Indigenous Histories

MASP, Art Museum of Sao Paulo

Oct. 20, 2024 - Feb. 25, 2024

Avenida Paulista, 1578 – Bela Vista
São Paulo, 01310-200

MASP – Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand, in collaboration with Kode Bergen Art Museum, presents, from October 20, 2023, to February 25, 2024, the group exhibition Indigenous Histories, that occupies galleries on the first floor and on the second sublevel of the museum. Afterwards, the show travels to Kode in Bergen, Norway and is going to be displayed in the museum from April 26 to August 25, 2024.

The show presents, through art and visual cultures, different perspectives on indigenous histories from South America, North America, Oceania and Nordic Region, and is curated by Edson Kayapó, Kássia Borges Karajá and Renata Tupinambá, Curators-at-Large of Indigenous Art, MASP, and international invited curators: Abraham Cruzvillegas (Mexico city); Alexandra Kahsenni:io Nahwegahbow, Jocelyn Piirainen, Michelle LaVallee e Wahsontiio Cross (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa); Bruce Johnson-McLean (National Gallery of Australia, Camberra); Irene Snarby (Kode /Tromsø, Norway); Nigel Borell (Auckland, New Zealand) and Sandra Gamarra (Lima, Peru). In addition, curatorial direction of Adriano Pedrosa, Artistic Director, MASP, and Guilherme Giufrida, Assistant Curator, MASP. Indigenous Histories is organized by MASP and Kode, master sponsored by Nubank, supported by Sotheby’s and the Norwegian Consulate, and cultural supported by the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Canada, Musée des beaux-arts du Canada; Canada Council for the Arts; Creative New Zealand – Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa and INBAL.

In a follow-up of the exhibitions dedicated to Histories at MASP, that happen since 2016 – with Histories of Childhood (2016), Histories of Sexuality (2017), Afro-Atlantic Histories (2018), Women’s Histories, Feminist Histories (2019), Histories of Dance (2020) and Brazilian Histories (2021-2022) – Indigenous Histories offers new visual narratives, more inclusive, diverse and plural, reflecting the series approach, with diverse points of view not only of artists and works, but also integrating the curatorial team.

The show brings different perspectives on the indigenous histories of South America, North America, Oceania and Nordic Region, with curatorship of indigenous artists and researchers, gathering about 285 works of around 170 artists on several media, with categories, origins and dates that go back from the period before the European settlement to nowadays.

The exhibition has eight sections: seven dedicated to different world regions, those being: Nourishing Relations: Family, Community, and Land (Canada); The Construction of the “Self” (Mexico); Desert Painting Histories (Australia); Pachakuti: The World Upside Down (Peru); Rupturing Representation (Māori, New Zealand); Time Not Time (Brazil); Várveš: Hidden From the Day (Sápmi, Norway); and one thematic section organized by all the curators working in the show, called Activisms.

In order to fully comprehend the show, it is important to take into account the specific meaning of “history” in Portuguese, that gathers both reality and fiction, with private and historical, public and personal narratives, that happen in a small scale or expanded field. In Norwegian, the term “historier” shares a similar dual significance, signifying both an interpretation of the past and a personal narrative. Therefore, history has polyphonic, speculative, open, incomplete, processual, and fragmentary characteristics, different from the ones related to the traditional idea of it. Although it has an international scope and an expanded time frame, the project doesn’t assume a totalizing or encyclopedic view – on the contrary, it seeks to allow for a transversal hack of these histories with a concise and relevant selection that overlaps different outlines from diverse regions.

The exhibition starts on the first floor with the section Activisms, with curatorship by all the group of curators, gathering artworks from different indigenous social and political movements, in different media such as flags, photography, videos, paintings and posters. “The section intends to show different political fights, and invites us to leave the numbness state we sometimes find ourselves in. If the body is a land of colonization, it can also be decolonized, especially when it is artistically triggered as a subversive political power”, states Edson Kayapó, Kássia Borges Karajá and Renata Tupinambá. An example of this operation is Edgar Corrêa Kanaykõ photography called Retomando o poder | Movimento Nacional dos Povos Indígenas [Retaking the Power | National Movement of the Indigenous Peoples], that shows indigenous mobilization in the annual event Acampamento Terra Livre (ATL), demonstrating indigenous groups achievements in power related and decision-making arenas.

Family and community bonds are displayed in the section Nourishing Relations: Family, Community, Land, curated by Alexandra Kahsenni:io Nahwegahbow, Jocelyn Piirainen, Michelle LaVallee and Wahsontiio Cross. Indigenous cosmovisions are built upon a myriad of relations between generations, cultures and lands. The sense of community in the common spaces of daily life can be observed in the work called The Visit (1987), from Jim Logan, where a routine experience in the place where the community spends its time together becomes an extraordinary event. The nurturing of the land, felt in a deep way, is present in the work of Melissa General. In Nitewaké:non [The Place Where I Come From] (2015), the artist presents a green landscape that defies the profound red of the clothing of a woman leaving traces of her movements in the forest. Being a self-portrait, it states, in a powerful way, the indigenous existence and the artist’s reconnection with her land, as well as the Six Nations of the Grand River.

