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The Collation

"What’s in a name?" That which we call [primitive] by any other word...

As a Folger Institute Artist Fellow, I had the possibility to search through an amazing collection from the Colonial Period to add to my long-standing personal research. I am a descendant of Original People of Brazil. I, like others, learned about our indigenous antecedents from a diminishing imposed view, or at least a paternalistic view of the naive and “docile savage” contained in history books and repeatedly reproduced in art and movies.

I am a multimedia interdisciplinary artist. I studied Theater, Cultural Studies, and Art. I experienced cultures from different places in the Americas and I witnessed ways of creation that were being used since before the so-called discovery. I saw objects of a Pre-Columbian Americas in museums defined around the main power: history as artifacts, objects of different cultures named “Pre-Columbian” after one male explorer in the center of it.

Having seen cultures in their own environment and/or portrayed from outside cultures; having been an insider/outsider seeing objects inside/outside their culture; having seen indigenous descendants’ art barely co-existing among dominant cultures of a colonial, now imperialistic, power, I witnessed individuals/cultures’ struggle to exist.

Due to it all, I have long been interested in the perpetuated discriminatory views—othering views—that still effect many Indigenous descendants. I am an immigrant to this country and referred to as Latinx. Latinx is also a name created around the language of the colonizer: Latin. Therefore, it subdues many Peoples, Cultures, Languages, that were ‘Latinized’ and, in a certain way, cannibalized under the colonizers’ gaze. Many Latinx people are descendants of the Indigenous, Native, Original Peoples of the Americas.

These reflections went into my exhibition “HAVE YOU SEEN The Dark Parrot?”, on display at the Taubman Museum from March 03 to June 04, 2023. In this exhibit, I propose a dialogue on the connections of historic and contemporary UNSEEN cultures lost under a disempowered art-history, as merely artifacts consumed as othering objects, and the connection to issues such as the UNSEEN women of indigenous descendant consumed or sold as fetishized objects.

Grid of 12 smaller images showing art objects; they primarily depict body parts and are light sandstone colored with red highlights and geometric painting
Images from the exhibit at the Taubman Museum.

The literature of the Colonial Period, was an Old [New] World’s bible that formed and, thereafter, gave support to, the everlasting effects of colonialism. It offered the first view of the Peoples originally of the Americas as “savage” or unlettered, dirty, amoral; as zoomorphic human-beasts to be tamed, conquered, moralized, converted, educated. It offered the first views of Indigenous women gazed and described from a fetishized perspective, dancing naked around captured colonizers in the center of it; it offered the first justifications to catechize the amoral pagans from “hot as hell” lands, who were lately depicted in the hells of religious paintings; it depicted the people original to the lands being colonized as sub-humans, lacking of culture and philosophy and language and God. It described the confiscated objects created by the many cultures of the invaded lands as non-art. Those so-called “artifacts” brought from explorations to the Americas, would be observed in display cases to gaze at cannibalized cultures in a diminishing way.

Printed image from an early modern book showing dark skinned people cooking human body parts over a fire
Image from John Ogilby's English translation of America : being the latest, and most accurate description of the New World. Folger 0165, 1671
Art objects representing severed limbs. They are light stone colored with red geometic designs. The caption on the image reads: Cannibalized, 2022 Metalanguage objects from cannibalized cultures, Post-Selvatic Period Found objects, plaster, concrete, soil, dye
Art objects from the Taubman Museum exhibit.

Those descriptions, or first definitions, of peoples of the so-called “New World” became consolidated with reports or traveling journals and bloomed in the literature and art of the Elizabethan Era. That was also the Shakespearean Era and there was a prominent theatricality in the literature of that time. That dramatic approach was consistent in writings and in visual art. The literature of the colonial period was fed by that wonder on the encounter with “the other.” And it sets bases to many narrations in a certain diz-que-disse [said-what-was-said]: what was written; the interpretations of what was written; the fantasized and fetishized version what was written; the perpetuation of the interpretation of what was written.

