Conquest and the Treason of Images

Conquest and the Treason of Images

America: Bride of the Sun (Ver America)

America: Bride of the Sun – 500 years, Latin America and the Low Countries was a ‘blockbuster’ exhibition held at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, in May 1992. It was a curatorial collaboration between the Museum’s antiquities scholar, Paul Vandenbroeck, and Catherine de Zegher, then director of Kanaal, a small not-for-profit art centre in Kortrijk, South Belgium. At the time it received only modest press coverage, and yet it presented a unique model of intercultural and cross-temporal curatorial practice.

1992 was the quincentenary of the so-called ‘discovery’ or the ‘conquest’ of the Americas by Columbus under the Spanish crown.(2) As we know, Columbus landed on the Caribbean island he named Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic and Haiti, thinking he was in India. His obsession for renaming the geography, starting with the names of Spanish royalty, is significant because, as Tzvetan Todorov points out (in The Conquest of America), naming is an act of possession. The first ‘modern’ European to set foot on the South American mainland at what is now Venezuela and Brazil was the Florentine cartographer Amerigo Vespucci, under the flag of Portugal, 1499-1502, and he named the continent after himself – ‘America’. As Charles Merewether notes in the exhibition catalogue, ‘Defined by being named in the words of the Other makes Latin America other than itself.’(3) Naming is the first act of violence, and it inaugurates the most protracted genocide and ethnocide in modern history.

From the outset, indigenous peoples were pawns in a propaganda war between European Catholics and Protestants for political control of both religion and commerce. The extent to which this conflict was waged through images was the point of departure of Bride of the Sun. The aim of the exhibition was, firstly, to demonstrate that, how Europeans represented the indigenous peoples in both Europe and the Americas had less to do with native realities than with a Byzantine labyrinth of European fantasy and religious bigotry, woven with political and economic competition for land, gold and other profitable natural resources. The exhibition’s extended aim was to suggest correspondences with the 20th century.

The exhibition title ‘Bride of the Sun’ had the unfortunate connotation of feminising the colonised, a typical European colonial strategy, as Edward Said remarked (in Orientalism) in reference to the Middle East. But it was the museum authorities that insisted upon this title. The curators’ preferred title was ‘Ver America’, where ‘ver’ in Flemish means ‘distant’ and in Spanish and Portuguese means ‘to see’, and was intended to suggest something that eluded both focus and translation. ‘Ver America’ survives in the catalogue as the title of the exchange between Catherine de Zegher and Benjamin Buchloh, and is the title I shall henceforth use here

The exhibition was extremely complex and therefore difficult to summarise. So this presentation begins with a few notes on its context before attempting to weave together some of its themes.

Exhibition Context

The discourses that framed Ver America included the influence on postmodernism of continental philosophy – particularly writings by Michel Foucault on the institution and by Roland Barthes on the image; feminist theory; and an emergent postcolonial theory, all of which challenged the Enlightenment premises upon which a privileged white male western civilisation and modernism had been constructed. By 1992, the elitism of the western art system was already faltering in the face of political activism, internally from women and ethnic minorities, and externally from nations struggling to emerge from the legacies of colonialism, in particular Latin America. By the 1990s New York had lost its hegemony; non-Euro-American ‘others’ were insisting on inclusion into the art system, although one could interpret their modest ‘success’ as the status quo revitalising itself without, however, surrendering control. Over the course of the decade, ‘inclusion’ resulted in a parade of exhibitions staged in western public institutions entitled ‘New Art from Cuba, …from India, …from China’, and so on.

To contextualise Ver America in terms of exhibition history one needs to look briefly at prior blockbusters that included artistic practices by non-Euro-American ‘others’. The first exhibition to note is ‘Primitivism’ in Twentieth Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, at MoMA, New York, 1984. It was severely criticised in a notable exchange between the curators and Thomas McEvilley, published in Artforum,(4) for its outdated Euro-American-centrism and fallacious categorisation. Problems included:

  1. 1.The assumption that so-called ‘tribal’ arts were primitive, culturally stagnant, or of little intrinsic value except to ethnographers, and made by anonymous makers.
  2. 2*. The assumption that ‘true art’ was western, the rest was ritual artefact and therefore categorised as ‘ethnographic’ – as if Western religious painting were not…
  3. 3.The notion of ‘affinity’ between the tribal and the modern suggested a coincidental correspondence between modernist and tribal arts, or at best, ‘inspiration’, rather than outright appropriation of the others’ aesthetic forms by Europeans. It was a failure to understand that contact between diverse cultures produces mutual exchange and creative transformation.

