Roberto Conduru

Carl Einstein in Brazil – Towards Other Connections with Africa and the Globe

The recent reception of Carl Einstein’s work in Brazil has been partly connected to studies on the relations between Brazil, Africa and art on the one hand, and the attempt to formulate a worldwide art history on the other.

The idea is to present a paper analyzing how Einstein’s texts on the arts of Africa have contributed to studies on relationships between art, Africa and Brazil as problematic socio-cultural topics conducted from the Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ). In Brazil, the Africa he outlined is of interest not only because his texts deal with works produced in regions from where men and women were forced to migrate across the Atlantic Ocean, enslaved from late sixteenth century to late nineteenth century in the portion of America colonized by the Portuguese and which later became an autonomous nation. Partial and theoretical, temporally and spatially discontinuous, but not isolated, Einstein’s Africa may be associated with the many Africas that survived and were invented in Brazil due to the arbitrariness of colonialism and the idiosyncrasies of identity (re)constructions.

The paper will also discuss how Einstein’s works have been one of the references in the process of teaching and writing an anti-historicist art history at the same University. Since 2006 its Department of Theory and History of Art (DTHA) has undertaken a curricular reform and has edited two books seeking to outline a new art history. Its aim is to de-emphasize Western art without creating other dominant centers, to erode totalizing narratives, and to problematize existing histories of art, their principles, objects, methods, processes, and products. In this process, Einstein’s work interests less for his approaching art from different times and regions and more for its conceptual connections, which have served as a stimulus for a decentered, non-chronological and anti-hegemonic history of art. The way he connects the arts of Africa to modern European art and ancient art from different regions, opening each one to the others, has encouraged the formulation of an art history structured around conceptual themes, with spatial and temporal intersections, but also with gaps and silences, explicitly open to revision.

Both as an effect and a subsidy for the above mentioned actions and reflections, some of Einstein’s works were published by UERJ: the first translation of “Negerplastik” into Portuguese, and in the southern hemisphere, appeared in 2008 in Concinnitas, a journal published by its Arts Institute; in 2015 UERJ’s publishing house launched the book Carl Einstein e a Arte da África (edited by Conduru, and O’Neill), a compilation of his texts on the arts of Africa in juxtaposion with reflections on his work written by authors from South America, Europe and Africa. In Brazil, together with other translations of Einstein’s texts and studies about his work, these publications participate in the slow process of decentralization of the global art field and its history.

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Roberto Conduru is Professor of Art History at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. Former president (2007-2010) of the Brazilian Committee of Art History. Visiting Professor at the Southern Methodist University, Dallas (2014); Guest Scholar at the Getty Foundation, Los Angeles (2012). Some books published: Pérolas Negras – Primeiros Fios (Eduerj, 2013), Arte Afro-Brasileira (C/Arte, 2007). Some exhibitions curated: Vontade Construtiva na Coleção Fadel, Museu de Arte do Rio, 2013 (with Paulo Herkenhoff), Incorporation – Afro-Brazilian Contemporary Art, Centrale Electrique, Brussels, 2011-2012; Perles de Liberté – Bijoux Afro-Brésiliens, Grand Hornu Images, Hornu, 2011-2012 (with Françoise Foulon).

Regarding Carl Einstein’s work, he presented Portuguese translations of Negerplastik when its text was published in the journal Concinnitas (ART-UERJ) in 2008, and when the book, edited by Liliane Meffre, was launched by UFSC publishing house in 2011; and edited with Elena O’Neill both the book Carl Einstein e a Arte da África (Carl Einstein and the Art of Africa, launched by UERJ publishing house in 2015, and the dossier “Carl Einstein – crítica e ação” (Carl Einstein – criticism and action) published in the journal Arte & Ensaios (EBA-UFRJ) in 2015.