Home » Indigenous Stories at MASP goes beyond borders and abandons traditional views on indigenous art

Indigenous Stories at MASP goes beyond borders and abandons traditional views on indigenous art

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Indigenous Stories at MASP goes beyond borders and abandons traditional views on indigenous art

View of the “Indigenous Stories” exhibition at MASP. Photo Eduardo Ortega.

Fruit of the collaboration between MASP and the Kode Bergen Art Museum in Norway, Indigenous Stories brings together artists from Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Under the joint curation of museum teams and with the contribution of guest curators from each region covered, the exhibition stands out as a collaborative effort to rethink indigenous representation in art that transcends borders and chronologies. By exploring the regions of South America, North America, Oceania and Scandinavia, the exhibition paints a diverse panorama beyond the limitations imposed by a traditionally Western-centric vision.

The choice of different media, from artistic manifestations prior to colonization to productions from the last decade, gives the exhibition a temporal breadth that highlights the continuity of indigenous expressions. More than just inserting indigenous artists into a political narrative, the exhibition highlights exceptional artists who escape labels and occupy spaces as artists in their entirety, presenting militancy integrated into art, and the adjectives of struggle and race are complementary to artistic excellence.

It is essential to note that Indigenous Stories does not claim to encompass the totality or universality of contemporary indigenous art. Instead, the exhibition sets out to explore and present some aspects of this rich artistic tradition; the cut does not diminish its importance, on the contrary, it reveals its depth.


The term activism embodies the practice of transforming historical reality and has emerged as a powerful form of expression and resistance, inserted in the context of contemporary struggles for the preservation of the environment and indigenous rights.”
Excerpt from the curatorial text

The exhibition presents a rich selection of engaged art, revealing the diversity of aesthetic approaches in representing indigenous struggles and resistance. “Activisms” is the most diverse room in the exhibition, incorporating works from all the regions covered and among the various expressive forms present there, there are flags, photographs, videos, paintings, posters and even a careful selection of books about the Zapatista Movement.

Very Sovereign Flag (1990), Linda Munn, Hiraina Marsden and Jan Dobson. Image: Giovanna Gregório

A notable work is the flag Absolute Sovereignty (1990), by Linda Munn, Hiraina Marsden and Jan Dobson, symbol of Maori resistance and later adopted as the Maori national flag. The historical impact is also evidenced by the recording of Ailton Krenak’s speech in 1987 in the National Congress, a crucial piece for the inclusion of articles 231 and 232 in the Federal Constitution, which protect the rights of indigenous peoples.

Image of Ailton Krenak’s speech at the National Congress in 1987. Image: Giovanna Gregório.

Relationships that nourish family, community and land

Our worldviews are built around a constellation of relationships and, like living entities,
they require thought and care to flourish.”
Excerpt from the curatorial text

As we enter the core that explores the fundamental relationships between community and land, we are transported to the region we know today as Canada. Here, the traditions of original peoples, such as the Inuit and the Métis, gain prominence, revealing a resistance driven by affection. Each wall of this room is a window to different manifestations of affection: the meeting is approached with the concept of “deep visit” with pictorial works that illustrate the importance of community meetings and family gatherings. Food, understood as an affective construction, is explored, as is the timeless relationship with territory, nature and the cosmos, presenting works that move between traditional and pop languages, including satire.

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View of the exhibition room. Image: Giovanna Gregório.
I hunt and collect at the supermarket (2019), Joi Ta.arcand. Image: Giovanna Gregório.

The construction of the “I”

Microhistorical narratives, or rather subjective stories, more accurately tell stories about the knowledge and cultures of individuals and indigenous communities in Mexico than any institutionalized story about “diversity.”.
Excerpt from the curatorial text

Contrary to stereotypes about Mexican indigenous culture, this nucleus immerses itself in the complexity of identity in the region of Mexico. Here it is the instability, multiplicity and diversity of the “self” that are explored. The exhibition experience is enriched by tapestries that intertwine throughout the space, inviting the public to interact with the works as they walk around the room. Renowned names in Latin American art, such as Carlos Mérida, Minerva Cuevas and Rufino Tamayo, coexist, highlighting the power of Mexican artistic production that also has the striking presence of one of Frida Kahlo’s rare collage works.

View of the exhibition. Image: Giovanna Gregório.

The proletarian, from the series Cannibal (2015), Minerva Cuevas. Image: Giovanna Gregório.
There’s my dress hanging (1933), Frida Kahlo. Image: Giovanna Gregório.

Desert Painting Stories

As works began to circulate on the wider art circuit, the popularity of “dot” painting grew rapidly. Within a few decades, this artistic style became synonymous with Aboriginal people and culture and an iconic part of the Australian cultural vernacular.
Excerpt from the curatorial text

The first floor ends with contemporary Aboriginal art in Australia, where the last 30 years are represented by works from a 1971 movement on the lands of the indigenous village of Papunya, in the Australian Western Desert. The initial proposal involved the painting of murals at the school by students and community members, resulting in a continuous production of works that transcended Papunya to reach different regions of Australia. The striking textures and geometric patterns are reminiscent of body painting, with the change from ocher tones to vibrant colors being notable over the years.