The second exhibition of note is Magiciens de la Terre, 1989, at the Georges Pompidou Centre and La Villette, Paris. The curator Jean-Hubert Martin had originally planned an exhibition of Australian Aboriginal art. But following the criticism of Primitivism, he rethought Magiciens as an exhibition of 50 western artists and 50 ‘others’. One might be suspicious that the curator employed anthropologists and ethnographers as advisers. However, Magiciens sought to avoid the errors of Primitivism through postmodern relativism: all contributors were named and placed equally. However, this was not a level playing field either.(5)The western artists selected were mostly established gallery artists, whilst the majority of ‘others’ were folkloric or popular artists, thereby ignoring modernist artists in those geographies. The (suspect) rationale was that authentic ‘other’ art could not be modernist as this was the exclusive property of the European. This seriously damaged the reception of African modernism for a further ten years. Finally, giving all artists equivalence elided the economic and political inequalities in the relative local conditions of artists and in the relations between the West and the Rest.

The third exhibition of note is Mexico: Splendors of 30 Centuries, at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1990. It was officially sanctioned by the Mexican government and cannot be divorced from its political context. Since 1986 Mexico, Canada and the US had been negotiating the NAFTA agreement, finally signing in 1992; from this perspective the exhibition was a PR exercise. About the exhibition the Museum’s director, Philippe de Montebello, wrote: ‘Few societies can boast such an unbroken cultural life marked by such a high level of creativity and achievement.’ The revealing word is ‘unbroken’: it exposes the tendency of dominant settler cultures to appropriate indigenous cultures into a seamless national narrative, ignoring the catastrophic ‘break’ suffered by Native peoples, and ongoing neo/colonial violence against them. As Jimmie Durham once said: ‘at some point, during the night, the Lone Ranger ate Tonto’; meaning, that the settler selectively absorbed into its own identity that of the colonised indigenous American – exactly the cannibalism that the first European ‘explorers’ had attributed to American Indians.

Splendors was preceded in 1989 by an exhibition in the Hayward Gallery, London, entitled Art in Latin America, curated by Dawn Ades. It attempted to define ‘a Latin American aesthetic’, dating from 1850 – the modern, decolonising era – to the present. It is unclear who wrote the catalogue; but it lacked political consciousness, especially regarding indigenous peoples, except for references to the indigenism movement by privileged Mexican artists like Diego Rivera.

By 1992, however, a new generation of Latin American critics had emerged, who sought to redefine their cultures beyond the ‘identity neurosis’ of the early 20th century reflected in Art in Latin America, when European models dominated artistic practice. A paradigmatic breakthrough came in 1992 with Ante América, a counter-North dominated exhibition on the discourses of interethnic relations. It was curated ‘from the South’ by a group of Latin American critics – Gerardo Mosquera, Rachel Weiss and Carolina Ponce de León. One-third of the artists were women; at least three of the twenty-seven participants were indigenous Americans; the catalogue writers were Latin American; and it was first staged in Colombia before being shown in the North.

We now come to Ver America, with the question: did it present an alternative curatorial paradigm? It was, again, curated ‘from the North’, with a more substantial budget than Ante América. Aside from Ante América, during 1992, most mainstream events and exhibitions celebrated the so-called ‘discovery’. However, Bride intended a more nuanced approach. If the former blockbusters were primarily descriptive or stylistic surveys, Ver America aimed to present an ambitious argument about the propaganda power of images in the historical process of conquest and religious conversion, by which it hoped to draw an analogy with the role of images in contemporary socio-political life. Hence, the exploration of intercultural relations was pivotal.

The exhibition took over Antwerp’s Royal Museum lower galleries, drawing from its collection of old masters on the upper floor. Although a ‘northern’ project, Bride commissioned catalogue entries from both European and Latin American scholars. In brief, its strategy was to centre the argument in the historical relations between Flanders and the Spanish colonies in Central and South America. The exhibits were not organised chronologically, but according to a set of themes. These looked at the Americas from Europe’s point of view in terms of conquest – religious, intellectual, economic, and sensory; and from a de/colonised Latin American perspective, reflecting on power and the role of images. Historical art and artefacts from both sides of the Atlantic were curated by Vandenbroeck; these were juxtaposed with a selection of 20th century Latin American artists working with the consequences of colonialism, curated by de Zegher.

