From another world


These days, the second floor of the Siddhartha Art Gallery has an unmistakable look of a temple. Walls painted a deep burgundy and clay ornaments hanging from the ceiling accompany a series of photographs of the indigenous people of Xingu placed in long flat columns. The display itself has been projected with a certain deference; something with tremendous spiritual significance seems afloat.

“I don’t have any illusion that photography can change the world,” British born Brazilian photographer Maureen Bisilliat would say when asked to speak at the Kathmandu International Art Festival this year. Her photographs—gathered from her encounters with tribes in the Xingu Indigenous Park in Brazil from 1972-77—capture visually stunning images of a fast-changing region and its people.

The indigenous people, shown in Xingu: Spirit Papers from another World, are immersed in their daily tasks, in elaborate rituals, in taking care of family. There is also, within these images, a story of a community of humans that are forever mingling with natural elements, where nature serves to form the core of their culture.

Maureen’s work borrows the aesthetics of the Xingu way of life, which blends effortlessly into a rich natural backdrop. Bodies, unashamed of their nudity, emerge out of absolute darkness to take up boldly defined forms. The series carries rhythm, one guided by darkness, with reverberations of colour and light.

There is, nevertheless, a looming sense of tragedy in these images—emanating more from the photographer’s lens than the consciousness of the Xingu people themselves. The photographs, thus, immortalise a people whose ways are increasingly endangered. The contemporary world poses two main threats—a globalised culture that encroaches and devalues indigenous ways, and a steady ecological degradation that throws their relationship with their environment in disarray.

Audiences may, on one hand, find these images sharply contrast their own urban and globalising lives. But they also carry a strong resonance with Nepalis, as much of our cultural and religious history is also tied to our relationship with the natural world—one rapidly changing that hurls us into a kind of identity crisis.

Spirit Papers from another World reflects how integrally the space you inhabit—even in absence of notions of nation and nationality—is tied to your economy, your identity, and equally, with your notion of freedom. It is a more immediate, more elemental making of the sense of self.

Orlando Villas Boas and his brother Claudio were Brazilian activists who worked to successfully get the people and land of the Upper Xingu legally protected. Both brothers were close friends of Maureen and first introduced her to the people of this region. An excerpt from Orlando’s writings, also on display at the SAG, serves to give context to these images: “No one ignores what is happening to the indigenous population of Brazil, but in order to indicate the drama of this situation is not necessary to show only degradation and decadence. It is equally important to show the beauty, dignity and force of a culture that is being destroyed.”

Xingu: Spirit Papers from another World, as part of KIAF 2012

themed ‘Earth|Body|Mind’ , is on

display at the SAG till December 21

Posted on: 2012-12-11 08:33