Sheyla Ayo, afro-Brazilian artist in search of ancestry
While researching on the condition of Afro-Brazilian women in Brazil I had the chance to e-meet the artist Sheyla Ayo. She made me the honour of sharing with me her story as an artist and a black women in Brazil.
Ayo was born in a poor family in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Guarulhos, she now lives and works in Santo André. She is a illustrator, performer and a photographer as well as a teacher. Her practice primarily resides in lines drawing on cotton rags. These lines, traced like subtle river stream on a map, represent her path, her journey to achieve spiritual improvement through trances while practising Candomblé.
Candomblé is a religion derived from the Yoruba Nigerian tribe, widely practised in South America by the afro-descendant population. She takes pleasure and inspiration from her drawings and reflection on the goddess Osun, one of the Orisha (deity), goddess of beauty, femininity, love and fertility.
Ayo focuses her subject on the search of her ancestors, femininity and mental health.
'I paint tear drops of happiness and sadness.
I paint my ancestry, finite lines in search of the truth'
After 10 years of experience, Ayo never had the opportunity to have a solo show and almost gave up due to the lack of resources and opportunities. She struggles to be recognised in what she describes a predominantly white art market. As I have read in many newspaper and interviews, and as Sheyla Ayo told me, there is an inability from art galleries to understand the subject or the dialogue people of colour try to convey. The situation in Brazil is alarming when censorship strikes only a certain community (i.e. indigenous and people of colour and the LGBTQIA+ community). Thus, in such a bitter atmosphere, sharing experience with one another is crucial. Ayo is part of an artist collective called TROVOA championing cis and trans women artists and curators of colour in Brazil. The collective work on having more visibility and remuneration for their project and to fight the elitist art scene.
'We do not accept scraps from an art circuit that barely acknowledges our existence and, when it does, it is through the distorted lens of the singular narrative, of single-perspective research '1
Although I have not been through the exact same path I felt a deep connection with her work and her personality. I felt like I could understand her and what she has been through, hearing her story and seeing and understanding her art. This conversation and writing felt much more personal and my research on afro-Brazilian people really touched me on the importance of not keeping our eyes locked on the Western world.
Being an artist of colour in Brazil is to rewrite your story and survive in a world that wants to make you invisible. Sadly this word invisible I have come across so many times through my research. Sheyla Ayo confirmed with her life story that this systemic racism restricts Black and Indigenous people to their freedom of expression. Brazil seems to erase the past of a population that represent more than 50% of its inhabitants. In a country that seems to praise European values, being black in Brazil is a sign of resistance.