Identity as a plural concept, unstable and self-contradictory, is the theme of the section The Construction of the “Self”. Curated by the visual artist Abraham Cruzvillegas, all the works gathered in this section question the construction of Mexican images, without a linear or chronological approach/organization. To illustrate different image creation techniques, two works are opposed: Alfredo Ramos Martínez (1871-1946), Casamiento de indios [Indian Wedding] (circa 1931), that summarizes the depiction of indigenous people, and Francisco Toledo’s Autorretrato 61 [Self-Portrait 61] (2007), a polaroid series of himself making gestures and creating an unstable and multiple self. Cruzvillegas states that: “a collective self, including all possible worlds is essential for changing and constructing community, art, nature and the universe, alongside the western hegemonic world. On the other hand, one body can also represent an infinity of identities and diverse contradictory values.”

In the segment Desert Painting Histories, curator Bruce Johnson-McLean recalls the debate about traditional cultures’ diversity of experiences and artistic expressions in the Australian aboriginal people nowadays. Artists including Yala Yala Gibbs Tjungurrayi (circa 1928-1998) and Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (1932-2002) began producing works of national and international significance, bringing increasing attention and recognition to the movement. As these works began circulating through the wider art world, the popularity of ‘dot’ painting grew quickly. Within a few short years, this style of art became synonymous with Aboriginal people and culture and became an iconic part of the Australian cultural vernacular. It was simply an incredible cultural phenomenon.

The exhibition continues in MASP’s second basement, with Pachakuti: The World Upside Down, curated by Peruvian artist Sandra Gamarra. For the selection of the works, she inspired herself in the chronicle by Guamán Poma de Ayala (1534–1615), called Nueva Crónica y Buen Gobierno [The First New Chronicle and Good Government]. In it, an indigenous person writes a letter to the Spanish government in order to question the colonial system that had turned the lives of the Andes population upside down. “This world turned upside down, this insubordination of the rules, is what original people from this land call pachakuti: a disruption on the order of things, of space and time. Ever since, the indigenous people have lived trying to balance between these two worlds: yours — surviving because of its ancient knowledge —, and the other one, from which the first depends on, and that always abandons it”, states Sandra Gamarra. Antonio Paucar’s work Homenaje a los mártires de la batalla de Azapampa de 1820 [Homage to the Martyrs of the Battle of Azapampa 1820] (2021) is an important piece that recognizes the indigenous participation in this war and includes three hundred figures with traces of individual portraits of those that participated in it.

Rupturing Representation gathers artworks from the Māori people, native of New Zealand, and highlights the importance of art, people, earth and authority. According to the Māori curator and artist Nigel Borell, “the artists are connected through the meaning of Māori art (whakapapa) — that endured all the rupture caused by the colonial settlement — and refer themselves strategically to the impact of colonization while recover the Māori traditions of a centralized artistic practice to strengthen their way of thinking and restructuring ideas of representation in the process”. A good example is the Koiri Series (1981) by the artist Sandy Adsett, that brought new interpretations to the Māori painting (Kōwhaiwhai), introducing different colors and designs to an art that had been following specific patterns since the British colonization.

For the indigenous people, life on earth has an infinitude of time that crosses every human life. The section Time Not Time invites the spectator to a journey of discoveries through different perspectives on time, revealing diverse expressions and relations to the space that preserve an existence based on the cycles of nature, in an exchange of the visible and invisible. Curated by Edson Kayapó, Kássia Borges Karajá and Renata Tupinambá, Curators-at-Large of Indigenous Art, MASP, the section is divided in: Myths and Ancestry, Graphics, Self-representations, and Daily Life. “The goal is to speculate on histories of creation, women, men, ancient, children, enchantment, rites, spirituality, routine, education and the contradictions of the present that don’t abandon the traditions and are a constant flow of past and present”, reflect the curators. The artwork from Duhigó, Nepu Arquepu [Monkey Hammock] (2021) is very important because of its depiction a birth ritual of the Tukano people, focusing on the feminine universe of birth and the resting of the mother in the monkey hammock, that preserves a cultural trait.

Another of the sections, called Várveš: Hidden From the Day, is comprised of several artworks by the indigenous people of Sápmi, from the Nordic Region, and carried the meaning of the word várveš, that is the state of spirit or the capacity of noticing something before others realize it, granting the work a presage aspect. Curated by Irene Snarby for Kode, the works represent the Strong bond between the Sápmi with nature and land, many times embodied in the duodji – a word that encompasses cosmovision, spirituality, knowledge, nature conceptions, creativity and the creation of objects that reflect this people’s lives. The installation of fringes by Čiske-Jovsset Biret Hánsa Outi [Outi Pieski], called Crossing Paths (2014), offers the artist’s vision on duodji tradition, based on a nomadic lifestyle and in the spiritual heritage of the nature, revealed through walking, actively following the same rhythm of other creatures in nature.

To celebrate the opening of this major international exhibition, MASP will hold an international seminary on October 21, at 10 a.m, with the participation of curators and artists of Indigenous Histories. It will be the 5th seminary on the theme organized by MASP (2017, 2019, 2020, 2021), will take place in the Museum’s auditorium during the entire day, and will be open and free to the general public.

During the exhibition, the program will include online and live formation meetings with educators and the general interested public on the themes: Rights and cosmopolitics and Aldear o mundo.

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