Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe
Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe, All of this is us. Photo: Isabella Matheus

In the 1990s, Juan Bosco Hakihiiwe, a Yanomami from the Venezuelan Amazon, developed, together with Mexican artist Laura Anderson Barbata, techniques for producing paper with vegetable fibers – from sugar cane, banana, corn, mulberry, etc. – which he began to use as a support for his drawings. In them, he sought to translate, through minimal and repeated elements, not only the landscape, but also the imagination of his community.

About 30 years later, Masp presents the exhibition Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe: all this is us, individual that brings together more than a hundred drawings, monotypes and paintings by the artist, who began to sign with the name derived from Sheroana, the community where he was born in the municipality of Alto Orinoco. The set – coming from his gallery, ABRA, in Caracas, and from Brazilian collectors – covers nearly two decades of his production – from 2015 to 2022 – and allows the public to observe, among other aspects, the recent expansion of the range of colors which Sheroanawe makes use of.

Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe, Hema ahu
Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe, Hema ahu [Spider Web with Dew in the Morning] [Spider Web with Dew in the Morning], 2021. Acrylic on cotton paper, 51.2 x 69.2 cm, Coleção Galería ABRA, Caracas, Venezuela. Photo: Courtesy of ABRA Gallery/María Teresa Hamon
“Much of Sheroanawe's initial production had, I won't say a color limit, but always the reference to black and red. Which is precisely a connection that the artist makes with the body and face paintings of his community and surroundings. We always find, for example, black, red and white referring to the coral snake”, says André Mesquita, curator of the exhibition.

“But Sheroanawe has expanded his palette for about three years now. He has used blue and yellow, for example, in addition to having also painted on fabric. While these procedures have somewhat changed over time, of course the themes he has dealt with remain. It's almost like creating a catalog or even an archive. A memory of what he finds in the ritualistic aspects of his community, in everyday activities, in utensils, as well as a record of the fauna and flora that surround life in the forest”.

David Ribeiro, curatorial assistant at the exhibition, points out that Sheroanawe's production is very much “related to the periods in which he spends time in the forest, with his people”. Moments in which he collects diverse references of the “cosmo-ecology” of his community, “a deeper and more complex relationship with the environment, with the cosmos”. According to Ribeiro, Sheroanawe observes the patterns that are used in face painting, body painting or in the production of basketry, details of animals, plants, stones.

“And it's a very meticulous look that he casts on the surroundings, on the people, on the environment where he lives. And from which he extracts syntheses ”, he says. “In a forest, in this confusion of elements, Sheroanawe looks for the minimum units of this grandiosity, small symbols, which he transposes to paper, which are representations of this complexity. As Laura Barbata states, his work is more than simple abstraction or minimalism, it is a very complex map of an infinity of meanings that he apprehends from his observation”.

Mesquita comments that, initially, when observing Sheroanawe's production, a relationship with minimalism came to his mind, partly because of his training “as a researcher, very interested, for many years now, in the practices of conceptual art”. At some point, says the curator, “processes such as serialization and repetition” appear in Sheroanawe's practice, which we have already seen in several works by North American, European or Brazilian artists.

“But we don't do this reading of Sheroanawe's work and we don't even try to canonize him, in the sense of bringing his production to a western reading”, ponders the curator. “What I often find is that his work meets all those works that are considered conceptual, minimalist, but it has a different nature. In a way, his presence slightly subverts this canon, what we are so used to. His work brings these frictions, these tensions”.

For Mesquita, Sheroanawe's choice of repetition, serialization or minimalism is given "in reference to the community's body paintings, in an attempt to fill all possible spaces, on a sheet of paper, with the same symbol, which is a bit of this practice that the community uses body painting to fill the entire body with the same design”, he concludes.

Finally, Ribeiro also points out how Sheroanawe has a very sensitive look at the forest and attributes grandeur to things that we barely give importance to, like a drop of dew on a spider's web in the morning. He also points out that the artist puts everything on the same footing, be it facial paint, an animal's paw, a leaf, trying to tell us that all of this is the same thing.

“And it was no coincidence that this was the title he suggested for the exhibition, all this is us. All of that constitutes the Yanomami people. There is no difference between what is human, what is animal, what is vegetable and what is mineral. All this needs to be conserved together, taken care of together. It is a very sophisticated environmental concept”. ✱

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