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Amazonian Indigenous Art, a short Introduction

Posted on August 15 2018

‘While the art of other non-Western cultures – African, Oceanic, North-American Indian, Eskimo, and Asian – has been studied extensively, the disregard shown for Amazonian tribal art is inexcusable. The aesthetic value of the art forms created by the Indians of the Amazon basin is comparable to that of all other cultures of the world, yet their creations are often referred to as anthropological objects rather than works of art.’

– Adam Mekler

The ancient artistic styles of the Amazonian peoples have largely gone unnoticed despite their complex and intricate designs. There are only a few collections outside of the Amazon itself where these artifacts can be seen in museums and galleries. And it’s even harder to find books with examples of this art printed to look at. It is a sad reality that very little of this incredible art has been recorded and the rest is largely inaccessible. This is partly due to the fact that the materials used for the traditional art do not survive well in the humid conditions of the jungle. But there is also a reality that there is a lack of interest and appreciation for these pieces outside of the region.

In addition to being beautiful to look at, these works also carry important anthropological significance. While the different tribes share similarities in the way they produce this art, each group has their own identity that comes through in their work. It is common for tribes to become known for their particular skills. For example, the Wauja people of the Xingu region in Brazil are renowned for the exceptional quality of their ceramics. Often, tribes would trade their artwork with neighboring groups, helping to spread art throughout the region.

The people of the Amazon have ‘art’ in their blood. It is so important to their way of life that most tribal languages don’t even have a word for it. Art is just seen as an everyday part of village life. It includes everything from body painting and body ornaments to beaded/seeded jewelry, basketry, ceramics, carvings, masks and much more.

As an example of how indigenous peoples are always looking for ways to express themselves through art, you need to look no further than the glass beads they are now so famous for.
These beads are not originally from the area. They were first brought in by early European conquistadors. They Indigenous peoples quickly began to use them in place of the traditional seeds to create a new type of beaded art. They used this art to help them negotiate a safe initial contact with the Europeans, and then to develop strong trading relationships with them. As with much of their traditional art, they created incredibly fine designs inspired by nature. These designs, based on the native plants and animals of the region, often include dynamic geometric patterns that can be seen in other types of art from the region.

Weaving, carving, sculpting, and painting are ancient practices that have been passed down with love from generation to generation. Master artists are traditionally highly respected within the tribe. Unfortunately, there are fewer of these masters coming out of the younger generations. Often young people are pulled away by outside temptations and influences, and it is sad that the art is just not valued as much as it should be. It is the aim of Xapiri to help fix this situation by encouraging communities to continue their work, while we help to promote it and develop an appreciation for the art outside of the village - both in Brazil and worldwide. One way to increase this understanding and value is to document the individual artist whenever their work is profiled. Our hope is to change the sometimes derogatory term ‘primitive art’ into what is labeled truly ‘fine art’ through education.


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