Conversation between Luiz Camillo Osorio and Glicéria Tupinambá

Read the conversation between Luiz Camillo Osorio, PIPA Institute’s curator, and Glicéria Tupinambá, one of the Awarded Artists of PIPA Prize 2023:

1 – How did you develop yourself as an artist? What does it mean, to you, to identify yourself as an artist?

I have always taught in the community I grew up in, and the classes I taught were always linked to art, culture, and the community’s religious beliefs. So this community already considered me an artist, before outsiders did. This acknowledgment happens when, in 2020, I begin making the Tupinambá mantle for cacique Babau, and professor Jurema asks me to participate in a class she is teaching. Jurema Machado, a teacher from Cachoeira, in Bahia, asks me to participate via Instagram, showing what is being done in my community, and I show her the mantle, its confection and applications… After that, she asks me to send her a video of it, and I make a video explaining the matter of feather art and the weaving of the mantle. And they have a program, a project through which, later on, they informed me that I had been awarded the “De um outro céu” [“From another sky”] prize, and had won two thousand Brazilian reais from it. Another possibility arose from “De um outro céu”, in 2021, which was to run for the Funarte award. That was when I started participating in this world, and that’s when my recognition as an artist came. I have been acting towards it, especially because I wasn’t familiar with this language where communication reaches people much faster and on a broader scale. So it was a mechanism of struggle, actually, empowering myself with these tools and this language.

And so, in this sense, I take on the role of the artist to give visibility to the struggle of the territory, so that it reaches museums, undertaking this journey, this path. This is why, today, I sign as an artist.

2 – Contemporary indigenous art has been gaining increasing relevance in the Brazilian scene. How do you see this growth, and to what extent does this contribute to the recognition of ancestral practices that have, for years, been forgotten and undervalued? Is there a chance this integration, in the context of contemporary art, could mischaracterize this work, causing it to lose its specificity? 

The matter of this recognition today by the arts, getting to know indigenous practices, this category of contemporary art connected to cosmotechnique… Here, I’ll address my own work, which is related to the cosmos, which is linked to the dream, which in turn interacts as a deep listening, a more sensitive way of listening, which I don’t see as the ability brought into my work. The work is related to the context of this technique, this cosmotechnique linked to action which we now understand as a technique that was dormant, we didn’t quite understand what we had in our hands, what we had within our territory, our community, especially among us women. I believe it is not the same as what contemporary art proposes, because many people, many artists reach this field, but it’s seldomly artists that live within this territory, within this community. For these artists, reaching this contemporary artistic medium is not easy, they don’t have access to it. Generally, the people who have access are in the São Paulo-Rio de Janeiro circuit.

3 – There is currently a debate on the devolution, by Denmark, of one of the Tupinambá mantles to the Museu Nacional [National Museum in Rio de Janeiro]. Regardless of the sense of justice ingrained in this gesture, what does this mean to a Tupinambá artist, an heir to this history and tradition, who has been, for some time now, reviving the crafting of the Mantos [mantles]?

This journey alongside museums, with this listening that was established with our partners, so that the mantle’s own wish to return came true… We deal with a language that involves a sensible communication, in this case responding to the request of the spirits to bring the mantle back home, to its territory. In this sense, there is a much deeper meaning, which is the presence of a god on Earth, and people consider it to be art. And it is a simple technique, but it doesn’t consist only of a making, it isn’t craftsmanship, it goes way beyond crafts. I believe this word, “craft”, impoverishes its greatness, because it isn’t restricted to crafting with one’s hands; it also involves this whole aspect that encompasses nature, birds… It’s about building a whole atmosphere, and creating a bond between all these elements that establish a communication between this world and an invisible one. So we’re not only talking about an inheritance that is returning, or about the partnership with the Danish museum, this understanding. It’s very important when partners join in this struggle, and there’s this recognition and a language that people understand, and that would be the artistic aspect. I am giving back to my people this strength that is still within this process, of the organization of the Tupinambá self-governance.

That means, for me, for the territory and for future generations of my people, that there is a story with a beginning, middle, and end, that they can give continuity to, understanding the process of the Tupinambá society and the self-governance and governance of the mantles, through the mantles, and the Tupinambá assojaba. So, for me, it means being immeasurable, since there’s no way to describe or measure this relationship, this cosmotechnique. 

4 – In this practice of “reviving” the Tupinambá mantles, reinventing an ancestral craft, I notice a relationship with time that is very different to that sustained by contemporary art. For instance, our obsession with originality is irrelevant. It’s as if the new and the timeless take on a complicity that for us, modern Westerners, would be unthinkable due to the very contradiction of the terms. It’s as if your creative gesture isn’t only yours, but is shared by a whole ancestral world which renews and updates itself through that gesture. How do you perceive that?

This practice, I see it as an awakening of the mantles, because, in the Tupinambá self-governance, these are celestial mantles, so I understand them as god on Earth. So if I call this weaving a cosmotechnique, it’s because it doesn’t come from me, I have no control over it. It surpasses human control. It comes to me in dreams, in this vastness, the singing of the birds, the participation of women in the community, in the hands of children who come to me and hand over a feather. This creation is a collective one that encompasses all this vastness. Instead of pressure or demand, there is a sensitive, enlarging listening. That is where I realize that in this making, this awakening, of understanding the command and self-governance through the Tupinambá mantles, which is something that had never been studied, no one ever tried to understand what the role of these mantles was. Nowadays, we have the conditions to understand all that, through cosmotechnique, we can understand and recover our culture, figuring out the mantles’ social role. Today, people see it as contemporary art, but I see way beyond that. It doesn’t fit within any of these languages, but it’s the language we have to express a more human understanding, more present, which is connected to what is classified as contemporary art. But what one should understand from the mantles is that there is a self-governance, which is formed by three layers, which are the three shamans, the four caciques and the six women that, in rituals, hold the use of the mantle. So here you have a command, a self-governance, that deliberates over the people. It’s not art. But within this format, people can see the artistic aspect of it.

The mantle, the weaving of the mantle, is born from my hands, but the whole community signs it, because everyone and everything participates in its making. So the space, the weaving of the mantle, isn’t individual. It is collective, and will always be so, because no one weaves a mantle by themselves. You can’t weave a mantle by yourself because you rely on others: from the collecting of feathers, who will deliver them to you, the path they cross, all those steps. I see it as a collective art. Since us, indigenous communities, are always working collectively, it never goes through a personal space, but a collective one, built by the hands of all of us.

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