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View of the “Indigenous Stories” exhibition at MASP. Photo Eduardo Ortega.

Video Room: Glicéria Tupinambá and Alexandre Mortagua

In the midst of violence, racism and the persecution of them and their leaders, this video is a message of strength, as the mantle is a witness to the genocide and Tupinambá resistance, affirming the living character of their culture. The making of the cloak thus invokes a symbolic cure for the disease of coloniality.”
Excerpt from the curatorial text

Descending to the second basement, we are invited to immerse ourselves in the video’s narrative When Manto speaks and what Manto says (2010), the result of a meeting between artist and researcher Glicéria Tupinambá and filmmaker Alexandre Mortagua. Produced in Aldeia Serra do Padeiro, the video highlights the perspective and protagonism of indigenous women and when presenting the narrative of the mantle, Glicéria Tupinambá emphasizes the importance of intuition, dreams and sensitivity. Furthermore, the work brings to debate the relevance of the memory and materiality of indigenous artifacts, highlighting their sacred symbolism.

Glicéria Tupinambá and Alexandre Mortagua, When the Manto speaks and what the Manto says, 2023 (video frame) / Disclosure

Breaking representation

Throw forward.
spear with fringe.
throw hard!
bid again.
launch yourself home.
lance fora.
real bid!
but cast it again.”

– James Tapsell-Blue

This nucleus brings together works by Maori artists from New Zealand who challenge and reinterpret the relevance of art in their communities, investigating the role of authorities and the land itself. The works present different interpretations of traditional Maori painting, providing a rich diversity of artistic supports. This section is an invitation to reflect on Maori identity, the role of art in society and its different possibilities of manifestation.

View of the “Indigenous Stories” exhibition at MASP. Photo Eduardo Ortega.

Pachakuti: The world upside down

Telling a story requires a narrator.
Excerpt from the curatorial text

Moving to the Peru region, this nucleus challenges conventional representations of indigenous people, going beyond the vision of an object of conquest or an object of study. Pachakuti, a Quechua and Aymara term, denotes a profound transformation in the spatial and temporal order, experienced by original peoples during contact with Europeans. The curatorship proposes a subversion of the logic of knowledge, seeking not only the understanding of differences based on complementarity, but also the transformation of those who observe. The highlight is the exhibition, where works are skillfully arranged upside down, challenging the public’s perspective and encouraging a new way of understanding.

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View of the “Indigenous Stories” exhibition at MASP. Photo Eduardo Ortega.

Time not time

In addition to thinking about artists who “look” to the future, it is necessary to highlight that the symbolic operations of original peoples have much deeper ancestral roots.”
Excerpt curatorial text.

This nucleus exposes us to Brazil, presenting works that investigate time outside of Western dynamics. The recovery of the timelessness that permeates nature and existence is evidenced in works such as the painting by Arissana Pataxó and the ceramic works by Déba Viana Tacana. Each piece invites the viewer to contemplate time from a different perspective, delving into the richness of traditions and the complexity of temporal relationships.

Indigenous people in focus (1983), Arissana Pataxó. Image: Giovanna Gregório.
The light that walks (2023), Déba Viana Tacana. Image: Giovanna Gregório.

Várves: Hidden places of the day

Composed of works by indigenous Sami artists in Scandinavia, this set embodies the concept of pregnant, which means the ability to perceive in advance. In this way, the works convey a premonitory characteristic, expressing the strong and intimate bond of the Sami with the land and the rhythm of nature.

Mobility (2014), Lena Stenberg. Image: Giovanna Gregório.

Indigenous Stories is not only a window into the artistic riches of indigenous communities, but also a mirror that reflects the growing responsibility of cultural institutions to embrace, respect and represent the plurality of voices that make up the tapestry of the contemporary world. In rethinking indigenous representation in art, institutions are not limited to a passive role; on the contrary, they become active agents in internalizing and promoting necessary changes. The careful choice of artists, the integrated approach of activism to art and the international scope of the exhibition reflect a stance committed to cultural diversity and social transformation.

May Indigenous Stories continue to echo beyond the museum walls, inspiring reflection, dialogue and concrete actions in favor of a more inclusive world aware of its rich cultural diversity.

Indigenous stories
20.10.2023 — 25.2.2024
MASP — São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand Art Museum
Avenida Paulista, 1578 – Bela Vista
Opening hours: Free Tuesday. Tuesday, from 10am to 8pm (entrance until 7pm); Wednesday to Sunday, from 10am to 6pm (entrance until 5pm); closed on Mondays
Find out more at Agenda Artsoul.

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