Denilson Baniwa
Born 1984 in Barcelos, Brazil
Lives and works Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Performance Pajé-Onça caçando na Avenida Paulista 2018
single-channel digital video, colour, sound
16:05 mins

Performance Pajé-Onça Hackeando a 33a Bienal de Artes se São Paolo 2019
single-channel digital video, colour, sound
15:00 mins

Presented at the 22nd Biennale of Sydney with generous support from Open Society Foundations, and assistance from NIRIN 500 patrons
Courtesy the artist

“Part of Indigenous knowledge is the use of elements and substances that connect humans with the universe, forming bridges between this world of humans and others. Worlds of animals, plants, the invisible – this world is accessed by the Pajé Onça. The Baniwa people call the shaman Maliri. The strongest and most knowledgeable shaman is called the Pajé Jaguar or Pajé Onça. With his powers, he can walk the universe and worlds, bringing healing and knowledge to be shared with the community.

My job in bringing Pajé Onça’s performance to the places I pass through is to rescue Indigenous memory and Maliri’s presence, bringing them to these sites. We need to hear what he has to say.”

In Performance Pajé-Onça Hackeando a 33a Bienal de Artes se São Paolo, Denilson Baniwa undertakes a protest performance at the 33rd Bienal de Artes de São Paulo. The artist walks around the gallery spaces, searching for any work by First Nations artists within the exhibition. The only kind of representation that he is able to find are ethnographic photos titled Arturo & Antonio; West Tanu; Ulen, the rebel, taken in 1923 by Austrian priest and ethnologist Martin Gusinde of people from Tierra del Fuego.

Performance Pajé-Onça caçando na Avenida Paulista continues Baniwa’s performative and ceremonial protest challenging the lack of First Nations artists in the São Paulo Biennale – Baniwa was not an official artist in the exhibition. The character he inhabits, named Pajé-Onça, surveys the physical and spiritual spaces of the exhibition, ritually assessing the lack of First Nations participation in these international exhibitions.

It is a First Nations artist who must culturally ‘invade’ institutional space in order to make a point about this glaring lack of visibility – note the suspicion of security guards and the public who watch on.

In ripping up a book titled A Brief History of Art with his hands – the Mona Lisa on its front cover and devoid of any First Nations inclusion – the artist enacts a ritualistic killing of an institutional system in which First Nations voices and points of view are erased through conscious exhibition and publishing activities.

Baniwa’s performances draw attention to the difficulties involved in representations of identity. These are inevitably tied to the colonial and western voyeuristic lens, as well as oppressive aspects of colonial histories and stories normalised in institutionalised environments – this demonstrates that, at times, the artworld is not without ignorance, nor does it function independently of these colonial histories.