From left to right, Sandra Benites, Keyna Eleison, Livia Conduru and Vânia Leal, the team behind the conception of the first Bienal das Amazônias. Photo: Fabricio Sousa
From left to right, Sandra Benites, Keyna Eleison, Livia Conduru and Vânia Leal, the team behind the conception of the first Bienal das Amazônias. Photo: Fabricio Sousa

For more than two decades, the Pará cultural producer Lívia Condurú has cherished the desire to create a Amazon Biennial, which will finally have its first edition this year, between 3/8 and 5/11, in Belém (PA) and other cities in the Brazilian Amazon. It was a dream dreamed of as a couple, or rather as a couple, with my friend Yasmina Reggad, curator of the France Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale, which took place last year, and co-founder and curator of ARIA (Artist Residency in Algiers). Yasmina will serve as artistic director for the exhibition. For now, it is estimated that 115 artists will participate, and that the show will reach, until its closing, a total audience of around 300 thousand people.

Since its inception, one of the peaceful points of the project has been that the Bienal goes beyond the institutional environment of art, assuming “spaces of the street, of urbanity, to debate the uses that people make of the city based on art”, says Lívia. To this end, in addition to exhibiting 20 public works at different addresses in the capital of Pará, the Bienal will have as its headquarters not a museum or cultural center already consolidated in the city's artistic scene, but an old department store, a space of almost 8 thousand square meters, whose address is still kept secret.

Lívia points out that the Bienal will be speaking from a territory that people, in general, do not see as it actually is. “There is a somewhat exotic dynamic, as if we were actually reduced to the biome. When we thought of the name [of the Bienal], we already started from a logic that we are not an Amazon, we are diverse. We are, therefore, a tangle of identity, of cultures, which sometimes meet in diversity, adversity and the challenge of resisting as a territory”, she ponders.

Lívia had met Yasmina in 2011, in a workshop given by the French-Algerian curator, during Paraty em Foco. The following year, Yasmina then went to Belém, where together they outlined the other premises of the Bienal. One was to establish that the exhibition would not be limited to the Legal Amazon – which contains nine Brazilian states – but would cover all eight countries and French Guiana, an overseas territory, that make up the region. Another proposal was to claim for the Amazonians the narratives about their own symbolic and artistic production.

“We have an absolutely rich and contemporary production, which nobody looks at, because to us it seems that, apparently, only what is understood by craftsmanship was left behind”, ponders Lívia. “And that ends up taking away some of the dynamics, the intelligence of building important knowledge. As if we were always waiting for that savior and that rescue, when in fact we have the solutions”.

The first edition of the Bienal das Amazônias was supposed to take place in 2021, but the project faced two obstacles: first, it suffered from the delay in approving its execution, with the persecution of culture undertaken by the Bolsonaro administration; second, it had to be postponed due to the worsening of the pandemic, later that year. Postponed to 2022, it was canceled again, also due to obstacles related to the federal public administration.

The producer also points out that another interest of the Bienal, as an artistic space and institution, is to generate debate, “allowing the Amazonian population to see and strengthen itself in these methodologies of survival and resistance”, she says. “So, it is important for us that this public, which is not the art public per se – not because they don't want to, but because sometimes they don't feel they belong to a nationalized art space, like museums – have access to this place. . Because he transits in this place, day and night, to work, to do his shopping, etc.”.


Still in its genesis, the Biennial started from the principle that it would not have a solo curator, but a curatorial collective. It was decided that it would be called sapukai, according to a statement from the Bienal, a “word derived from the Tupi language that is translated into Portuguese as singing, clamor, scream”. In its outline, the curatorship should have as a proposal to include “issues such as pleasure, joy, desire, greed, violence and historical invisibilization”.

At first, the collective consisted of four women. Two members had to leave sapukai, including the educator, researcher and curator Sandra Benites, which last year participated in the VII International Seminar, promoted by arte!brasileiros in partnership with Sesc. Sandra stepped away from the role after her recent appointment to be the new Director of Visual Arts at the National Arts Foundation (Funarte). The artist, researcher and teacher Flavya Mutran also left, who took a position at a higher education institution, which required full dedication. The curator, writer, researcher Keyna Eleison and the curator and art historian Vânia Leal. But the general framework was already defined by the quartet.

For Lívia, it was essential that the sapukai be composed of women. The project, after all, is a women's project, it was women who created it, he stresses. “It was a conscious choice, in the sense that we live in a very violent world. If we think about the Amazon, from a logic of invisibility, violence and a series of exoticisms, it looks a lot like the female or feminized body, within the fetish. Starting from a construction, in this territory, it is symbolic and it is important”.

In preparing this first edition of the Bienal das Amazônias, the curators chose the word “bubuia”, a term commonly used in the region, as the title and starting point for their curatorial conceptualization. Of Tupi origin (bebui), the word can be understood as the “act or effect of buoying (bubuiar), floating on the waters”, or even on “moving routes” and “floating tides”, as suggested by the curatorial text, in which “the notions of place, belief, cultural identity and economic model are strongly displaced”.

According to the curatorial text, the term it is directly inspired by “the dibubuismo defended by João de Jesus Paes Loureiro”, a “poet-prophet” who “leads us through the meanders of time and memory of the Amazonian universe. Floating on water symbolizes the perfect combination of movement and inertia in favor of pleasure, reflection and integration with the environment, and says a lot about the perseverance and resistance of those who inhabit the region”. 

