Mar. 24, 2023 - Jun. 4, 2023
MASP PRESENTS LARGEST EXHIBITION OF THE
MAHKU INDIGENOUS COLLECTIVE – HUNI KUIN ARTIST MOVEMENT
The exhibition features nearly 120 paintings, drawings and sculptures – resulting from translations of songs, myths and visions of the Huni Kuin ethnic group, who live in the state of Acre, on the border with Peru
MASP — Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand presents, from March 24 through June 4, 2023, the exhibition MAHKU: Mirações [MAHKU: Visions], which occupies the exhibition space on the 2nd underground level of the museum. Curated by Adriano Pedrosa, artistic director, MASP, Guilherme Giufrida, assistant curator, MASP and Ibã Huni Kuin, guest curator, the exhibition brings together around 120 painting and drawings that originate both from translations and recordings of songs, myths and stories of their ancestry, as well as from visual experiences generated by the rituals of nixi pae – which involve the ingestion of ayahuasca – called mirações, the title of the exhibition at MASP.
Officially created in March 2013, ten years before the opening of the exhibition at MASP, the emergence of the Huni Kuin Artist Movement (MAHKU) dates back to the end of the 2000s, when the collective began the work of translating traditional songs of the Huni Kuin indigenous people (Acre) into figurative drawings for courses in Indigenous studies at the Federal University of Acre (UFC). The first records of the collective arise, therefore, from the contact of indigenous populations living in the villages and the university, where the group held its first exhibition, in 2011. The following year, after the visit of anthropologist Bruce Albert and curator Hervé Chandès, the members participate for the first time in a contemporary art exhibition, the exhibition Histoires de voir, Show and Tell at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, in Paris, with a drawing illustrating the cover of the exhibition catalogue. Through the act of introducing their visuality to the universe of art exhibitions, the Huni Kuin appropriate this as a collective survival strategy, to perpetuate their stories and myths.
The exhibition MAHKU: Mirações brings together around 120 paintings and drawings on paper and canvas, three of which were produced for the exhibition, commissioned by the museum, in addition to sculptures, audios with songs, a video documentary and a large-scale painting created directly on the sides of the iconic red staircase/ramp that connects the museum’s 1st and 2nd underground levels, thus continuing the collective’s tradition of carrying out artistic interventions in the exhibition spaces they occupy, creating a physical and spatial connection between worlds.
“The general interest of the MAHKU group seems to be to create sustainable paths through the approach of associating itself to strengthen itself. That is, they are interested in producing and facilitating the passage between worlds, always under the risk and awareness of the distances and asymmetries, which can be controlled and guided by the power of storytelling, by the songs, by the images they produce, by the ethical sense of survival of their modes of existence,” reflects curator Guilherme Giufrida.
This dialogue between different cultures is one of the central themes of some of the collective’s works, especially those inspired by the myth of kapewë pukeni, the alligator-bridge, translated, for example, in the painting Kopenawe pukenibu (2022), by Acelino Tuin Huni Kuin. The myth tells the story of the Huni Kuin crossing the two continents, through the Bering Strait, in search of seeds, housing, knowledge and land. After a long walk, the group comes across an alligator that, in exchange for food, offers help them cross to the other side.
The animal, averse to cannibalism, asks the people not to kill a small alligator and not to give him one of them to eat. However, when the variety of animals becomes scarce, the Huni Kuin hunt the smaller alligator, betraying the trust of the large alligator, who submerges. “It was there that the different languages between indigenous relatives on the other side of the world were founded. An ever-divided world where those who cross are those who have already gained the knowledge. That’s why we sing the alligator song when we convene, to open the passages,” explains guest curator Ibã Huni Kuin. For that reason, the alligator was chosen by the collective to illustrate the original MAHKU logo. In it, the alligator appears on two legs walking and eating, while people with slingshots and arrows cross over its back. It is a foundational scene that suggests that the Huni Kuin are both producers and products of bridges – between indigenous and non-indigenous worlds, between the visible and the invisible.
Another very important being for the Huni Kuin is the boa constrictor, considered the greatest shaman, messenger and being of transformation. The animal is usually present in the paintings surrounding the compositions, either wandering through the image, or on its edges, following the perpendicular angles of the frame or in stylized geometric shapes.
The boa constrictor is the central figure in the myth of the appearance of nixi pae, “the sacred drink”, represented on the canvas of the MASP collection Yube Inu Yube Shanu [Myth of the appearance of the sacred drink Nixi Pae] (2020). The myth recounts the encounter of Yube Inu, an indigenous man, with Yube Shanu, the boa constrictor woman, and the welcoming of the boa constrictor people to Yube Inu, who is introduced to the nixi pae ritual. He ingests the sacred drink, experiences the visions and, later, learns to make it and comes into contact with the serpent’s songs. In a moment of jealousy by his father-in-law, due to his acquired knowledge, Yube Inu is bitten and ends up getting sick, but, before dying, he returns to his people of origin and teaches them the recipe for the drink.
In the ritual of nixi pae performed by the Huni Kuin and translated as “strong vine,” “intoxicating” or “enchanted thread,” the experience of encountering the boa constrictor is instituted. It is a central ritual in the lives of these people, which involves the entire community – from 6-year-old children to adults and the elderly. The mirações, visionary experiences that appear during the rituals, are translated both in the drawings and paintings of the collective and in the songs that are part of the daily life of the Chico Curumim village, in the Kaxinawá Indigenous Land, on the Jordão River, where the MAHKU artists live.
“The nixi pae ritual’s main objective is to connect worlds, remind everyone of the Huni Kuin relationship with the boa constrictor, renew the intimacy of the encounter and remember the reasons for the disagreement narrated in the myth,” reflects Guilherme Giufrida. “Evoked through song, drink and the miração itself, the boa guides visions along its paths and perceptions, making humans cross into its world, into the universe of myths. The objective, at the limit, seems to be to study and teach the myths, to make these people’s stories survive, extend and transform, preserving the integrity and rooting of that society,” he concludes.
The show at MASP therefore intends to expand knowledge about and with the Huni Kuin, as well as understand the contribution of their work to contemporary art, in addition to celebrating the long relationship between the collective and the museum. Since 2016, MAHKU artists have participated in MASP exhibitions, which can be seen in the large number of works from different periods of their production commissioned and then donated to the museum’s collection. The artists have participated in the exhibitions Avenida Paulista (2017), Histórias da dança (2020) and Histórias brasileiras (2022), in addition to the workshop Histórias da infância (2017) and in Season 1 of MASP Renner (2018-2019) and MASP Afterall ArtSchool (2020).
MAHKU: Mirações is part of MASP’s annual program dedicated to Histórias indígenas. This year, the program also includes exhibitions by Carmézia Emiliano, Paul Gauguin, Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe, Melissa Cody, in addition to the MASP Landmann lending of pre-Columbian ceramics and metals and the large collective Histórias indígenas.