Decolonial art Black sugar
Fine art against forgetting: Tiago Sant' Ana keeps alive the memory of colonial architecture and artifacts in his native Brazil. He uses black and white contrasts particularly frequently.“I do performances in old sugar mills in the region where I was born. It is very painful to note how the stories of colonial violence in these places are not being voiced anymore.”
From the series "Refino", video performance by Tiago San't Ana (2017), made at the former Oiteiro Sugar Mill, Terra Nova, Bahia. | © Tiago San't Ana
In his art - photos, videos, performances - Tiago Sant' Ana often deals with sugar as the central motif of black and white images on the subject of slavery in Brazil: white sugar produced by blacks, first by African slaves* and then by their enslaved descendants, the Afro-Brazilians*.
“I have always had serious problems with the term ‘postcolonial’. Because it implies that there is a “post” – a time after colonialism – or that perhaps the colonial is over. This expression may cause noise in communication”, the Brazilian artist explains in the Latitude Chat on the topic of “Do we really live in the era of post-colonialism?”. Tiago San't Ana: “And we know that there is no postcolonial. Because we still live in a setting that updates colonial systems.”
In 2018 there was a large exhibition in Brazil on the subject of "Afro-Atlantic stories", Tiago San't Ana tells in Latitude Chat. “In this exhibition, the idea of colonial trauma was central to the discussion. It was one of the most successful exhibitions held in Brazil in recent years. And it showcased artists who thought critically about the flows of colonisation on the African continent and on the American continent.
In Brazil, today, there are many people who think of art and education as sectors that change the imagination of the population. I believe that art and education operate in the field of micropolitics, that is, they change subjectivities.”
Shoes as a symbolAnalogous to the material sugar as a symbol for the history of Brazil, Tiago San't Ana often uses the combination of bare feet and shoes in his art: naked feet of black people wearing their shoes over their shoulders. Lilia Moritz Schwarcz explains what this is all about in her article "With Sugar and without affection" about the exhibition Casa de Purgar by Tiago San't Ana 2018 at the Bahia Art Museum in Salvador and the Imperial Palace in Rio de Janeiro:
“In Brazil, shoes were always a way of distinguishing the enslaved ones from free people. The impediment never consisted of any written law, but persisted through the uncontested force of custom. In fact, shoes were forbidden to the captives whom, no matter how dressed, whether they were domestic, mining or urban slaves, were always represented with their feet on the ground, on the cement of the cities, close to the dirt. The weight of the 'lack' was such that soon after the 13th of May, 1888, date of Brazil's formal abolition of slavery, witnesses said that many rushed to the shops to buy the desired objects. however, as their feet were accustomed to the day to day harsh routines, the fury from the heavy work , in no time did the blisters and calluses grow. And so, many freedmen and freedwomen were seen, happy and proud, carrying over their shoulders shoes tied to one another by their shoelaces, as if they were trophies of freedom. And so they were…Strong symbols, the shoes also became synonymous with freedom.”
In the Latitude chat Tiago San't Ana describes his vision of the future: “There will be no change if we do not criticise the official (usually white and Eurocentric) look at the history of colonisation. I keep thinking that change will only come through a political imagination of a new reality.”