Still according to the curatorial text, Loureiro emphasized that “the Amazonian landscape is composed of river, forest and reverie, whose understanding takes place through a double reality: immediate and mediate. The immediate would be one of logical and objective function. The mediate (which interests us here) with a magical, incantatory, aesthetic function. The first edition of this Biennial of Amazônias is, therefore, an invitation to look at this territory from the superimposition of these two realities, similar to what happens when looking at a flowing river: sometimes the gaze is fixed on the bed and its stones, sometimes on the moving water , or simultaneously in both.”

Keyna was invited to the collective in 2021. The curator points out that the Bienal was born as an institution proposal, that is, “as something that wants and, hopefully, will last a long time. And in a non-centralized territory, in a way counter-hegemonic. Not only in relation to Brazil, but in relation to the continent and the planet, as well. Within Brazil, for example, the line of thought is not in the north. The Amazons are a place of research study, of desire for protection, but that's not where all the knowledge officially comes from. Leave Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo ”, she argues.

For Keyna, her work in the field has brought only good surprises – but she regrets that they are surprises. “As a researcher and curator, it's a shame that we don't articulate as much as neighboring territories. We have to fight a lot for this articulation with the countries that surround us, even with the best known Latinos or, even if it is, only the Latin Amazonian territories. I won't say that the research was done in a guerrilla format, but it took a lot more willpower”.

About the choice of the term bubuia, Keyna states that the word also points to an idea of ​​strategy: “To float on the Amazon River, it is important to have a body, a very strong knowledge, you have to be very alert”. Using it as a title and concept, she continues to curate, “we bring an idea of ​​strategic positions in times of war, for the development of pleasure, for the protection of desires, so that we can continue to smile”, she explains. “It has a very strong connection with life, with practices that bring life, but that do not prevent the recognition of the structure, of the violence that can hurt us, injure us”.

From there, six axes were developed that guide the curatorship: fchanging vital waves, which brings references to a center of religious worship for the Inca people, with particular attention and dedication to water; split from contract, "a awareness of the pacts and structures (social, economic, racial and structural) that govern our existence”; Poder to share, which focuses on sharing policies and collective artistic practices; wlime(x) t(r)emor, “axis that accepts the idea that it is impossible to account for a 'whole'”; vlanguages, which "recognizes the different truths, lives and languages ​​proposed by different cosmovisions”; and finally, andmeeting of desires, "axis that will affirm the curatorial choices as a purpose for the construction of this exhibition body”. 

“From these axes, we assume forms of protection that already exist, that the Amazon has, that do not depend on initiatives coming from outside, from a government, for example, but rather from the populations, knowledge, practices that they have been happening for a long time, within the relationships of the original populations, of the original nations, and that continue until today”, analyzes Keyna.

The curator says that the Bienal will bring, for example, practices that would normally be in an anthropological field, but that are seen today as art objects. “Some performances, which are objects that have a smell, that have a sound, will be placed there as a ritual for the Bienal. Artistic terms are quite limiting, but we can call them installations, in addition to having a performative character”, she explains.

For Keyna, the arts market has been appropriating, in recent years, indigenous production, which is also posed as a challenge for the curators. “But the biennials themselves face this challenge, of articulating the market, intellectuality, geopolitical positions in a very powerful way. And I, despite being the gringa here, the southeastern, carioquésima, want to bring the political power that a biennial has. We want to attract national and international collectors, universities, politicians, etc., to see this proposal that we usually call, as a motto, 'nothing about us, without us'”.

Continues Keyna: “We are not wanting to fight with the market, take anything back. But saying 'okay, we understand, now come here, see that it's also tasty'. And not from a fight. We want to dance together. It is a proposal for a party, it is a proposal for pleasure”.

Born in Macapá, but living in Belém for 30 years, curator Vânia Leal says that she already had the experience of mapping artists in the Legal Amazon from a project carried out in 2002, with Itaú Cultural. Based on this knowledge, he states that, because the Amazon is a place of violence – “of which the wood cycle, the greed for our biodiversity, the unbridled exploitation of our minerals, our fauna and flora, death in the countryside are part of. ” –, the issue has a significant impact on the art system in the region. “There is a non-clichéd but critical reverberation in all the languages ​​of art,” she says.

Vânia explains that, based on her field research, she is bringing in a group of artists from the depths of the Amazon, who are “stuck there in the forest, they are not represented by galleries, they are not in an art salon, but they have an unquestionable artistic experience ”.

“These are not names legitimized by a system of galleries, biennials, etc. They are outside this great circuit of hegemonic art. It is the woodsman, the indigenous, the quilombola, the caiçara, the riverside, the Afro-indigenous. All these people who inhabit the Amazon,” he says. “There is planetary communication, we know that. Approaches that only art summons. But it has a very particular modus operandi allied to the culture of each place. They have such a confident mannerism, so unique, that it is detached from hegemonic codes. Even the materials these makers of culture make use of differentiate them, because of their origin”.

The curator points out that the region is still experiencing a process of great invisibility. “Sometimes, the arrow turns this way, but because of an agenda, for example, of representativeness. It is still necessary, pedagogically, to have a quota, until the central-southern axis gets used to it and puts us on an equal footing in critical discussion, perception, knowledge of a place”, she argues. “I envision a great opening of the way, to present these artists, to raise this discussion to the level of a Biennial. And that people see here a consolidated art system.”

1st Biennial of the Amazons
From 3/8 to 5/11, 2023
Executive director: Lívia Condurú
Artistic direction: Yasmina Reggad
Curatorship: Flavya Mutran, Keyna Eleison, Sandra Benites and Vânia Leal
Addresses and visiting hours to be announced


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