The first two works encountered by the visitor introduced a major exhibition subtext. David Lamelas’s When the sky low and heavy, 1987-91, sited in the museum forecourt, presented a stand of young trees burdened by a metal plate, which over time would stunt growth. It alluded to the crippling exploitation of natural resources (plus the equally crippling effects of World Bank and IMF demands on the national budgets of Latin American governments). The next work encountered was Roberto Evangelista’s Resgate, 1990-92, a cluster of gourd-bowls containing water, candles and messages scattered across the foyer floor, a work I shall return to later.

The significance of Antwerp and the Low Countries

Antwerp and the Low Countries were central to the theme of the exhibition for three reasons: finance, trade and iconography. By the 16th century, Antwerp was already a major European centre for banking and commerce, illustrated by Marinus van Reymerswael’s painting, Banker and His Wife, dated early 16th century. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Catholic Flanders was under the rule of the Habsburg Spanish Crown, and religious persecution meant that Protestants mostly fled north to Holland or Germany. In addition, Antwerp became one of Spain’s principle trading ports with the Americas and the focus of Bride of the Sun.

Export of Catholicism from Antwerp

Amongst the goods shipped out of Antwerp were Catholic prints, icons and missionaries peddling religious propaganda to convert the ‘natives’ (illustrated by Antonio Astudillo’s painting Joos de Rycke Baptises an Indian, 1785). These images were often dominated by the concept of a vengeful god, which had less to do with Indian resistance than with Catholicism’s Counter-Reformation dispute with Protestantism. In Peru particularly this was brutally represented iconographically by Saint James the Moor-slayer (Santiago matamoros) – symbol of the expulsion of the Moors from Spain – now transformed into Saint James the Indian-Slayer (Santiago mataindios). Native artists were instructed to copy European models; but over time they introduced a mix of native and Catholic iconography, which was well represented in the exhibition, notably with the painting Virgen de Cerro/Mount Potosí, Bolivia, anon., 16th C, since Potosí was the centre of Spain’s silver minting.

In Mexico, religious iconography condensed onto the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, an Indianised Virgin who ‘miraculously’ appeared to a converted Native priest. This claim was undoubtedly a propagandist strategy to entice indigenous Mexicans into Catholicism, but it worked – Guadalupe is central to national ex-voto iconography, alongside the ‘bleeding heart of Mary’ motif. These ex-voto motifs were presented together in a vitrine alongside Frida Kahlo’s Apuntes y recuerdos and Gabriel Orozco’s clay sculpture Mis manos son mi corazón. The Virgin of Guadalupe, however, is the inverse image of Malinche, the Aztecan woman who was Cortés’s lover and translator, a complex relation explored in Jimmie Durham’s installation Ama, which consisted of two figures: Cortés the conquistador and Malinche the vulnerable Native woman. But this liaison between native woman and European aggressor was a recurrent trope in colonial mythography from diverse geographies. It justified colonialism by displacing the responsibility onto the body of the native woman: she becomes both native whore/betrayer and mother of the new colonial or national identity. The native woman emerges again in a painting of Latin America’s liberator from colonialism, Simón Bolívar, where he is represented as her protector (in Bolívar and Indian woman, Colombia, 1819.) The female body, as an allegory of the land and as a site of pain, loss or aggression, emerged as a recurrent motif in the work of women artists in the exhibition: Ana Mendieta’s, Silueta series, 1976-77 Frida Kahlo,s Roots, or Self-portrait on Rocky Ground, 1943, and Débora Arango’s Justicia.

Import of goods to Antwerp

There were three major categories of goods shipped into Antwerp. The primary import of value was, of course, silver and gold bullion from the mines of Peru and Mexico. In Mexico, so much gold was extracted that vast interior surfaces of some churches, like Santo Domingo in Oaxaca, were covered in gold leaf. This surplus was eventually to over-inflate the economy and cause the collapse of, first, the Flemish provinces and then Spain itself. Apparently, however, Indians valued textiles more than metals. Llama wool was the main textile from the Andes; but the Europeans all but destroyed the llama herds when they introduced European cattle. This also destroyed the vegetation: llamas cut grass, whereas cattle rip it out, which was the subject of Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña’s installation Document in Wool, 1992.

