts historically excluded from mainstream art history and museums such as: ancestral knowledge, matrilineal heritage, collective authorship, and counter-narratives against racist erasure and dispossession. Furthermore, they underscore locally-specific experiences central to the production of meaning and value within these contexts. By highlighting the decades-long contributions of Black and Indigenous artists and artworks, their essays add new elements for decolonizing Latin American art narratives. Starting from the contributors’ diverse perspectives, the editorial project Alternative Routes combines affective experience and theoretic production to animate dialogues in which Blackness and Indigeneity from Latin America take center stage.
 Historically, debates of race and racism have been taboo in Latin American mainstream art institutions, a situation that is replicated in U.S. institutions collecting and studying Latin American art. For a survey of mainstream art museums in Latin America, see Michele Greet and Gina McDaniel Tarver (eds.), Art Museums of Latin America: Structuring Representation (New York: Routledge, 2020). On racism’s impact on Brazilian art historiography, see Igor Simões, “Sobre a violência: epistemicídio negro na história da arte e na crítica de arte brasileira”, in Resistências Poéticas: arte, crítica e direitos humanos, ed. Alessandra Mello Simões Paiva (Itabuna: Associação Brasileira de Críticos de Arte, 2020): 52–58. On the structural exclusion of Indigenous artists from fine art museums in the Andes throughout the twentieth century, see Giuliana Borea, “Arte popular y la imposibilidad de sujetos contemporáneos; o la estructura del pensamiento moderno y la racialización del arte,” in Arte y antropología: estudios, encuentros y nuevos Horizontes, ed. Giuliaba Borea (Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, 2017): 97–119.
 See Araujo, Emanoel (ed.), A Mão Afro-Brasileira: significado da contribuição artística e histórica (São Paulo: Imprensa Oficial do Estado de São Paulo, Museu Afro Brasil, 2010), 2 vols.
 We take the idea of “silent racism” from the writings of anthropologist Marisol de la Cadena. According to the author, Latin American twentieth-century white and mestizo elites developed a “culturalist” definition of race. Unlike the U.S., where racism was explicitly manifested in legal terms, Latin American racist practices were legitimized by cultural narratives that might seem discreet or “silent” for elite groups, but that resonated strongly amongst Black and Indigenous communities. See, among others, Marisol de la Cadena, “Reconstructing Race: Racism, Culture and Mestizaje in Latin America,” NACLA Report on the Americas XXXVI, 6 (May–June 2001).
 Araújo was the head director of the Museu do Estado da Bahia (1981–1983), the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo (1992–2002), and the Museu Afro-Brasil (2004–present).
 For an analysis of the exhibition Cristo Negro, see Hélio Santos Menezes Neto, Entre o visível e o oculto: o conceito de Arte Afro-Brasileira, Universidade de São Paulo (master thesis on Social Anthropology), 2018, retrieved on September 29, 2021, https://teses.usp.br/teses/disponiveis/8/8134/tde-07082018-164253/public...
 As part of this editorial project, artist Venuca Evanán describes the history of the Asociación de Artistas Populares de Sarhua (1982–present).
 Paul Gilroy, “Between the Blues and the Blues Dance: Some Soundscapes of the Black Atlantic,” in Michael Bull and Les Back (eds.), Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2003): 381–397.