Art has no immunity

Today, I want to try to answer this question by talking a little bit about three words: “time”, “opportunity” and “space”. People who know me a bit and know some of my works also know that I have some strong positions about what historical reparation means. Unfortunately, in Portugal a lot of people do not know yet what reparation means.

My work that is in the collective exhibition at MAAT, reflects an urgent need to debate Portuguese history from another perspective. It’s a message that speaks about the brutality of colonization times, but also a message about hope. My famous pink flag where I wrote the sentence “It was not discovery, it was slaughter” shares the space with an animated gif where we can see the explosion of the monument that celebrates discoveries. Watching this destruction there is a beautiful painting that I did invoking the Divine and Trickster Eshu.

Eshu said through my piece: the past can be solved with present actions. That work was inspired by a Iorubá saying that says. “Exu killed a bird yesterday, with a stone that he only threw today”. My work there is calling other imaginaries. It’s calling for a fresh perspective using destruction as a tool to rebuild a history that erased black people from existence. In my sense of production, the apocalypse is an escape.

As a black queer living in Portugal, I am experiencing an interesting moment in terms of visibility in the art field. As you know, Art is a place not only to show beauty, but is also one of the most important space to do politics…. and money, of course.

Today, in Portugal, we see an attempt to put more black people in this field ….and we know why. If we do a simple research about it…we will see a huge rise of black artists around. This is a great movement, but also is a social indication. It informs us that Portugal art field, after centuries of colonization and centuries of slavery, only now is paying some attention about social inequalities in art.  For me, as a black queer living in Portugal from fifteen years, racism is a reality that I have to face day by day. Just to mention, a study made by the European Social Survey in 2020 revealed that 62% of Portuguese… manifest some racism. Only last year the government created a working group about this subject. But speaking back about Art, I have to say that some black artists are happy. Happy to finally get some opportunities. Happy to finally getting recognition. Happy to get some tips on doing art. It’s unusual for us here. This unusual time in Portuguese history….  is also dangerous for us and I will explain why.

Colonization gave time and space to white artists to exist in history. Colonization created a place to allow white artists to have comfortable opportunities to do whatever they want. Colonization established a platform that provided the idea that they are free to do whatever they want. It’s important to understand the disadvantages of black people inside the art field in Portugal.Today black artists are getting some opportunities here. Finally! But we are not getting space. And there is a huge difference between these two words. Opportunities means that someone has the power to create it. And here, people that are trying to distribute those opportunities are people that hold power in history. Those people are not giving space. This is something that we, black people, sometimes do not pay attention enough. We are happy about the opportunities, about visibility, about tips. And this creates a kind of social illusion. A wrong idea that this is reparation.

Opportunities are great. It’s important to invite black people to talk in this kind of summit. It’s important to buy work from black artists. It’s important to invite black people to participate in exhibitions and it’s important to pay black people for all kind of job they do. But what about space to create these opportunities? Why do we not have black people in leadership in the art and cultural field here in Portugal? Why do we not have black people as curators here?   Portugal has more than five hundred years of colonization. More than five hundred years providing time and space to white folks. I am trying to highlight this situation in Portugal.

Demodernizing the art field means that it is mandatory to make space to black people to command. And this task will be done by you. Did you realize the power that you have yet? You have the power and position to create, not only beautiful exhibitions, but you have the power to create space to black people. Unfortunately, colonial history distributed power only between white people. And white people maintain the power to redistribute the power. But the question is: are those people really interested in creating real spaces for black people to be equally in power?

In Portugal we have no racial-ethnic categorization legally approved. That means we are not legally able to identify social inequalities in terms of race. This is an important warning of how Portuguese society works and how this social silence from politics informs us that they are not interested in identifying this problem. But we can do this visually. Just look who are the people that are leading art institutions and curatorship to understand this gap.

I created a blog - an informal exercise - where I put some information about this gap. For now, it’s only a list of people in leadership in culture and art in Portugal. I am just trying to give some visibility to this reality. If you check the blog, visually you will see that 99% are white people.You can check it out on “” as you can see on screen.

I am not sure if the list is updated and complete, but it’s a step in this journey that I chose to try to decolonize art in Portugal and create some space for us, black people, to decide for ourselves what to do. When I think about this question that Clara Kim brought to this session, one thing that could help art institutions in Portugal to change is not not only creating opportunities, but also creating space for us. We need representation. We need black people. We need trans people. We need disabled people. We need Romani people. We need immigrants occupying power positions in the art field. Art has no immunity. Art is not unpunished.

ROD, Pink Flag, 2021. Acrylic on fabric. 360 x 146cmROD, Pink Flag, 2021. Acrylic on fabric. 360 x 146cm

When we see that power positions here is commanded only by white people, only by cis people, only by “normal” people, we understand how art field preserve inside a colonial and racist behavior. I believe in historical reparation when we black people start to occupy those positions. For now, reparation is only symbolic. White curatorship continues the process of exploitation and mercantilization of our pain.  This way I see that black people continue to be a product. Until the power continues in the white circle, we will continue living in coloniality. This colonial behavior is a challenge to change. And this is not only my responsibility. We need to share this. We need to recognize together that the art field in Portugal reproduces coloniality and racism. We need to call Eshu to help us to change the consequences of the past in the everyday life of black people.

I believe the only way to demodernize art institutions in Portugal is when we can see black people commanding those institutions. Until there we just see white people washing their hands believing that reparation times have already arrived. Hope you can help us change this.

Thank you.




Note This text is a transcription of the speech that I did on Parte Summit / Loulé / 6th August 2022. Talk: Given the nature of modern and contemporary art museum collections in the context of antiracist and decolonial discourses, we question: how do museums adopt new models and methodologies? How can institutions respond to the urgency of socio-political agendas and appeal to the action of society at large? How can museums shift from models rooted in ownership, permanence and perpetuity to models that privilege interaction, collaboration and sharing? How can the de-modernization of contemporary art institutions happen? What models can be replicated in the art ecosystem? Should art institutions and presentation spaces look at processes in sectors beyond culture, where these processes are under discussion and underway? What skills should be used to start this process? — With Clara Kim (The Daskalopoulos Senior Curator, International Art at Tate Modern ), Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy ( Director at the Kunstituut Melly in Rotterdam), Rodrigo Ribeiro Saturnino (Artista e Investigador Pós-Doc na Universidade do Minho) & Mariana Pestana (Architect, curator and researcher.)

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by Rodrigo Ribeiro Saturnino (ROD)
Mukanda | 13 March 2023 | art, black artists, cultural spaces, Portugal, representativity