Exotic hard woods were the next most precious commodity extracted from the Americas, alluded to in Cildo Meireles’ miniature installation Cruzeiro del sul, 1969-70, consisting of a 1cm cube of pine and oak wood. Both woods were sacred to Tupi Indians as a means of producing fire; but Portuguese colonisers and Jesuit missionaries devalued their sacred meaning by converting them into primary commercial exports along with other exotic hard woods.

Last but by no means least was the import of Indian cultivated food crops, most of which have become indispensible dietary staples in Europe: potatoes, tomatoes, maize, beans, squash, cacao, peanuts, avocado, chilli peppers, cocoa for chocolate, to name a few. This Central and South American cornucopia had been the subject of many colonial era paintings (for example, Anon, follower of Zurbarán, Still Life with Chocolate Set, 17thC; Jan van Kessel, Allegory of America, 1626-79; and Dirk van Falkenburg, Still Life with Tropical Fruit, ca. 1707). Contemporary artists unsurprisingly took a more political view of this plunder (for example, Regina Vater’s, installation Green; Victor Grippo’s, Tiempo, 1991, a live sculptural expression of the energy generated from potatoes, alongside his installation Vida-Muerte-Resurrección, 1980.) The religious, political and economic exploitation of the Americas was summed up in Cildo Meireles’s installation of bones, Catholic wafers and gold coins entitled Missao, Missoes (How to Build Cathedrals), 1987.

The propaganda power of images

Flanders had a pivotal role in the production and dissemination of images. Flemish art had been central to the counter-Reformation iconographic war with Protestantism, largely through the school of Rubens – a Baroque sensibility of spectacle, illusionism and excess that dominated Latin American aesthetics until the 20th century, perhaps ironically expressed in Juan Davila’s Mexicanismo, 1990. Possibly more influential, however, was the fact that artists in the Low Countries were pioneers of observational studies in several crucial areas: cartography, natural history and trompe l’oeil still life. Map-making was vital to European exploration, a field in pre-colonial times dominated by Arab cartographers, but by the 15th century had been superseded by Flemish and Portuguese cartographers, employed by Spain, Portugal and England with clearly military objectives. Indeed, the first exhibition room of Ver America displayed maps as well as references to nautical instruments; whilst catalogue entries emphasised the importance of maps as well as navigational instruments to the colonising process. One 20th century map, however, became an icon of Latin American attempts to disengage from Northern dominance: América invertida, 1943, by Uruguayan artist Joaquin Torres García.

Illustrating and cataloguing the continent’s natural history were also a vital part of the colonial economy, especially regarding commercially valuable plants, which was demonstrated by Lobelius’s Kruydtboeck/The Herb Book, 1576. However, from the beginning of the Encounter, the most important illustrations were of the previously unknown indigenous peoples made by the first ‘explorers’, and they constitute a mix of ideology, fantasy and ignorance, which severely obfuscated the truth of American cultural sophistication. Central to the dissemination of these images was the de Bry family of Protestant engravers, who had fled from Liège to Germany during the religious persecutions in Flanders. They collated and redrew reports from every American exploration into a set of volumes, The Grand Voyages, 1590-1634. These images both confirmed existing prejudices of non-European ‘others’ and established the European perception of Indians. That is, they reflect both the fantasies of Europeans about exotic ‘others’, and the economic and political struggles between Catholics and Protestants. For example, it was widely assumed that amongst the indigenous peoples were Plinian or ‘monstrous’ races –imaginary beings already embedded in European fantasies about geographically distant ‘others’ at least since Roman times. Among the Plinian races were the Anthropophagi (cannibals). In other words, a pre-existing iconography was imposed on the Americas, and the reality was distorted to fit these preconceptions. In addition, the religious conflict compelled the De Bry’s to engage in propaganda that represented Catholic Spain as far more brutal than Protestant colonisers. The reality is, however, that the devastation of the Indian population by European genocide, slavery and diseases meant that African slaves were brought into the Americas as replacement labour.(6)

