Amazonian Poetics at Princeton

Nov. 25, 2019

On Friday, November 8th and Saturday, November 9th, the Brazil LAB hosted a two-day workshop/oficina on Amazonian Poetics, bringing together scholars, activists, indigenous artists, translators and students from Princeton University, Museu Nacional of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Stony Brook University, University of São Paulo, and Instituto Moreira Salles. The meeting was a follow up to a first workshop held last summer at the Instituto Moreira Salles in Rio de Janeiro.

After a keynote address by the Brazilian anthropologist Carlos Fausto on November 7thAmazonian Poetics began by foregrounding the urgency and immediacy of mobilizing intellectual, artistic and cultural production about Amazonia to draw greater attention to its ecological precarity, while emphasizing the distinctiveness of its indigenous traditions (all in a moment when the rainforests have reasserted themselves as global patrimony). Against such a backdrop, participants explored diverse approaches towards culling, curating and creating an ‘Amazonian Poetics’ from media as diverse as art, poetry, literature, film, ethnography and photography. Among the broad questions the workshop sought to discuss was the nature, role and responsibility of such an Amazonian poetics, and its politics, propagation and preservation. 

The indigenous artist Denilson Baniwa presented mixed-media art renditions of his travels and encounters through Amazonia, while Carlos Fausto, Thiago Nogueira and Lucas van Hombeeck screened their documentary, Tal é o rio, tal a sua história, that chronicled episodes of everyday life unfolding along the Xingu river in Altamira, home to the controversial Belo Monte Dam. Princeton professor Pedro Meira Monteiro and translator Katrina Dodson explored narrative textures and the hybrid poetics of Mário de Andrade’s Makunaima in Portuguese and English. Visiting professor Lilia Schwarcz explored how critical attention to indigenous visual and material representations is reshaping the workings of Brazilian museums. 

The workshop had a total of eighteen original presentations. The creative thinking and arts of the Yanomami, Bororo, Nambikwara, Ingarikó, Nadëb, Macuxi, Baniwa peoples were discussed along with the artistic and anthropological works of Claudia Andujar, Cildo Meireles, Bruce Albert, Nayara Jinknss, Berna Real, and Gustavo Caboco, among others, culminating on a riveting performance by the indigenous artist Jaider Esbell. Each presentation turned to a distinctive archive of Amazonian poetics, excavating and situating it historically, while also breathing life into the visions of futurity activated by them for the Amazon. Several “poetic nets,” as Princeton lecturer Marília Librandi put it, “were thus woven together and celebrated.”

The participants’ Princeton experience included a wonderful visit to Firestone’s Rare Books reading room, where they were delighted to see first editions of 16th -18th century books by Jean de Léry and Theodor de Bry, among others. The library visit was organized by Brazil LAB Associate Fernando Acosta-Rodríguez, Bibliographer for Latin American Studies, who also introduced participants to the Ephemera Collection. The group was likewise deeply impressed with the States of Health exhibition at the Princeton Art Museum, in a visit organized by Brazil LAB director João Biehl and Museum’s Curator of Academic Programs Veronica White.

Led by Pedro Meira MonteiroMarília Librandi, and Carlos FaustoAmazonian Poetics is  part of an ongoing academic partnership between the Brazil LAB, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, the Department of Anthropology,  and the Social Anthropology Program of the Museu Nacional/UFRJ.  The workshop was co-sponsored by the Humanities Council, the Princeton Environmental Institute, the Program in Latin American Studies, and the University Center for Human Values.

Workshop gallery:

Library and museum visit gallery: