For the Huni Kuin, an Indigenous community of about 14,000 people who live across the state of Acre in Brazil and Peru, taking care of the planet means taking care of nixi pae, the ayahuasca. The protection of ayahuasca is, in other words, intrinsically related to the protection of forests, rivers, and land and to the cultivation of Huni Kuin existence in its physical, spiritual, and intellectual forms. It is through the ritual experience of ayahuasca that the community accesses a mythical space-time where past, present, and future are intertwined and correspond with an infinite number of yuxin, indirectly visible beings. To protect ayahuasca is to protect the conditions for Huni Kuin existence.
MAHKU (Movimento dos Artists Huni Kuin), a collective of Huni Kuin researchers and visual artists, has been enacting such protection for the past ten years, engaging practices of contemporary art to safeguard and renew ancestral knowledge and to recuperate ancestral territory. MAKHU transforms huni meka, songs sung during nixi pae ceremonies, into paintings, creating poetic artworks that give us access to the deeply relational ontology of the Huni Kuin. MAHKU then integrates these works into the contemporary art market as audiovisual installations and murals, not only Indigenizing the art world in the process, but also redirecting the monetary income of these works to the community through the purchase of land, food, gas, clothing, etc.
Vende tela, compra terra (sell the canvas, buy land) focuses on this process, highlighting the collective’s artistic, militant, and communal axes and their search for financial and territorial autonomy. The exhibition takes its name from MAHKU’s purchase, with the amount the collective received from the sale of a canvas in 2014, of the ten hectares of land on which they established the MAHKU Independent Center, a place for research, artistic experimentation, and the preservation of the forest and of Huni Kuin knowledge.
Formalized in 2012, MAKHU began as an extension of long-term intergenerational research on huni meka chants by founding member, researcher, and visual artist Ibã Huni Kuin, together with his father Tuni Huni Kuin, and his son, visual artist Bane Huni Kuin. In the early 80s, Ibã Huni Kuin started recording and registering the huni meka chants sung by his father and uncles, becoming a txana , a singing master himself at the same time. Twenty years later, his son Bane began to transform these chants into images so as to better memorize their lyrics and visualize their nonlinear narratives. By painting, the artists of MAKHU translate the meaning and feeling of huni meka, giving viewers a glimpse of the mirações, visions produced by the ingestion of ayahuasca and by the ritual of listening to chants.
Vende tela, compra terra gathers paintings, drawings, legal documents, objects, and recordings of huni meka, which together attest to MAKHU’s complex contemporary art practice and their claim to visual art as a weapon in the struggle for the political, ecological, and cultural autonomy of the Huni Kuin people. MAHKU’s resistant artistic practice parallels the various emancipatory social movements being taken up by Indigenous peoples across the Americas that concern ancestral rights and environmental justice.
The exhibition is the materialization of a collective process between Indigenous and non-Indigenous collaborators: co-curator Ibâ Huni Kuin, co-curator-txai Daniel Dinato, MAHKU artists Pedro Maná, Cleiber Bane, Acelino Tuin, and Kássia Borges, and the SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art txai-team. This partnership expands on MAHKU’s and Daniel’s research into the concept of txai, meaning brother/sister-in-law in hantxa kuin, Huni Kuin language, as a way of emphasizing a kinship in a long-term collaborative artistic practice based on affinities and differences.