Um enorme passado pela frente at Plataforma Revólver

Some aphorisms uttered by leading figures in the history of civilisation have become so solid as to constitute cornerstones. Or, more simply, quotes that have shaped the future – like the famous “know yourself”, probably said by Socrates in the 6th century BC. A few years later, in the mid-1970s in Brazil, Millôr Fernandes, a cartoonist opposed to the Military Dictatorship, delivered not a cornerstone, but a decisive point in the perception of Brazil’s history. According to Millôr, the country had “a huge past ahead of it”.

This is the sentence of the title of the exhibition opened at Plataforma Revólver at the end of September, closing on November 5, in Lisbon.

Last October 16, I had an exclusive dialogue with the exhibition’s curator, Cristiana Tejo, about a turning point and reflection on a subject eternally swept under the Lusophone carpet: colonial responsibility and identity.

Cristiana Tejo is an independent curator and holds a PhD in Sociology (UFPE). She is a researcher in the project Artists and Radical Education in Latin America: 1960s and 1970s funded by FCT, as well as being a member of the Institute of Art History at Universidade Nova de Lisboa. We highlight her co-curation of the Thirty-Second Panorama of Brazilian Art at MAM – SP, with Cauê Alves, in 2011. Tejo was also curator of the Paulo Bruscky Special Room at the X Havana Biennial. This year, 2022, she has resumed her position as co-curator of the 37th edition of the Panorama of Brazilian Art: “Sob as cinzas, Brasa”.

Her career is marked by the peripheral production, the professionalization of the artist and the exchange between artistic agents from different regions of Brazil and the world. According to Cristiana, the invitation to do the show came in a conversation with Victor Pinto da Fonseca, owner of the building Transboavista and galleries VPF cream art and Plataforma Revólver, where the exhibition takes place.

Um enorme passado pela frente emerged in the materialisation of her passion to investigate the direct consequences of Portugal’s colonial past and the consequences on today’s Brazilian society. The collective exhibition features five rooms of Plataforma Revólver, the works of Brazilian artists Denilson Banana, Jonathas de Andrade, Laryssa Machada, Lyz Parayso, Maré de Matos, Mariana Lacerda & Joana Paraíso, Pablo Lobato and Yuri Firmeza.

According to Cristina, all the exhibited pieces were placed in strategic positions in the rooms. This allows the works to develop small narratives among themselves, being immersed in a single, remarkable story. This grand story began to be told 522 years ago, with the arrival of the Portuguese to the American continent. Like all stories passed from generation to generation, it has suffered with the changes brought about by the interlocutors.

It is also interesting to understand the storytellers’ roles and how the characters behave in relation to their assigned roles.

Until the last century, control of this grand narrative was by those who arrived by boat, rather than those born on the red as fire land. This shaped the perception of Brazilian identity by Brazilians themselves, influenced by foreigners since the first literary descriptions of the territory. Pero Vaz de Caminha’s letter to the Portuguese crown (1500) is the first official document written on the soil of present-day Brazil.

It depicted the image of the Indigenous people who walked around naked “with nothing to cover their private parts”, as well as the exuberant and prodigal nature of the land to be explored.

In the 19th century, the only description the world had of Brazil was the report of other European travellers in the territory. At the beginning of colonisation, the Portuguese publishing market was limited to specific moments of mainly Catholic expression. In his religious sermons, the renowned Father António Vieira described the territory where he worked for the Society of Jesus on proselytising missions. According to the historian Jean Marcel Carvalho França, permission to reside in Brazil in the first hundred years of Portuguese occupation was extremely limited for other Europeans. These rarely met such a reality and ended up reproducing the discourses of other travellers and clergymen who had already published things about the territory[1]. This massively reproduced these discourses, with fallacies spread all over the European continent. Many of these were influenced by the Catholic interpretation of the time.

This is the theme of the exhibition’s first moment Um enorme passado pela frente on the impact of the Catholic Church in Brazil, with the pieces O Brasil deve (2017) by Maré de Matos, Bronze Revirado (2017) by Pablo Lobato and with Nada é (2014) by Yuri Firmeza. We scream with Matos, we listen with Lobato, and we imagine with Firmeza a presence that, according to Cristiana Tejo, prepared the ground of Brazil to be cultivated from the Catholic seed.

