Denilson Baniwa on creating art on the front lies

Image of Denilson Baniwa speaking about his work

As part of the webinar on Creative engagements on the front lines that took place in advance of launching the online exhibition and conversation, Denilson shared his experience of doing creative work on different ‘front lines’.

He reflects on the challenges of doing art during the COVID-19 pandemic and self-isolation, which has and continues to affect Indigenous peoples in uneven and violent ways in Brazil. He also sees this contemporary moment as a way to value different knowledges and explore ways that traditional and Western medicine, for instance, might collaborate.

He sees his work as the work of communicating and relating with otherness, and differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous experiences, doing art that performs and recognises different philosophical, cosmological and spiritual perspectives. This perspective is central to his contribution to Extracting Us – The Natural Time of Ephemeral Things – which arises from the experience of the pandemic and the fluid boundaries between “natural” and “artificial” things.


Hi! I am Denilson, I am an Indigenous person of the Baniwa people, Rio Negro, Amazonas. I’ve come here today to introduce myself and talk a bit about my work really quickly.

What is the experience like: of creating art on the frontlines, of using art as resistance? and what is it like now during the pandemic?

It’s difficult to say what it’s like right now during the pandemic because we find Indigenous people and artists, in all reality, working at the frontlines forever in a range of types of crises, you know? Economic crises, crises of violence, social crises, that always affected Indigenous populations in Brazil. I think what has changed now is the impossibility to travel, to have interaction amongst ourselves and with communities and with other Indigenous peoples.

We had plans for 2020, to hold seminars, discussions, meetings, exhibition projects, that all had to be postponed or cancelled because of COVID-19. In terms of my work, of it being activist work, of being on the frontlines as a communication as a means of communication for the Indigenous movement, I see it very much as a work of alterity, of otherness, of how to place myself in the world trying to understand these two world that I know well. The Indigenous world, the world of my peoples’ villages, of my culture, and the non-Indigenous world where I studied and currently live, where I have social relationships. In my art, I reflect very much on this, of certain types of alterity (otherness), an understanding of the other and an attempt to understand these worlds.

In this process, I try to put some frictions that occur when these worlds collide. So these can range from social frictions, epistemological, philosophical, ideological, even frictions around understandings of the world itself, of cosmogonical and cosmological visions. For example, I have this work that I created now during the pandemic, during this process of self-isolation, that I’m trying to respect as much as possible. Seeing this moment as a moment that humanity experiences due to many factors trying to understand how I, as an Indigenous artist, can simultaneously think about protections and traditional medicines, as well as also observe and understand Western medicine as well. Always these two forms of knowledge collaborating and not conflicting, as was the case in past times.

Well that’s it. I hope that we can engage in a good conversation and share ideas. Ideas on how to delay the end of the world, on how to live in this transition between worlds, and how to understand Indigenous culture as a source of knowledge, as important, as complex as Western knowledge. Hugs to you.

You can follow Denilson’s work and get in touch with him on Instagram:

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