Standing, in the center, wearing a headdress, Mapukayaka Yawalapiti. Seated, from left to right, Sariruá Yawalapiti and Orlando Villas-Bôas. ç. 1955. Photo: Henri Ballot / Instituto Moreira Salles Collection/Henri Ballot Archive
Standing, in the center, wearing a headdress, Mapukayaka Yawalapiti. Seated, from left to right, Sariruá Yawalapiti and Orlando Villas-Bôas. ç. 1955. Photo: Henri Ballot / Instituto Moreira Salles Collection/Henri Ballot Archive

*By Hélio Campos Mello and Simonetta Persichetti

Since the end of the 19th century, the original peoples had their image “stolen” and disseminated by non-indigenous people who created an exotic and stereotyped vision presented to Brazil and the world through documentaries, photographs and reports. A story created and that was never their story. In the 20th century, magazines like The Cruise and Headline also reinforced this idea. They really began to represent themselves at the end of the 20th century. They appropriated the tools for building images of their peoples, their cultures.

The confrontation of these narratives can be seen in the exhibition Xingu: Contacts, Moreira Salles Paulista Institute. Focused on the Xingu territory, in Mato Grosso, where 6 indigenous people of 16 ethnic groups currently live, the show exposes gaps and violence in historical representations. Created in 1961, it is the first demarcation of indigenous land in Brazil and, as Ailton krenak, “became a symbol of indigenous struggle in the region”. For the curator of the show, filmmaker Takumã Kuikuro, “the exhibition aims to highlight this activism and also to highlight the importance of audiovisual in the territory”.

An imagetic dialogue in which historical documentaries are countered by contemporary images made by the indigenous people themselves, who realize the importance of recording their culture so that it becomes memory and avoids future erasures. With a documentary aesthetic, the videos discuss the importance of preserving the memory of their cultures, their traditions. They tell of their amazement at the very demarcation of the territory. They revive old films to present to new generations how their story was narrated. And weaving their stories that went from orality to image. 

Image dominance goes back to the original peoples: “Today we are protagonists of our history. Before, we did not know the audiovisual. Now we know. We own our image and we take the struggles of the peoples of the Xingu to museums, festivals, cinemas, social networks, exhibitions”, reports Takumã Kuikuro.

The exhibition is also a museum rescue to fill, as co-curator and journalist Guilherme Freitas explains, “gaps existing in museums themselves, where often the identification of images was not always done properly. Part of the Xingu's history is recorded in photographs under the custody of the Instituto Moreira Salles. The exhibition is the starting point of a process of requalification of this set of images, with the collaboration of researchers and indigenous leaders, through the identification of people, places and situations portrayed”. 

Filmmakers from Coletivo Beture interview chief Takakpe at a surveillance base on the Xingu River, Terra Indigena Kayapó, PA, 2021. Photo: Nhakmô Kayapó / Rede Xingu+
Filmmakers from Coletivo Beture interview chief Takakpe at a surveillance base on the Xingu River, Terra Indigena Kayapó, PA, 2021. Photo: Nhakmô Kayapó / Rede Xingu+

And it is in this interweaving of perspectives that the show – with 200 items, researched over two years by curators Kuikuro and Freitas, with assistant Marina Frúgoli, in various collections in the country – opens a dialogue and reflection on the importance of indigenous peoples in the country. Brazil: “We want to tell our story so that non-indigenous people can recognize and teach their children the protagonism of the indigenous peoples of the Xingu and throughout Brazil”, says Kiukuro.

As the French philosopher Georges Didi-Huberman writes in his book When images take position: “To know, you have to take a stand. Not a simple gesture”. 

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