ARTIST'S HIGHLIGHT: DENILSON BANIWA
In a country where indigenous lives have been under threat for over 500 years, fighting for their protection comes as an essential but often ignored task. In the past, Brazil had around 8 million indigenous people and over a thousand different ethnicities. Today, this number is down to 900k indigenous people, among 305 ethnicities. This is considered the longest, most aggressive and ruthless genocide of all of the Americas and during the military dictatorship in the 1960’s, around 8.3 thousand indigenous people were killed.
This is the context where we find the work of Brazilian visual artist Denilson Baniwa. Originally from Rio Negro, Amazonas, Denilson is part of the Baniwa indigenous group. He currently lives and works in Rio de Janeiro. Baniwa’s work is strongly committed to the indigenous fight, offering new possibilities on how we can engage and ultimately understand indigenous art. By merging traditional references with contemporary ones, he translates his own experiences through installations, paintings, digital art and performances.
A recurring theme throughout Denilson’s work is the issue around the use of pesticides in the food that is provided to us as well as the presence of heavy metals such as mercury in the fish that indigenous communities feed their families. For instance, illegal gold mining practices in Amazonas has been happening since the 1980’s and it is responsible for the poisoning of fish as well as the main reason for acts of violence towards indigenous communities.
One of the most heartbreaking and strikingly powerful pieces by Baniwa, is a video in which the artist appears sitting on a table with a plate full of plastic fish in front of him and a glass filled with the indistinguishable silver liquid: mercury. He slowly places the fish inside his mouth and gags while trying to swallow it. In the background, you hear Brazil’s President voice talking about gold mining. Baniwa’s courage serves as a weapon to expose the historic acts of violence against indigenous populations in Brazil.
Denilson’s experience as an indigenous contemporary artist is found in his attentive use of pigments, textures, traditional patterns and symbols. He was able to build an artistic language of his own by incorporating cultural identities, historic relevance and a strong dose of activism. His paintings, prints, stickers, linocut prints and more are all available for purchase through contacting him by email. Amarelo invites you to spend time with Denilson’s work and reflect on the indigenous lives protection cause:
How can we be of service?
What are the ways we can reimagine a more inclusive art market?