Toward a Minor Curating
: The Representation of Amazonian Indigenous Cultures in Art and Anthropological Exhibitions (1984-2010)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis examines the representation of Amazonian indigenous cultures in both art and ethnographic exhibitions through a comparative analysis of case studies of temporary exhibitions that took place between the 1980s and 2010s. It draws primarily on archival research carried out in London (British Museum), Paris (Centre Pompidou and Musée du Quai Branly), New York (Museum of Modern Art) and São Paulo (Fundação Bienal de São Paulo and MASP), and it has as a main focus instances of exhibitions taking place in ‘major’ institutions (ethnographic museums, art museums and art biennials). The research is informed by a broader theoretical discussion that emerged in the 1980s concerning a general ‘crisis of representation’, as well as the emergence of theoretical debates focused on the idea of ‘decolonising’ or ‘indigenising’ the museum, proposing the development of collaborations with indigenous communities in the organisation of exhibitions. In this same decade, controversies around exhibitions, and the development of a new field of studies specifically concerned with exhibitions, also helped to raise reflexivity and elicit change in exhibition practices. The thesis proposes an inquiry on how these discussions (and controversies) that emerged in the 1980s inflected on exhibition practices in the following decades, focusing particularly on how ‘major’ institutions have responded to these theoretical debates. The results of the research show that the exhibitions analysed in the thesis have contributed in different ways towards redefining pre-conceived ideas about Amazonian indigenous cultures. In art exhibitions, the main shifts are related to an unintended and unprecedented acknowledgement of the impact of ethnographic objects on the development of modern art, the presentation of indigenous peoples as contemporary with industrialised societies, and the questioning of an ethnocentric Euro-American art history in favour of more fragmentary and site-specific narratives. In ethnographic exhibitions, the main shifts are related to the presentation of Amazonian indigenous populations as deriving from complex ancient societies with sophisticated artistic styles, as well as having a deeper history occupation and profound knowledge and sustainable management of the environment, which were drawn from recent archaeological research. Additionally, the advancement of contemporary anthropological theories concerned with indigenous knowledge and cosmology (e.g. animism and perspectivism) opened the way for the use of indigenous concepts and categories as guiding principles in the organisation of exhibitions. Despite these contributions, none of the exhibitions discussed in the thesis proposed more direct modes of engagement with indigenous peoples, redistributed curatorial authorship, or gave them the chance to make decisions about how they wanted to be presented in exhibitions. The research also suggests that practice has fallen behind the theory and discourse that emerged in the 1980s, and that most ‘major’ institutions or museums within Europe, the United States and Brazil are still only marginally engaging with Amazonian indigenous peoples in the organisation of exhibitions. The thesis advances the concept of ‘minor curating’ as a strategy to potentiate access of indigenous peoples to historical collections held by major institutions and to facilitate the development of cultural projects with these collections led by indigenous peoples and in ways that are culturally, historically and politically effective for the indigenous communities themselves.
Date of Award1 Jan 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorLuis Rebaza-Soraluz (Supervisor) & David Treece (Supervisor)

Cite this