Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Amazonian Studies Workshop

February 21, 2019

As a continuation of the Sawyer Seminar programming, a workshop entitled “The Once and Future Amazon: New Horizons in Amazonian Studies” took place from February 21-24 organized by the John Carter Brown Library and CLACS. This workshop, co-convened by Neil Safier (John Carter Brown Library, Brown University), Camila Dias (University of Campinas), and Mark Harris (University of Saint Andrews), brought together leading scholars in Amazonian studies. The workshop featured multidisciplinary approaches from history, archaeology, literature, and anthropology to discuss the past and future of scholarship on Amazonia. Participants from across the globe included Marta Amoroso (University of São Paulo), Cândida Barros (Museu Goeldi), Jeremy Campbell (Roger Williams University), Carlos Fausto (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, National University), Eduardo Neves (University of São Paulo), Heather Roller (Colgate University), and Lucia Sá (University of Manchester). They convened at Brown to discuss these urgent questions and to share their latest research.


The public panel entitled “Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Patrimony: Lessons from Brazil” addressed the destruction and rebuilding of the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro with reflections by scholars and museum practitioners working closely with the museum. Presentations addressed the significance of the fire for cultural patrimony, the relationships of indigenous peoples and their heritage, the confidence that people put in the protection of cultural resources, and how scholars think about the museum. Presenters reflected on questions of colonialism and museum collecting, the role of material objects and the work of recontextualization, on the responsibilities of a museum and the possibilities for rebuilding. The panel included presentations by Carlos Fausto, Eduardo Neves, and Louise Ribeiro Cardoso de Mello and was moderated by Bob Preucel.


The following evening featured a lecture by Lúcia Sá entitled “Radical Decoloniality of Brazilian Indigenous Contemporary Art.” In this talk, Sá presented her research with the Brazilian indigenous artists Jaider Esbell and Denilson Baniwa. She argued that their emphasis on individual authorship as indigenous artists is a fairly recent trend that can be understood as a praxis of decoloniality. These artists’ choices to sign their work as individuals is also a political gesture identifying themselves as indigenous artists. The lecture also analyzed the complex, multidimensional decoloniality of these artists through their commentary on white Brazilian culture and state violence against indigenous peoples, and their uses elements of indigenous cultures, media integrating materials characteristic of Western art, as well as social media, performances and installations.


Participants also made use of the unique resources available at Brown to advance their respective projects. Participants consulted books and maps from the collection of the John Carter Brown Library as relevant for their research in the Amazon. They also visited the Collections Research Center of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology in Bristol, RI. While there, they met with director Bob Preucel and curators Thierry Gentis and Kevin Smith who showed materials from the Kaxinawa collection. This collection was donated to Brown by Kenneth Kensinger in the 1970s and offers a unique opportunity to consider the material culture of eastern Amazonian Peru.


The final evening featured open presentations in which workshop participants took turns presenting their recent and developing research. Presentations showcased the interdisciplinary character of this workshop with speakers discussing current projects from the standpoints of historical, literary, anthropological, linguistic, and archaeological research.