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Conquering Self-Representation: A Collaborative Approach to the Aesthetical-Political Dimension of Amazonian Contemporary Art

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Amazonart (Conquering Self-Representation: A Collaborative Approach to the Aesthetical-Political Dimension of Amazonian Contemporary Art)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2021-08-31

The action “Conquering Self-Representation: A Collaborative Methodology towards Political Aesthetical Dimension of Amazonian Art” (Amazonart) is an interdisciplinary and intersectorial project that explores the work, trajectories and activism of indigenous Amazonian contemporary artists as they enter global art circuits. It also produces new curatorial narratives through a collaborative methodology with Amazonian artists responding to their aim of self-representation. Amazonart draws on my on-going collaborations with Amazonian artists and on my background in the fields of anthropology, museum studies and cultural policies.

This research posits that to understand the practices of Amazonian contemporary artists and their contributions to the art world and society at large we need, firstly, to engage in fieldwork not only in indigenous communities but also in urban centres and at transnational scale, addressing the condition of mobility of these practices and their aesthetic influences across places and circuits. Secondly, we need to attend not only to its relation to shamanic practices but also to the large spectrum of agendas that these works mobilise. Thirdly, we need to work in an interdisciplinary and collaborative way, surpassing traditional pigeonholing and understanding the contributions of Amazonian art to new art narratives and world-making at large.

This research has three main objectives: objective 1: To explore and theorise the aesthetical-political dimension of Amazonian contemporary art; objective 2: To familiarise European museums with the work of Amazonian contemporary artists developing new curatorial narratives and leading to urgent scrutiny of art categories; and objective 3: To develop a methodology that locates at the forefront collaborations with indigenous Amazonian artists in thinking, translating and showing together their contemporary art practices.

Amazonart combines ethnographic fieldwork, digital ethnography and exhibition making, and employs participant observation, interviews and visual and textual analysis. Exhibitions in this project are crucial sites of collaboration, methodological innovation and knowledge production.
This MSCA (September 2019 to August 2021) was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the project being affected and re-organised. While fieldwork, in-person meetings and conferences, and university on-site life were cancelled, the project found ways to respond through online and safe in-person exhibitions, various forms of on-line research and presentations, and through collaboration in during the crisis. The project explored how Amazonian indigenous people and artists have responded to this pandemic leading to rich data for the exploration of the political-aesthetical dimension of Amazonian art.

This MSCA has been conducted via 6 work packages (WP). In WP 1, Training and Project Implementation, I received constant training -seminars, a digital analysis course, conversations and the training of a project in action- and implemented the project through fieldwork, exhibitions, a workshop and other events. This project has had a significant contribution to my career development as I have obtained a permanent position as a Lecturer in Latin American Studies in Newcastle University. WP 2, Ethnographic Fieldwork, was planned to complete my already rich data on Amazonian art with a total of four-month fieldwork. However, due to Covid-19 I could only undertook two months, and the completion of fieldwork will be achieved through an application for a small research grant. WP 3, Digital ethnography and platforms, became the main methodology for research through Email, Zoom, WhatsApp and Facebook and the principal platform of communication, collaboration and dissemination, with the development of a project website – and on-line events.

In WP 4, exhibition planning, the project developed two exhibitions with a collaborative methodology: one focused on spatial politics and the other on Covid 19 responses. ‘Place-making, World-making: Three Amazonian indigenous artists’ became an on-line show hosted at Art Exchange (Jan-March, U. Essex, 2021) and travelled to La Parceria Cultural Centre in Madrid as an in-person show (July 2021). The other, ‘Ite, Neno, Here!: Responses to Covid 19’ (Crisis, Lima, 2020), was curated with indigenous artist Rember Yahuarcani and focused on Amazonian responses to the pandemic. Amazonart project supported three indigenous artists to obtain a small CAHR-University of York ‘Art and Activism’ grant. In WP 5, data analysis and theory development, I have written 2 book chapters: one, authored with R. Yahuarcani, on water conflicts and tensions between governmental project and indigenous management of rivers (Blackmore & Gomez, eds, Liquid Ecologies, Routledge 2020, open access); and the other that explores the battles in making an urban indigenous community in Lima (Barbec & Canessa, eds, Urban Indigeneities, Univ. of Arizona, 2022). I am concluding 2 academic articles: one, on the role of artists and shamans in the pandemic, and other on Indigenous cosmopolitanism with Prof. Andrew Canessa. After concluding the second part of fieldwork, I will integrate this research in a book about Amazonian indigenous art, activism and spatial politics. I have presented the work in 5 international conferences and co-organised 3 conference panels and 1 workshop. As part of WP 6, public engagement, I have disseminated results to a broader audience through different formats, such as the 2 exhibitions with public programmes and the production of three videos in Spanish with translation in English, exhibition catalogues in English and Spanish (one published, the other forthcoming), the Amazonart website, and 6 public, school and museum talks including an invitation from Peru’s Ministry of Culture.
Over the last decade the field of contemporary art is expanding its boundaries while reformulating through a more serious engagement with art practices from various parts of the globe including indigenous art. A significant scholarship has traced the practices and global articulations of Australian and North American indigenous artists, which have developed a strong circuit of art agents and stimulated readjustments in art historical narratives. Only in the last five years, Amazonian contemporary art is receiving a vibrant scholarly and museum attention, with a direct participation of Amazonian practitioners and intellectuals. This project has been an agent in this context and networks of discussion and proposals, becoming an important actor in this field of current redefinitions.

The knowledge generated in this project advances research on the intersection between anthropology of art, art history, museum practices, politics and human geography. It has benefited, and will continue do so, indigenous artists in their aims of achieving transnational visibility and voice, and a fresh curatorial approach to their work. Throughout its different formats this project has shown how indigenous artists are now crucial political actors who deal with urgent topics and question hegemonic structures of power, proposing societal changes through their art and voice. This project has had already an academic and social impact and will continue through the forthcoming publications and events that derive from this MSCA.
Fieldwork in the San Francisco Shipibo community - with the Augustin Roque Family, January 2020
Construyendo el lugar, constryuendo el mundo exhibition. La Parceria, Madrid, July 2021
Fieldwork in the San Francisco Shipibo community - returning after 20 years, January 2020
Construyendo el lugar, construyendo el mundo exhibition 2. La Parceria, Madrid, July 2021
Place-making, World-making exhibition. Art Exchange, UEssex, UK, January 2021
Digital etnography through Zoom with S. Yahuarcani, R.Yahuarcani and H. Pinedo
Curators of the Ite, Neno, Aqui: Responses to Covid 19 exhibition. Crisis, Lima, Nov. 2020.
Indigenous Management of Place in Times of Crisis workshop - Group picture - UEssex, Sep 2021
Indigenous Management of Place in Times of Crisis workshop - UEssex, Spetember 2021