Livia Melzi — Tupi or Not Tupi


Installation, mixed media

Livia Melzi
Tupi or Not Tupi

Past: October 19 → November 27, 2022

Livia melzi 4 1 grid Interview Livia Melzi, Le grand voyage visuel A l’occasion de son exposition Tupi or not tupi au Palais de Tokyo, l’artiste Livia Melzi analyse l’imaginaire brésilien forgé par les Européens et son antithèse indigène telle qu’elle circule depuis des siècles de façon inattendue sous une série de manteaux Tupinamba détenus par une poignée de grands musées occidentaux.

Livia Melzi offers a visual investigation of the representation of Tupinambá cloaks originally used in anthropophagic rituals by the Tupi warrior tribes who lived along the Brazilian coast. In doing so, she sheds light on the discourses constructed around these objects, which are today relegated to the reserves of European museums, whilst at the same time bringing together French arts de la table with anthropophagy.

Livia Melzi’s practice centres on the archive, on memory and on the construction of identity from quasi-documentary images. She uses photography to interrogate the mechanisms that underpin the production, conservation and circulation of images. Her various projects, that have investigated subjects from the little-known figure of Hercules Florence (a pioneer of photography in Brazil) to the construction of European museum collections, all look at the history and the place of representations inherited from the colonial era.

In 2018, she began a research project around Tupinamba cloaks, which originated from the Tupi warrior tribes who were decimated following their first contacts with Europeans in the 16th century. Today, the descendants of the Tupi survive in the threatened rainforests of the Amazon. Only eight of these cloaks, which were originally used for anthropophagic rituals and subsequently brought to Europe in the 17th century, exist today, locked away in the reserves of seven European institutions: Musée du Quai Branly (France), Musée du Cinquantenaire (Belgium), Museum der Kulturen (Switzerland), Nationalmuseet (Denmark), Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Italy), Museo di Etnografia di Firenze (Italy), Basilica di San Lorenzo (Italy). Livia Melzi proposes here a visual investigation of the representation of these artefacts in European collections, highlighting the museological devices used to display them as well as the discourses constructed around them.

For the Palais de Tokyo, she develops a project in several stages:

On June 1st 2022, she took part in the seminar “Indigeneity, Hybridity, Anthropophagy (II)”, organised in partnership with the École normale supérieure (Paris). In this context, Livia Melzi and Eduardo Jorge de Oliveira (Professor of Brazilian studies at the Seminar of Romance Studies of the University of Zurich) proposed a walk guided by Oswald de Andrade’s Manifesto Antropófago (1928) in order to weave a thread between the Tupi cloak present in the reserves of the Quai Branly Museum and historical exhibitions such as Cartes et Figures de la Terre (Centre Pompidou, 1980), Magiciens de la terre (Grande Halle de la Villette and Centre Pompidou, 1989) and more recently Reclaim the Earth (Palais de Tokyo, 2022).

The artist also organizes a banquet in collaboration with the Brazilian Embassy in Paris, inviting representatives of the contemporary Brazilian art scene to recreate a symbolic anthropophagic ritual. This banquet is recorded in a film that is subsequently be presented in the exhibition.

The exhibition links these first interventions with a set of tapestries inspired by the book Grands Voyages: America Tertia Pars, published in 1592. The engravings illustrating this book depicted indigenous people as barbaric, dangerous and cannibalistic warriors. The Americae was published in thirteen volumes between 1590 and 1634. Its author, Theodore de Bry, never left Europe. The title of the exhibition originates from the famous manifesto that became the founding concept of Brazilian modernist thought, in which Oswald de Andrade wrote: “Tupi or not Tupi, that is the question”. This emblematic quote (in English in the text), is as much a celebration of the Tupi and their ritual practices as it is a metaphorical example of cannibalism: de Andrade text “eats” Shakespeare whole with this pun on Hamlet.

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13, av. du Président Wilson

75016 Paris

T. 01 81 97 35 88

Alma – Marceau

Opening hours

Every day except Tuesday, noon – midnight
Closed on tuesday

Admission fee

Full rate €12.00 — Concessions €9.00

Free admission under 18 years-old, job seekers, those in receipt of income support…

Venue schedule

The artist

  • Livia Melzi