Art objects depicting female torsos. They are decorated with red geometric designs.
Art objects from the Taubman Museum exhibit.
Painting of a woman standing next to a tree and a stream. She is is mostly naked and holding a severed hand. On her back is a woven basket that has a severed foot sticking out of it. A small dog stands between her legs, drinking from the stream.
1641 painting by Dutch artists Albert Eckhout, ”Portrait of a Tapuya woman with human body parts“. Courtesy of the National Museum Denmark.

That first collected material (writings and pictures) that was recorded as History, which were actually intertwining a biased truth with many elements of fiction. These depictions are still amongst us and serve as historic-truth in obvious or subliminal forms. One can search a vast number of colonial materials to find the roots of that perpetuated discrimination of the original peoples of the explored lands: those “Indians” from any non-India.

“What’s in a name?” In most cases it depends on who names. Over time there were many names used when referring to the many Peoples that were original to the Americas—mostly named by or in reference to the colonizers’ universe: Indians (as the peoples found in the accidental new India); Indigenous (a derivation of Indian); Natives (also used to categorize plants and species found in the New World) and also Ameríndios (Indians from the Americas). The term currently used in Brazil is Povos Originários: Original Peoples, or Peoples of Origin.

The current term is used as a way to not be named in relation to an Eurocentric nomenclature but as existing in origin pre-colonialism. “What is in a name?” Even in just a name, “Indians,” an absurd amount of Peoples of different places, different mythological systems, different cultures and different languages, got thrown under one categorized word by colonizers’ book: Indians.

Printed map of part of South America labeled Paraguay. In the bottom left corner, there are depictions of dark skinned people, inclulding a small boy holding a parrot.
Ogilby, America : being the latest, and most accurate description of the New World, 1671 Folger O165, plate inserted between. p. 474 and p. 475

Collections of books and manuscripts such as ones in the Folger Shakespeare Library, containing materials of that time period, have some of those “gems” of colonialism heritage. Gem is a good metaphorical word when referring to colonialism since the search for “gems” created the process of exploitation of the Americas. One can review extensive amounts of material to track those first descriptions of the “Indians” the “Amerindians” and the spreading of that othering literature of the time when Shakespeare and other writers were living and consuming those colonial narrations.

Those descriptions of the new lands were arrived entwining real narrations and fictional exaggerations, such as the depiction of Hanno: “the famousest navigators which were set out by the King of Portugal” who wandered “with hopes to find profits. Nay, he received and was placed amongst their gods in the temples, which he being ambitious of, promoted after a strange manner, teaching several birds to cry, The greed God Hanno.” (Ogilby, America, Being the Latest and Most Accurate Description of the New World, 1671.)

In searching collections of writings (and illustrations) of that extended period, it is possible to see how different writers were creating their fictional-fantasized worlds, also creating characters of color, assimilating or negating those first descriptions. All that material brought from expeditions to the so called “New World” created the first alphabet, or building blocks, that would, thereafter, compose othering imaginary that would be recreated in endless chapters of History: a mainstream-history as told and consolidated within a superior power position of race/gender/culture/economic status, etc. The first reports in the New World played a strong role in the undermining of the many peoples of the Americas and in the construct of race superiority to subdue those peoples of explored lands. The everlasting consequences of that Eurocentric Patriarchal Colonialism is maintained in books, art, movies, advertisement, internet engines, etc of this present moment.

Two images showing an art object that resembles a human body made out of leopard skin. It lies on a dark brown rug made of hair. Caption on the images reads: Zoomorphic Humanae, 2022 Zoomorphic altar cloth Human hair, garmant
Art object in the Taubman Museum exhibit.
Detail of a page showing a leopard skin, flat out like a rug. The printed image has been hand colored with the orange and brown colors of many leopards.
Topsel, The historie of foure-footed beastes, 1607. Folger STC 24123 copy 2, p.229

Therefore, many issues of the Latinx diaspora are perpetuated issues affecting the descendants of the Latinx Indigenous population—Indiginex, if we must name them. “What’s in a name? That which we call by any other word…” Whatever name was/is given, those Peoples and their descendants, are still suffering the consequences of the first inferiorizing views imposed on the “Indians” “Natives” “Indigenous” “Original Peoples of the Americas”—each one having their Own-Name!

Art object depicting a hand and forearm. it is decorated with red geometric patterns.