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Indepth Arts News:

"Vanishing Worlds: Art and Ritual in Amazonia"
2005-05-25 until 2005-08-21
Cantor Arts Center Stanford University
Stanford, CA, USA United States of America

Some of the world’s oldest cultures have survived in the Amazon River basin and are among the last in the New World to retain their centuries-old, pre-conquest traditions and rituals. From May 25 to August 21, 2005, the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University presents an exhibition that celebrates ceremonies and rites of passage unique to these people. "Vanishing Worlds: Art and Ritual in Amazonia" showcases rare works that are the surviving expressions of these cultures.

"Using brilliantly colored feathers of some 40 species, including parrots, macaws, and herons, the Amazonian Indians create objects that call upon a range of physical and magical forces — forces integral to their conception of the environment around them, as well as the universe as a whole," said Manuel Jordán Pérez, who is the Cantor Arts Center's curator for the arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. "Until recent years, the exquisite artistry of these ritual objects was virtually unknown outside of ethnographic and anthropological circles. We are pleased to be able to bring these works to the Bay Area to share with the public."

The artwork, which is directly linked to rituals and ceremonies central to the life of the Amazon tribes, offers insights into the natural, historical, and cultural heritage of the Americas. The exhibition showcases an array of more than 150 pieces: ritual objects, including full body costumes, masks, feather headdresses, and body ornaments, as well as domestic and utilitarian pieces such as basketry, weapons, pottery, and textiles.

The exhibition highlights eight tribal groups in areas that range from the Atlantic coast of Brazil to the foothills of the Andes in Peru and Ecuador. Prior to European exploration in 1500, some 3 to 5 million people lived in the Amazon River basin. Today, fewer than 100,000 Amazonian tribal people survive in an area that covers 2.5 million square miles. While most of the peoples represented by artifacts in this exhibition are still in existence, the vast majority of the tribes of the Amazon have disappeared. The unique and fragile works in "Vanishing Worlds" reflect the threatened existence of their creators, as well as the crisis of the rainforest environment in which they were made.

“These pieces are an art form by themselves, but for the Amazon Indian, they also fulfill an extremely important function,” explained Dirk Van Tuerenhout, curator of anthropology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. “When they are done with an object, they discard it in the forest; this is how most of these pieces were collected. The Amazon Indians look at their heritage in a very utilitarian way. . . . These pieces are extremely rare. This puts the burden on us to make sure this collection is preserved and shared for many generations to come.”

The Houston Museum of Natural Science organized the exhibition, which premieres at Stanford then will travel to other U.S. venues, to be announced. A catalogue with more than 100 color reproductions accompanies the exhibition and is available in the Cantor Arts Center Bookshop. The exhibition and related programming at Stanford are made possible by the Phyllis Wattis Program Fund.

Kayapó-Mekragnoti cultural group
Brazil Headdress worn by men during ceremonies
20th century
Vegetal fibers, feathers
Collection of Houston Museum of Natural Science

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