A history within a history of miscegenation at Instituto Tomie Ohtake in São Paulo

by Stefanie Hessler

 

 

 

 

The exhibition “Historias Mestiças” (Eng. Mestizo Histories) at Instituto Tomie Ohtake in São Paulo brings together objects ranging from anthropological artefacts to documentary photographs, texts, maps and works of modern and contemporary art. It is the result of a two-year long research by the exhibition curators Adriano Pedrosa and Lilia Schwarcz, dealing with miscegenation, its representations in artistic production and influences on the socio-political and cultural history and present of Brazil. Instead of celebrating miscegenation, the exhibition presents an approach that questions the founding myths of Brazil by superimposing separate visions, in different media and from varying perspectives. Whereas this is a rather large topic, and the curators did an amazing job in weaving parallel and crossbred histories, one small room in the show is particularly intriguing.

 

Installation view Historias Mestiças

Installation view Historias Mestiças

 

In the section set apart, three different narratives unfold next to each other, sharing the same space and correlating with one another. The lowest of three parallel lines is made up of Claudia Andujar’s photographic series “Marcados” (Eng. Signed) (1981-1984), originating from a commission by the Brazilian government. The construction of a street through the Amazonas led to the outbreak of diseases among the Yanomami people. To facilitate the implementation of a medical programme, the government sent Andujar to photograph each person in the population. The black and white frontal portraits of people carrying a sign with a number around their neck call forth the codes tattooed onto people’s forearms by the Nazis in concentration camps. In an interview with Andujar, available here, the artist explains that a large part of her family, who are Jewish, were imprisoned and died in the camps. Despite the brutal reference, in this case the rigid classification system turning persons into numbers actually had the aim of saving people. The work reminds us of the ambiguity of the photographic image and mirrors the diverse aspects of contemporary Brazil, with its technocratic and economically strong south and the rural north of the country, and condenses their times and places.

 

Claudia Andujar, Marcados, 1981-1984

Claudia Andujar, Marcados, 1981-1984

Claudia Andujar, Marcados, 1981-1984

Claudia Andujar, Marcados, 1981-1984

 

In the line above Andujar’s work, a series of prints by Joaquim José de Miranda is displayed, titled “A expedição do Tenente-Coronel Afonso Botelho de Souza aos sertões do Tibagi” (Eng. The Expedition of Lieutenant-Colonel Afonso Botelho de Souza to the Hinterlands of Tibagi) (1771–1773). The series consists of 38 images and a legend, and aims to develop a narrative and depth of the studied subject. Miranda’s prints can be compared to a logbook that reconstitutes Botelho’s expedition to what is today the state of Paraná. They display the Portuguese entering a village of the Kaingang people, with all the implications of the clash between two very different cultures, allowing for a reflection of the historical, social and anthropological aspects of the colonisation in Brazil. The images range from individual depictions of a person to the encounter between Kaingang people and Portuguese, Kaingang visiting the camp of the explorers, explorers visiting the Kaingang site, Portuguese returning to the river Jordan, armed Kaingang coming to the river, the killing of seven expedition militaries, and the subsequent retreat of the Portuguese. This type of imagery focusing on a narrative and the subjects involved is quite uncommon, as the explorers usually produced cartographic maps and architectural drawings intended to support the colonial invasion. Nevertheless, the images were clearly produced by the colonisers for other colonisers. By showing their “good” intentions and the subsequent “devious” attack of the Kaingang, they possibly built the basis and legitimation for another “exploration”.

 

Joaquim José de Miranda, A expedição do Tenente-Coronel Afonso Botelho de Souza aos sertões do Tibagi, 1771–1773

Joaquim José de Miranda, A expedição do Tenente-Coronel Afonso Botelho de Souza aos sertões do Tibagi, 1771–1773

Joaquim José de Miranda, A expedição do Tenente-Coronel Afonso Botelho de Souza aos sertões do Tibagi, 1771–1773

Joaquim José de Miranda, A expedição do Tenente-Coronel Afonso Botelho de Souza aos sertões do Tibagi, 1771–1773

 

The last line of images in the space consists of 29 marker pen drawings titled “Yanomami Funeral” (1976) by Taniki Manippi-theri. The drawings present systems and groupings of humans and other entities in mutual relations and reciprocal interdependences. A different worldview becomes apparent, in which rather than territory, war and power the central aspect is spiritual proximity with nature, humans and other organisms. Death and the cyclical character of life are negotiated and depicted as interwoven complex systems.

 

Taniki Manippi-theri, Yanomami Funeral, 1976

Taniki Manippi-theri, Yanomami Funeral, 1976

Taniki Manippi-theri, Yanomami Funeral, 1976

Taniki Manippi-theri, Yanomami Funeral, 1976

 

The associative moments, counter narratives, overlaps and gaps that open up between the three lines of images are at times surprising and often extremely enriching. This small section of the exhibition is among its strongest, depicting not only different perspectives within each of the expressions, but also the varying perspectives one can take on the presented subjects. And so Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, the Brazilian anthropologist who is known for his examination of Amerindian perspectivism and multinaturalism, is one of the thinkers referred to in the show. The curators Pedrosa and Schwarcz convincingly discuss the ambiguity of narratives, the history of colonisation and the power of images – and with that the hybrid histories of miscegenation, or rather the miscegenation of histories, as they put it.

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