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Denilson Baniwa: Under the Skin of History @Princeton University Art Museum's Art@Bainbridge

PRINCETON, NJ – An exhibition of work by the Indigenous Brazilian artist Denilson Baniwa will  open at the Princeton University Art Museum's Art@Bainbridge gallery. The exhibition features work that engages with themes of Indigenous rights, colonial history, and environmental  destruction. 

Denilson Baniwa: Under the Skin of History (April 13–September 1, 2024) showcases the  breadth of Baniwa's work, including drawings, photography, sculpture, and digital collages that  challenge established colonial narratives and foreground Indigenous knowledge and resistance.  The exhibition's title comes from the artist, who has described his process as getting "under the  skin of history" to expose the "poorly healed scars" of colonization. 

Baniwa—who is from the Baniwa Indigenous people of the Amazon—is one of the most  prominent Indigenous Brazilian artists working today. He is co-curator of the 2024 Venice  Biennale's Brazilian Pavilion, renamed the Hãhãwpuá Pavilion to use an Indigenous name for  Brazil. Baniwa sees his art and curatorial work as a form of Indigenous activism, raising up voices that have long been silenced or ignored. 

In his art, Baniwa often recontextualizes and revises historical imagery and archives to highlight  Indigenous perspectives. In one series of collages included in the exhibition, he inserts science fiction aliens and monsters such as Godzilla into images pulled from century-old publications on  

the Amazon, complicating narratives of invasion and environmental threat. "Through  provocation and irony," says co-curator Carlos Fausto, "Denilson proposes a rereading of  colonial history, intervening in historical images and documents and imbuing them with new  meanings." 

The exhibition includes prints from Baniwa's Natureza Morta (Dead Nature) series, which turn satellite images of cleared rainforest areas into crime-scene silhouettes of a shaman and parrot,  alluding to the human and animal costs of industrial farming. "Denilson's work can often seem playful or inviting at first," co-curator Jun Nakamura notes, "but the more one spends time with  it, the more one is made aware of the serious stakes at play, the very real threats—to  environment, to culture, to life—that he is confronting in his work."


Baniwa's relationship with Princeton University began in 2019, when he was invited to a  workshop called Amazonian Poetics, and he returned last fall in preparation for this exhibition,  when he met with students, studied University collections, and made art in response to the  works he viewed. In his Fera Utopia series, jungle-themed Playmobil toys restage images sourced from sixteenth-century colonial books and a nineteenth-century Amazonian expedition  archive at Princeton University Library, drawing parallels between the exoticizing perspectives  of earlier colonizers and children's toys produced today. In two large maps made for the  exhibition, aesthetics and imagery inspired by early colonial maps meld with references to  contemporary pop culture such as K-dramas. Co-curator Miqueias Mugge explains, "in  reframing the Library's collections, Baniwa combats fantasies of conquest, exoticism, and  erasure embedded in these archives." 

During his 2023 residency at Princeton, Baniwa was accompanied by the filmmaker Thiago da  Costa Oliveira. Oliveira and Fausto's short documentary, Right of Reply, will premiere in the  exhibition, offering a glimpse into Baniwa's thinking and process. The title refers to the right— guaranteed under Brazilian law—to defend oneself against public defamation. Baniwa asserts,  "I, as an Indigenous person, demand from the state and the colonizers a right of reply so that  there is more than one discourse in this story." 

"Under the Skin of History showcases the inquiry and collaboration fostered by a university  museum and prompts us to engage Baniwa's important work and to see the University's  historical collections with fresh eyes," says James Steward, Nancy A. Nasher–David J.  Haemisegger, Class of 1976, Director of the Princeton University Art Museum. "It's important  work that finds an important context in the ongoing exploration of some of today's most probing  artists we are presenting at Art@Bainbridge." 

Denilson Baniwa: Under the Skin of History is co-organized by the Brazil LAB, the Department  of Anthropology, and the Princeton University Art Museum, and is co-curated by Jun Nakamura,  assistant curator of prints and drawings at the Museum, the Brazil LAB's Carlos Fausto,  Princeton Global Scholar, and Miqueias Mugge, associate research scholar. Co-sponsors of the  project include the High Meadows Environmental Institute, the University Center for Human  Values, the Humanities Council, the Program in Latin American Studies, and the Princeton  Institute for International and Regional Studies. Additional supporters include the Department of  Spanish and Portuguese, the Department of Art & Archaeology, the Lewis Center for the Arts,  and the Effron Center for the Study of America.  

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