Denilson Baniwa: Under the Skin of History

Denilson Baniwa (born 1984, Barcelos, Brazil; active Niterói, Brazil), Pajé Yawareté traz novidades à aldeia de Santa Isabel, Oiapoque, Amapá (Jaguar Shaman brings news to the village of Santa Isabel, Oiapoque, Amapá), 2018. Digital print, 59.1 × 88.9 cm. Collection of the artist. © Denilson Baniwa. Photo: Sallisa RosaThis spring and summer, Art@Bainbridge hosts Denilson Baniwa: Under the Skin of History, co-organized by the Museum, Princeton University’s Brazil LAB, and the Department of Anthropology. The exhibition showcases work by the Amazonian Indigenous artist Denilson Baniwa, whose art grapples with legacies of colonialism—from early Indigenous encounters with Europeans to ongoing environmental destruction and cultural erasure.

Baniwa’s relationship with Princeton started in 2019, when he participated in Brazil LAB’s Amazonian Poetics workshop and visited the Princeton University Library to view early European books related to the colonization of the Americas. In preparation for this exhibition, Baniwa returned to Princeton for ten days in September 2023. At the Library, he studied colonial books, photographs, and maps of Brazil and the Amazon, and in Museum storage he viewed Indigenous Amazonian objects as well as prints by Rembrandt, Dürer, Goya, and contemporary Indigenous North American artists. The Lewis Center for the Arts provided a studio space where he created work in response to these objects—some of which will be showcased in Under the Skin of History.

Throughout his visit, Baniwa engaged audiences from across the University. He spoke to students about his process during an open-studio event, met with members of Natives at Princeton, and addressed a packed room at a concluding event. Baniwa explained some of the thinking behind his work, describing the legacy of colonization as a poorly healed and covered-over scar, which the artist must poke and prod to reveal. “This scar is inflamed—under the skin of history,” he said, “and needs to be made visible so that we can discuss it.”

Denilson Baniwa during his research residency at Princeton University, 2023. Photo: Joseph HuBaniwa combs historical sources and incorporates them into his work in order to “intervene in the archive.” Viewing large repositories of historical materials, such as Princeton’s Library and Museum, Baniwa studies the process through which colonial fictions have been constructed “step by step, page by page,” so that he can reframe them from an Indigenous perspective. He analogized the work of the artist to that of the shaman, who is a mediator able to travel between worlds and to access special kinds of knowledge that he shares with different communities. “For me,” he said, “Princeton is another world accessible by magical tools that have been placed in my hands.” We are excited that, come April, Baniwa will offer the Princeton community a unique glimpse into his own world.

Jun P. Nakamura
Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings

Curated by Carlos Fausto, PIIRS Global Scholar; Miqueias H. Mugge, PIIRS Associate Research Scholar; and Jun P. Nakamura.

Denilson Baniwa: Under the Skin of History is sponsored by 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 (PIIRS). Additional supporters include the Department of Spanish & Portuguese, the Department of Art & Archaeology, the Lewis Center for the Arts, and the Effron Center for the Study of America.