Denilson Baniwa: Indigenous artist fusing native references with non-native to communicate the thinking and struggle of his people in Brazil

Visual artist Denilson Baniwa is using art to communicate the thinking and struggle of indigenous people in Brazil and around the world today by mixing traditional and contemporary indigenous references with western, non-indigenous references throughout his artworks.

Denilson Baniwa of the Baniwa indigenous people uses canvas, installations, digital media and performances to highlight the experience of being indigenous in present times.

A native of the Rio Negro in the Brazilian Amazon, the artist, who currently resides in Niterói, incorporates graphics, animals and references to Baniwa life and cosmology with western cultural references such as pop art, Hollywood, and “popular” culture.

Among his artworks are iconic images of Mona Lisa and Queen Elizabeth II with tribal markings. He illustrates the coming together of native with non-native species in a colourful artwork, entitled Diabetes, where a young indigenous man is drinking a can of Coca Cola, highlighting the harm caused through non-native things including products and people.

As a youth, Denilson Baniwa engaged in the struggle for the rights of indigenous peoples and moved through the non-indigenous universe, seizing references that would strengthen their resistance.

His artworks always highlight the plight of indigenous people and animals, including the jaguar, and the artist also uses his art to highlight the damage being caused by the likes of agribusiness and the current Brazilian president Bolsonaro’s position on mining on indigenous lands.

In a digital media performance entitled Azougue 80, the artist eats artificial fishing lures from a plate next to a glass full of mercury (called azougue in Portuguese), the poisonous metal used in gold prospecting that contaminates rivers, including those in the Yanomami indigenous territory. In the background, there’s a soundtrack of Bolsonaro chatting with someone, praising gold prospecting and comparing it to fishing.

In an interview with IHU, Denilson Baniwa said: “We are living in that time where the destruction of human beings is very likely, because we are destroying everything that we find ahead: the oceans full of garbage, the forests that have become lifeless pastures, the polluted cities, the diseases that are derived from the style current life, the violence caused by the maintenance of power.

“It is likely that this world will end soon, if we are not more aware. The good news is that right after the destruction, there will be a renewal where the world itself will heal itself, because the world’s poison is the human being, where all sorts of evil resides.”

Images Credit: Denilson Baniwa

Denilson Baniwa

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyles including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at

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