The cultivation process also has a peculiar moment. In an analogy with reality, we must remove the extra useless roots. A moment visible in the second room, with the harvester metaphor in Lyz Paraiso’s polished brass sculpture.

Decolonial study has become more relevant in the last forty years among Latin American theorists and historians. Based on facts, they have tried to rethink the history of their countries and national territories. A process opposed to coloniality, and a strand of thought away from the traditional post-colonial study which, according to the author Walter Mignolo, is based on French post-structuralism[2]. Therefore, the famous post-colonialism is still stuck to the European thought genealogy. We must emphasize that colonialism is a process of direct and formal domination[3]. For many Europeans, this issue is finished or outdated. However, coloniality is the continuation of the colonial structure in societies away from eurocentrism, sunk in the perpetuation of racialisation and segregation processes of power.

Processes apparent in the video installation O caseiro (2016) by Jonathas de Andrade. Here we can see the superimposition of the film Mestre dos Apipucos (1959), depicting Gilberto Freyre’s life[4] with the 2016 footage of the character of a Black caretaker. According to Cristiana Tejo, this shows the parallelism between the contrasts of race and class issues. Direct legacies of colonialism, visible in the coloniality of the tiles in Gilberto Freyre’s dining room, gifts from Salazar himself.

While talking to Tejo, I asked about the growing waves of immigration in Portugal. According to the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF), more than seven hundred thousand foreigners would be living in the country in 2021, 30% of them Brazilians. I wanted to better understand her position on the importance of an exhibition on decoloniality in Lisbon. Cristiana Tejo says that the experience of being Brazilian in Portugal is often “painful” and quite different from being an immigrant in other European countries. This experience is infinitely more difficult because of the constant disavowal of some Portuguese people in the use of our own language. This is underlined by the continuous presence of the written word in the works of the exhibition Um enorme passado pela frente, in a cycle from the first to the last work of the exhibition by the duo Mariana Lacerda & Joana Paraíso.

Mariana Lacerda & Joana Paraíso, authors of the interactive work Defender a alegria, Organizar a raiva(2019 -), an unfinished collection of icons in the form of messages, allow the visitor to take with them a reminder to constantly fight. As a lichen, a vote, a ruin, as one who cares, as a political prisoner, as one who cares and above all – with me.

Together reflecting on the present in order to rethink our past and not propagate coloniality in our future.

For colonialism existed, but coloniality still exists.

And it is our duty to acknowledge it, so that its imperfect past tense is not an obstacle in front of what is to come.



[1] FRANÇA, Jean Marcel Carvalho. A construção do Brasil no pensamento europeu dos séculos XVI, XVII e XVIII. Acervo (Rio de Janeiro), v. 24, p. 7-24, 2011.

[2] Mignolo, W. D. (2007). El pensamiento decolonial: desprendimiento y apertura. Un manifiesto. In S. C. Gómez & R. Grosfoguel (Orgs.), El giro decolonial: reflexiones para una diversidad epistémica más allá del capitalismo global (pp. 25-46). Bogotá: Siglo del Hombre Editores; Universidad Central, Instituto de Estudios Sociales Contemporáneos y Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Instituto Pensar.

[3] Quijano, A. (1992). Colonialidad y Modernidad-racionalidad. In H. Bonillo (Org.), Los conquistados (pp. 437-449). Bogotá: Tercer Mundo Ediciones; FLACSO.

[4] Gilberto Freyre (1900-1987) was a Brazilian writer who authored essays on the interpretation of Brazil from the perspectives of sociology, anthropology and history. But who romanticises the processes of violence suffered by the Black population, in the controversial Casa Grande & Senzala (1933)

Maria Eduarda Wendhausen (Rio de Janeiro, 2000). Graduated in Art and Heritage Sciences (FBAUL), studied at Sotheby's Institute of Art and is currently a master's student in Art Criticism, Curatorship and Theories (FBAUL). She works as a writer and curator in Lisbon, where she lives and traverses the marginalities of everyday life. Collaborates with Manicómio and inhabits Pavilhão31, a unique concept space in Portugal where CHPL artists are exhibited in dialogue with contemporary artists; such as Jeff Koons, Pedro Cabrita Reis, etc. Her last role as a curator, at ARCOLisboa2022 stands out in the space of the Prémio Arte Jovem Millennium bcp, a Carpe Diem Arte e Pesquisa project.

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