Introduction: political art and visa versa
Daiara Tukano is a multifaceted, complex, and complete artist. She makes art with her body, with the colors she finds in nature’s pallet, with words from the indigenous struggle, with her activism, with her ancestry.
In her work, the canonical divisions of Western art history that, for a long time, have sought to separate artistic work and politics, do not persist. Nor do the colonial classifications that have tried to imprison indigenous art in subcategories like “handicrafts” or “naive” art.
What is more, Daiara makes art with politics and vice versa. The beauty of the aesthetic form dialogs with and expands on current issues. When faced with her works, we are summoned to defend the environment and forest, to see through eyes that turn away from so-called Western progress, inviting us to other worlds and worldviews.
Everything in Daiara Tukano’s work germinates. Roots, trees, nature rebelling against the destruction imposed by Western logic, lights that form multiple chromatic kaleidoscopes, the trace of the naturalist that finally dialogs with nature’s living beings.
Daiara Tukano also brings experiences of plural feminism into her art. From the logic of sowing the earth, of bringing light with her, of respecting the forests and becoming part of them.
The artist is also generous with her mediums, experimenting with India ink, acrylic paint, weaving, and feathers. Her work Kahtiri Ēõrõ [Mirror of Life] is less a nostalgic reference, more a mark of the present, of rituals no longer at the service of curious, foreign eyes — national or international — finally returning to their true territories and communities.
Daiara experiments with and makes re-readings of the many Western artistic traditions now emancipated in indigenous terms. There are references in her work to a naturalist convention, to a contemporary art and a time without time, to strong colors and the enchanted. Everything is read and re-read based on new models that originally came from a people with their own concept of beauty, the Hori.
Like signs of new times, Daiara Tukano’s works do not respect simple frontiers: they introduce the contemporary indigenous path and, as such, without being a manifesto, become translations and re-readings.
A conversation with Daiara
I met Daiara Tukano in action.
I saw her working, totally immersed in action, amid the interior stairways in the pompous and academic Teatro Municipal de São Paulo. Everything took place in the heavy year that was 2022.
Actually, Daiara had invaded the institution, which is so closely linked to São Paulo whiteness and has always focussed on just one art: Western.
The artist had brought a long roll of kraft paper and, with her red porous pen, drew an immense snake, the mistress of so many senses and enchantments. The snake climbed up and took over the staircases, made of marble and copper and covered in burgundy carpet, immediately imposing itself on these supposedly “noble” materials. Now, it was the snake that was noble, condemning the violence committed against indigenous societies, so often forgotten.
Around that time, Pedro Meira, Jaime Lauriano, and I invited her to take part in the exhibition Contramemória [Countermemory], the first at the Teatro Municipal since the famous and contentious Semana de Arte Moderna de 22.
Daiara understood the challenge and expanded on it: it was a question of disputing the meaning of the modern in that iconic space, so closely linked to that Semana de Arte, and imagining other independences, beyond the banks of the Ipiranga.
Not only did the artist’s snake take over the staircases but, in her recorded voice, Daiara Tukano summoned those who entered the enclosure. She sang: “ —Breathe, breathe.” All very slowly, in a way that imposed her beautiful, deep song, in a tone of voice that was both sweet and incisive.
I will never forget Daiara’s voice or the message that she brought to us at that time. Right in the center of São Paulo — the center of this heavily polluted city, which is always in a rush and, therefore, rarely breathes — the artist asked and made everything stop. A pause necessary for reflection.
I also met Daiara at the Museu Nacional da República, in Brasilia — where she now shows this new exhibition.
Instead of simply “delivering” a ready, finished work, Daiara stayed with us. Brasil futuro: as formas da democracia [Future Brazil: Forms of Democracy] was an exhibition created in fifteen days, recognizing the urgency and joy of the new government that took office on the 1st of January 2023. Daiara accompanied us throughout the whole installation process, revolutionizing the role reserved for the artist, who, very often, participates in the exhibitions but not in the logic or process that makes them.
With her presence, Daiara contaminated us with the beauty of her work, with the force of her activism, the emotion of her affection. The painting became one of the symbols of the exhibition, with its Amerindian matriarch in close dialog with the Candomblé matriarchs in Djanira da Motta e Silva’s canvas Orixás.
Not content with that, Daiara even made a beautiful frame for the work, with sayings recalling the ancient wisdom and struggles of indigenous peoples.
Finally, the artist lit the whole show with a projection of enchanted beings onto the famous domed ceiling of Niemeyer’s museum, which, in turn, is a symbol of Brasilia and of a modernity that has never spoken for all of us.
This year, I invited Daiara to take part in an exhibition at the Museu do Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF), which aimed to revisit the barbarity of the 8th of January 2023, but with art. A lot of art, especially by those who have been distanced from this circuit for a long time.
And there she was, with her work/ritual. Yes, because in Daiara’s work, the ritual is part of the process of making paintings, sculptures, performances. Everything separate and together.
When the individual is collective and visa versa.
All these cases intend to highlight the urgency of Daiara’s work. An art of urgency in the face of indigenous works that have for so long been silenced and erased, kept absent from art museums and institutions. An art of urgency confronted with the indigenous cause, of those whose land and rights have been constantly undermined. An art of urgency because of the themes, colors, and enchantment imprinted in the strong, original, and tremendously beautiful aesthetic forms.
Because that is Daiara’s work: made of many layers of meaning, of unexpectedly combined aesthetics, of colors that escape the more traditional pallet, of personal and collective motives. In the end, in her work, collective wisdom becomes individual and vice versa, creating new artistic forms that have no reason to limit themselves to the increasingly strict so-called canons of Western history.
Daiara’s exhibition is an expression of indigenous art in contemporary times, as defined by Naine Terena, making art that is sublimely universal. A universal indigenous art, an indigenous universal art.
Porto Alegre, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
São Paulo, Brazil
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil