Image from a poster depicting a toucan at the new exhibition, "Imaginary Amazon," at the University of San Diego, featuring works by contemporary artists, many of them Indigenous inhabitants of the Amazon. 

‘Imaginary Amazon’ exhibition counters negative stereotypes through contemporary art

University Art Gallery at San Diego State University has just unveiled an exhibit, “The Imaginary Amazon,” featuring works by contemporary artists, many of them Indigenous inhabitants of the forest. The artists’ intent is to address some of the stereotypical Western perspectives of the Amazon.

The sounds of the Amazon echo through an exhibition called “The Imaginary Amazon,” newly launched at the University Art Gallery on the campus of San Diego State University. 

The exhibition features artwork by contemporary artists, many of whom are Indigenous inhabitants of the forest. Their intent is to address some of the stereotypical Western perspectives of the Amazon.

“Terrazo Vajo,” 2020, made by the artist Abel Rodríguez, from Colombia. Marco Werman/The World

The exhibition reminds viewers of the Amazon’s mass expanse — it’s roughly the size of the United States’ lower 48 states. And it has an equally large hold over many people’s imaginations.

“All different kinds of groups of people have different images of what the Amazon means,” curator Gillian Sneed said, adding that a lot of those images are based on stereotypes and unflattering perspectives trafficked for centures by the so-called Global North.

The exhibition hopes to be a counterweight to those inaccurate portrayals. 

A poster displayed at
A poster displayed at “The Imaginary Amazon,” an exhibition at the University of San Diego featuring works by contemporary artists who hope to address some of the stereotypical Western perspectives of the Amazon.Marco Werman/The World

“There are other kinds of imaginaries, the imaginaries of the Indigenous people who live there, their cosmologies of how they see the world or their ritual belief systems.”

Gillian Sneed, curator, University Art Gallery, University of San Diego, California 

“There are other kinds of imaginaries, the imaginaries of the Indigenous people who live there, their cosmologies of how they see the world or their ritual belief systems,” Sneed said.

Top:
Top: “Ushipi Fruits.” Bottom: “River’s Banks.” Both works are acrylic on paper, made by the artist Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe, from Venezuela.

The art exhibit offers social commentary on depictions of the Amazon throughout history.

In 1941, Walt Disney famously traveled to Brazil, where he met an accomplished illustrator named Jota Carlos, who had created a parrot character with human traits. Disney returned to Hollywood and introduced his character, José Carioca, a kind of “man about town” parrot from Brazil.

Brazilian artist Sergio Allevato deals with Disney’s plagiarism through his own portrayal of parrots, painted on earthy linen to stay true to the actual fauna of the Brazilian Amazon, he said.

His portraits are more Audubon than Disney, reversing some of the negative stereotypes that came with the Carioca character, who was portrayed as having a “bad personality,” and was “unfaithful,” Allevato explained.

“Papagaida,” from the series BraZil, 2019, oil on linen, by the artist Sergio Allevato, from Brazil. Marco Werman/The World

“Parrots are intrinsically connected to Brazilian history.”

Sergio Allevato, artist, Brazil

“Parrots are intrinsically connected to Brazilian history,” Allevato added. The Portugese called Brazil “the land of the parrots,” or — terra papa gali. Allevato said these parrots were taken by the thousands to Europe, and were exploited.

“That’s all folks!” from the series BraZil, oil on linen, 2021, by the artist Sergio Allevato, from Brazil. Marco Werman/The World

Allevato said he wants to make clear that the “The Imaginary Amazon” show is not just about how people who live in the Amazon see their world. It’s really about the rest of us.

It’s about being together, everybody together, fighting for the whole planet. That’s it,” he said. 

Gillian Sneed and Sergio Allevato stand together at
Gillian Sneed and Sergio Allevato stand together at “Imaginary Amazon,” an exhibition at the University Art Gallery at San Diego State University.Marco Werman/The World

“The Imaginary Amazon” will be on display at San Diego State University’s art gallery until May. 

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