Indigenous Cultures

Indigenous Histories: Stories told, and many more still untold

With an international curatorial team that seeks interactions among indigenous territories around the world, Indigenous Histories addresses several contemporary issues, challenging linear concepts of time, and emphasizing plurality. However, questions on the permanent hiring of indigenous people at MASP and about intersectionality remain unanswered.

As a result of the group’s internal conversations, a team of three curators was formed: Renata Tupinambá, Edson Kayapó and Kássia Borges Karajá. This group, taking into account the work Sandra Benites had started, assumed responsibility for continuing the project. In addition to these three curators, curatorial coordination was provided by Adriano Pedrosa, MASP’s artistic director, with curatorial assistance by Guilherme Giufrida and David Ribeiro.

In an interview given especially for the preparation of this text, the trio of indigenous curators raised questions that help us understand the work’s progress. According to Edson Kayapó, the formation of a multi-ethnic curatorial group was intended both to confront the Western curatorial model and to articulate new working models. According to him: “learning is constant! And we, indigenous curators, learn from each other and from others, and other curators can also learn from us.” Using indigenous worldviews as a basis to transform artistic curation requires an intense reassessment of values and concepts, something that aligns with what Kássia Borges Karajá defended: “exchanges are needed between indigenous and non-indigenous people; among kin. People need to respect one another and know what each other is doing and producing.”

According to Edson Kayapó, from the beginning, this project was always designed to promote interactions between indigenous territories both inside and outside Brazil. And when the Brazilian team of curators began their work, the international curatorial groups were already formed, resulting in curatorial challenges, such as little interaction between groups during the research period. Kayapó went on to say, however, that “even though the curators were working independently, there are many similarities in their ways of thinking. We have a kinship, regardless of place. There’s a political and human encounter between indigenous peoples when they meet.” Renata Tupinambá adds that: “we have many similarities, but it cannot be denied that there are differences among indigenous peoples in their research processes, interests and desires. It’s impossible to talk about concepts and processes using Western models. Our reflections come from elsewhere, they come from other ways of thinking.”

Comprised of seven sections, (Time not Time, Varves, hidden from the day; The construction of the “I”, Stories of paintings in the desert, Pachakuti, the world upside down; Relationships that nourish family, community and land; and Breaking representation), the exhibition provides accounts that aid in the varied understandings of indigenous histories. International curators include: Abraham Cruzvillegas (Mexico City), Alexandra Kahsenni:io Nahwegahbow, Jocelyn Piirainen, Michelle LaVallee, and Wahsontiio Cross (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa), Bruce Johnson-McLean (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra), Irene Snarby (Kode /Tromsø, Norway), Nigel Borell (Auckland, New Zealand) and Sandra Gamarra (Lima, Peru). In addition to the curators’ varied origins, the group also stands out for its diversity of languages, supports, themes and periods. For the three Brazilian indigenous curators, the exhibition presents difference as a natural process of human life, not as a problem to be solved. Taking into account their way of thinking, it is essential that society understands the plurality in indigenous ways of being, thinking, creating and seeing visual constructions without the concept of art being central.

Regarding the Brazilians featured in the exhibition, including 27 artists and 3 collectives, the three curators say that they took great care with each decision. “There was a lot of discussion about our choices of artists, themes, works and articulations. We wanted to include variety in everything, from the origins of the artists to the processes of their works, ages, debates”, highlights Renata Tupinambá.

The exhibition ran until the end of February 2024 and the first destination on its itinerary has already been decided, the Kode Bergen Art Museum (Norway), which will host the exhibition from April to August 2024. Kássia Borges Karajá says the curators hope to see the exhibition travel to other spaces and countries. “This is not an exhibition that just tells stories about Brazil, it’s a global story.” Edgar Kayapó adds: “in addition to travel, the Indigenous Stories project must be kept alive at MASP. The museum needs to be transgressive, not just with this exhibition. It would be political to think about the permanence of the projects. There must always be indigenous artists and curators in the museum. Indigenous people need to be involved in all issues and discussions, not just on specific projects. It was a privilege for MASP to receive these works and projects. It’s just the beginning. The indigenous project is ambitious, it’s the desire to transform everything.”

To date, MASP has no indigenous professionals with permanent contracts on its staff and without those numbers, the guarantee or possibility of building new artistic and human proposals in the museum’s activities, such as Indigenous Stories, are weakened. Curator Kássia Borges Karajá points out that space already exists and it can no longer be denied. In her words, “This year MASP will have a program dedicated to LGBTQIA Stories and we indigenous people are also touched by this subject. There are artists who work with the theme. There are artists who experience this daily in their ways of living. There is no way to discuss these topics without including indigenous people.”

Luciara Ribeiro is an educator, researcher, and curator. She holds a master’s degree in Art History from the University of Salamanca (USAL, Spain, 2018) and the Postgraduate Program in Art History at the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP, 2019). She is a content contributor for the Diaspora Galeria and a lecturer in the Department of Visual Arts at Faculdade Santa Marcelina.