Amongst the most revealing images are, however, the title pages of the first and last editions of the De Bry volumes. The title page of 1590 shows a youthful Indian couple, reflecting the initial idea that ‘America’ was a Paradise populated by innocent natives. By 1634, however, two things had changed. Firstly, the natives had become more aggressively resistant as their life-worlds came under threat. And secondly, the competition for American resources among European colonising nations meant that to protect their acquired turf, it was expedient to represent the natives as dangerously savage. Hence, in the later title page, the indigenous couple are represented as ugly and monstrous. This becomes consistent with the depiction of Brazilian Indians such as the Tupinamba as cannibals. Because of this combination of fantasy and the distortion of truth for economic and political ends, it is impossible to credit accusations of Indian cannibalism. However, it becomes a leitmotif in the Americas, and was subsequently used by Oswald de Andrade in his 1928 Manifesto Antropófago, to outline how Brazilian aesthetics could both use and differentiate itself from the hegemonic aesthetics of the North. The Cannibalism theme resurfaced most recently in the 2007 São Paulo biennale.

Latin America: images of itself

As a document, the Ver America exhibition reflected the delirium and disorientation that infected every coloniser faced with the unknownness of the Americas. This was replicated in the catalogue: it is rich in essays, information and illustrations, but unlike the exhibition itself it is difficult to negotiate, and lacks an index to the contemporary artists – you literally have to leaf through the catalogue to find them. It is, however, through the contemporary art that a sense of how the continent sees itself emerges.

What makes Southern aesthetics distinct from the North is that it had to confront brutal socio-political realities, and the complexity of shifting, multi-ethnic identities. The early virreino obsession with interethnic relationships was always expressed through the socially discriminatory and hence violent images of ‘castes’ – minute descriptions of percentage ethnic mixes among Europeans, Indians and Africans. Sometimes, on a popular, if not always elitist, level one finds acceptance that the continent consists of what the popular print from Venezuela and Colombia calls Las Tres potencias. At other times, one encounters severe prejudice against indigenous peoples and a reluctance to admit a mixed genealogy. This is true of Mexico City; and the Mexican government categorises its native peoples as ‘peasants’, one suspects, to circumvent United Nations rulings on the Protection of Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Likewise, Cecilia Vicuña has said in Chile indigenous peoples are reluctant to name themselves as such to avoid discrimination.

What was significant about the exhibition was that, despite the absence of chronological order, it was apparent that, as time passed, images by, of, or for Indians gradually gave way to representations of mestizaje – mixed ethnic or cultural identity – and a parallel politicised desire for artistic practices based on collective collaboration. With the rise of repressive juntas in the 1970s and 80s, this was undoubtedly linked to socio-political insecurity. As an example, and despite its apparent formalism, the work of the Brazilian rtist Lygia Clark opened onto inter-subjective relations.

An important dimension of Ver America was its acceptance of cultural plurality linked to collective collaboration that included the continent’s absorption of fine and popular arts, avoiding both Magiciens’ false assumption of ‘cultural authenticity’ and enabling a window on the South’s divorce from Northern aesthetics. But, as ever, the notion of mestizaje was problematic from the point of view of the indigenous subject, who becomes represented as a trace cultural memory. In the case of Frida Kahlo’s My Nurse and I, 1937, the indigenous woman is a culturally nurturing, but nonetheless subordinate figure. The Native is spoken for, but has no voice of her own. This effaces indigenous realities: their ongoing political struggles against ethnocide and discrimination. In other words – as Jimmie Durham had astutely suggested – indigenous peoples had become cannibalised, or absorbed into subsequent criollo struggles, firstly in decolonisation from European imperial control and secondly against the repressive national dictatorships of the 1970s and 80s. The pattern of violence first enacted against Amerindians was repeated in the brutality of repressive nationalist governments against their own dissenting citizens

In Ver America, this displacement of violence was amply represented by contemporary artists. For instance, Oscar Muñoz’s (Colombia), Cortinas de baño, 1987-88, presented a trace figure that recalls the disappeared (los desaparecidos) during Colombia’s violent struggle with drug cartels. Eugenio Dittborn remained in Chile during Pinochet’s junta, but the Airmail Paintings that the artist packaged and posted to colleagues abroad made explicit the exploitation and violence in the Americas,. Other artists of this generation were forced into exile, like the Uruguayan Luis Camnitzer, who relocated to New York, but who carried the scars of state violence, as expressed in his series of photo-etchings, From the Uruguayan Torture, 1983-84. However, the displacement of the Indian is a primary disjunction in Latin American cultural representations, which the exhibition, to its credit, did not attempt to conceal. It was, in fact, through violent inscriptions of the Indian ‘other’ body, often feminine, that this conflict was made visible.

