Denilson Baniwa is an indigenous artist, born in the village of Darí, in Rio Negro, Amazonas. His relationship with art is directly linked to his cultural roots: “Art for the Baniwa people is not separate from life. Art is intrinsically linked to my being,” explains the artist, winner of the PIPA Online 2019 and participant in the Biennale of Sidney.
C&AL: In your performances, you bring the indigenous universe to the scene, like, for example, in Pajé-Onça (Shaman-Jaguar). How is it for you, this process of including rituals and traditional beliefs in the art world?
Denilson Baniwa: I have my own concept of how the body is used to communicate. First, I have always understood performance as an indigenous ritual, since everything done in the village uses the body. I do not turn indigenous rituals into performance, nor do I find inspiration in indigenous culture to do my work. What is presented is a reflection on who I am and not the interpretation or re-reading of something that exists in indigenous culture. The Shaman-Jaguar has always existed in the Baniwa world. I do not use its body to speak, it uses me for support.
C&AL: Your work reflects on your life as being indigenous and living in the city– you talk about being “between-worlds.” How is this in-between space for you?
DB: I have always been very curious. When I had the opportunity to get to know the world beyond the rainforest, I felt happiness and fear at the same time. Today, being in the city, I can make connections between these two worlds: the indigenous and the non-indigenous. At the university, I could access knowledge that seemed useless to those who live in the villages, but, as an indigenous person, I can think about this knowledge and how I can – in some way – “indigenize” it so that it can start to make sense for the villages. That is the role of a person living between-worlds: creating access bridges. My work sometimes holds an almost educational responsibility, in the sense that, having knowledge of the two worlds, I need to translate for each of them. At the same time, I understand that I am here to fight for a safe place for my people and my family, so my work needs to be accessible to those who are not indigenous. When people see my work, it has to evoke for them an understanding of who we are.