Instituto Experimental Tropical del Amazonas
18th Street Arts Center, Atrium Gallery , February 24 – May 19, 2018
“Learning from the (imagined) archive…” Giulia Lamoni, Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture, Lamoni Giulia, UC Press, 2022
“An Imagined Feminist Art School…,” Hyperallergic, Abe Ahn, May 14, 2018
“Imaginária, feminista e na Amazônia,” Luana Fortes, Revista Select, May 6, 2018
“Como é a instalação que imagina uma escola de arte feminista na Amazônia,” Juliana Domingos de Lima, Nexo Journal, May 2018
The archive-installation and manifesto of the Instituto (Manifesto de Coco) were activated through a performance by Corey Fogel and Abigail Levine, titled Coconut Experiment #1, on May 19, 2018, during 18th Street Arts’ Pico Block Party event.
ABOUT THE INSTALLATION
Mixed media installation with ink, texts, photos, jute fabric, string, handmade tropical fiber paper, Bixa Orellana spice, coconuts and human placenta print.
This installation presents an organic archive of the Instituto Experimental Tropical del Amazonas, an imagined experimental art school that operated in the Amazon rainforest between 1935 and 1942. Run by a team of feminist artists with a communal spirit, the Instituto’s members studied the properties of rich tropical materials, learning building and craft techniques with native populations (Ye’kuana and Yanomami) and setting out to re-imagine every aspect of living. The Instituto aimed to make art in concert with nature, within it and in contrast to it, through testing what we now call postcolonial, anticolonial and decolonial practices. Essential to the Instituto were the rotation of labor among the diverse group, including governance and instruction as well as a commitment to gender balance and to learning harmonious living with others, including stars, trees, rivers and rocks.
Guest speakers included artists, architects, poets, craft experts and healers, ranging from Le Corbusier presenting his designs for University City and the Ministry of Education in Brazil; Sonia Delaunay presenting her everyday living art-design philosophy; principles and symbolism workshops by Yanomami and Ye’kuana weaving experts; and artist Joaquín Torres-García discussing his budding Escuela del Sur and his Circulo y Cuadrado collaborations. Among the Instituto’s visitors, one who elicited much discussion was Oswald de Andrade, a modernist poet and author from Brazil. Andrade defined his postcolonial critique through a humorous reversal term, Antropofagia, as way to call for cultural cannibalism and a Latin American, matriarchal utopia in which cultural production is a “rite that attempts to express a mode of thinking, a vision of the world.”
This ongoing work is dedicated to the power of composite languages and to other ways of knowing; to my maternal grandmother, founder of the first co-ed literacy school in the Amazon region of Venezuela in the 40’s where she lived; and to my great aunt, whose knowledge of curative plants was lost in my family. The handmade tropical fiber paper was made by my mother, whose first memories come from the Amazon region where she was born. I also dedicate this work to the many indigenous leaders across the world who have fought to protect nature for us all. This work also acknowledges the large debt modernism owes to Indigenous practices and beliefs, and is inspired in part by the recent mapping of sprawling, pre-Columbian petroglyphs in the Amazon, a convergence of linguistic and cultural knowledge and a glimpse of indigenous cosmology.
Photo credit: Gene Ogami.