The Amazon

Bienal das Amazônias: Portrait of a Complex Region

Curated by Sandra Benites, Keyna Eleison, Flávya Mutran and Vânia Leal, the exhibition featured Amazonian artists within the context of artistic production that discusses social, environmental and cultural issues, promoting reflection on the complex Amazonian reality in relation to themes of identity and ethics.

The relationship between Amazonian artists, the environment and digital reality is seen in Mangueira desejo (2023), a site-specific installation produced by Val Sampaio in partnership with the artistic poetics research group, Lab Techné. The piece involves a nine-year-old bonsai mango tree, which is presented as a tree that feeds a wish machine, acting as a wish factory, through digital interaction and augmented reality. The genesis of the work implies the passage of time and creative advancement over organisms and environments, and invites the public to tell the bonsai in the exhibition their wishes. Through augmented reality tools, the public could access the project platform and interact with the work through an Instagram filter, where wishes could be written on virtual leaves that feed the cloud of wishes around the tree.

The first edition of the Bienal das Amazônias also paid tribute to photographer Elza Lima, gathering several of her works under the theme Múltipla precisão de olhar. With a career spanning four decades, the artist’s works focus on everyday scenes of the Amazonian reality. These images evoke memories, sensations and the affectionate relationships between human beings and nature. Elza Lima’s portraits capture and reflect deep views of the unique experience of riverside populations, caboclos and children with the waters of rivers or even in the middle of the rainforest, places of comfort and warmth.

Visual artist Rafa Bqueer, in the work Oyá – Imagens da Revolta (O cabano parense), 2023, reclaims a Black-Afro-Amazonian memory in the story of Cabanagem, a popular revolt that occurred a few years after Pará’s accession to Brazil’s independence. “If we, contemporary, Black, indigenous artists, are the descendants of those who fought for freedom in Cabanagem, it’s only fair that we be able to bring our ancestral perspective,” the artist emphasizes. “To create images that question the representations made by white modernist artists.” The photography-oriented performance proposes a living monument where a figure holds a rosary, symbol of Oyá, a deity of the Yoruba religion and Afro-Amazonian culture, challenging Oscar Niemeyer’s modernist architecture at the city’s entrance. The work was exhibited on the ground floor of the Bienal das Amazônias.

Through exchanges and sharing, the artists discussed themes that permeate the Amazonian reality and that are closely related to daily life on the riverside. The installation O Mundo do fundo de Jamaci (2017) is a map of memories of the Igarapé Jamaci stream, produced with the families of a community on the island of the Insular Region of Belém. Véronique Isabelle, a Canadian artist based in Brazil and Débora Flor, a photographer from Pará, lived alongside the region’s residents and, based on established symbolic exchanges, traveled the waters of the Jamaci River for a few years. O olhar do tralhoto (2023) is a photographic installation by Débora Flor in which the artist states “we are all the waters that form this great river”. Canoa Cobra (2016-2023) is a canoe built by Véronique Isabelle and Éder Ribeiro, later modified in 2019 by Véronique with the assistance of Mestre João.

In this vast panorama of contemporary Amazonian art, the First Bienal das Amazônias was as a breath of fresh air that decentralizes contemporary visual arts in Brazil. It also took a close look at emerging artistic production from the north of Brazil, calling upon artists who take on this leading role as peoples of the Amazon region. It contributed to allowing Amazonian artists to speak for themselves, to their loved ones and to the world.

Cinthya Marques do Nascimento is a photographer, an artist and a researcher. Professor at the Federal University of the South and Southeast of Pará, UNIFESSPA. Currently undertaking PhD research on representation of the Amazon in Brazilian Art at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, UFRJ.

Translation: Zoë Perry