April 10, 2024

Denison Baniwa Exhibition Opening at Art@Bainbridge

“NATUREZA MORTA 1 (DEAD NATURE 1)”: This digital print is featured in “Denilson Baniwa: Under the Skin of History,” on view April 13 through September 1 at the Princeton University Art Museum’s Art@Bainbridge gallery on Nassau Street.

An exhibition of work by the Indigenous Brazilian artist Denilson Baniwa will open April 13 at the Princeton University Art Museum’s Art@Bainbridge gallery. “Denilson Baniwa: Under the Skin of History,” on view through September 1, features work that engages with themes of Indigenous rights, colonial history, and environmental destruction.

The exhibition 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.

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,” said 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.”

Art@Bainbridge is located at 158 Nassau Street and open Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free. For more information, visit artmuseum.princeton.edu.