Violence against the exhibition

After the exhibition opening, the director of the museum sabotaged some of the contemporary work on the grounds that its natural materials encouraged bugs that would infect and destroy the permanent collection. Three works in particular were targeted. As noted, Roberto Evangelista’s (Brazil) installation Resgate, 1990-92, was displayed on the floor of the museum’s foyer and initially consisted of a ‘field’ of gourds containing water, candles and drawings. It referred to both the devastation wrought by transnational corporations on the ecosystem and native populations of the Amazon, and to a native custom: when someone drowns and the body cannot be found, gourds containing lighted candles are floated onto the river to watch for signs so that the body is not lost. The director had both the water and the candles removed, leaving empty gourds:

Regina Vater’s (Brazil), Green, 1991, presented a Perspex pyramid, referring to the religious-civic architecture of pre-conquest Latin America, adding what she called the ‘god of communications’, the TV. The popcorn, a maize product, that filled the inside of the pyramid is a primary staple and sacred food in indigenous America, but maize has been commercialised and debased as a GM crop, scandalously grown to produce not food but a petrol-substitute fuel. Vater’s video monitor catalogued, among other colonial references, the foods that traditional Indian farming have given to the western world. The director objected to the popcorn and had Vater’s work crudely wrapped in polythene. The curators had commissioned a reconstruction of one of Mendieta’s Silueta (silhouettes): the body form cut out from a circle of grass turf. The work is a votive piece, about the unity of woman and land but also about sacrifice, loss, and death. The museum director had the work photographed before destroying it, then crudely stuck a small photograph of it on the wall in its place.


The exhibition was designed to reflect what unites the early centuries of colonisation to the present in terms of 1. the economic and ecological exploitation of the Americas by corporate influence at the expense of the integrity of the land and its indigenous peoples; 2. the propagandist and persuasive power of images, irrespective of truth, which was equated with the war of images that we experience everyday through the TV news media, and by which powerful elites attempt to condition our understanding of the world according to their own interests; and 3. the extent to which both the above points articulate violence against both the experiential body and truth.

This presentation is entitled the ‘treason of images’ because the image as propaganda has historically distorted the European North’s understanding of indigenous peoples throughout the Americas, resulting in the political and economic exploitation of land and destruction of cultures that scientists have only recently begun to see had developed sophisticated sustainable agricultural technologies. The issue of who controls the dissemination of images and for what purpose demands that we are aware of the history of the ideological use of imagery in order to recognise the insidious internal colonisation of ourselves by political and corporate interests. Ver America thus demonstrated the extent to which images are manipulated by hegemonic power..

Presentation for the programme ‘Historias de las exposiciones: América – Novia del sol’ for La Sede Santa María de la Rábida de la Universidad internacional de Andalucía, 2012.

(1) A review article by me appeared in Artforum International, Nov. 1992, only because I volunteered it – the exhibition hadn’t registered on the editor’s radar. This was also true of Magiciens de la Terre, 1989 – which I also reviewed on my initiative. Meaning, that the mainstream New York art world was by then ‘behind the curve’ on developments towards the globalisation of art.

(2) New ‘evidence’ suggests that ‘Europeans’ migrated into the American landmass 26000 years ago and Siberians 15000 years ago (The Independent, 28.02.2012). Unfortunately, such research is too often used to discredit American Indians’ entitlement to their ancestral homelands and to justify dispossession.

(3) America Bride of the Sun catalogue, p 197.

(4) Thomas McEvilley, ‘Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief: “Primitivism” in Twentieth Century Art’, Artforum, November, 1984; Further exchanges between McEvilley and the curators in Artforum February and May, 1985.

(5) I was contacted by assistant curator Mark Francis well into the preparation because they realised they had no artists from Native North America. He ignored my suggestions and instead chose works that demonstrated apolitical signs of ‘ethnicity’, thereby failing to understand that cultural specificity may lie in a relational worldview in which enfolding new forms and technologies was precisely the tradition.

(6) Atrocities against the indigenous peoples were noted by Bartolomé de las Casas; In Valladolid in 1550 he conducted a famous debate with Sepúlveda. Las Casas argued that the Indians were free men; whilst Sepúlveda insisted that, as the Indians offended Catholic theology and natural law, it was right that they should be reduced to slavery. The debate did not resolve the issue.