Exquisite Ceremonial Art of the Amazon Premieres

May 25–Aug. 21, 2005

Stanford, California — Some of the world’s oldest cultures have survived in the Amazon River basin and are among the last in the New World to retain their centuries-old, pre-conquest traditions and rituals. From May 25 to August 21, 2005, the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University presents an exhibition that celebrates ceremonies and rites of passage unique to these people. "Vanishing Worlds: Art and Ritual in Amazonia" showcases rare works that are the surviving expressions of these cultures.

"Using brilliantly colored feathers of some 40 species, including parrots, macaws, and herons, the Amazonian Indians create objects that call upon a range of physical and magical forces — forces integral to their conception of the environment around them, as well as the universe as a whole," said Manuel Jordán Pérez, who is the Cantor Arts Center's curator for the arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. "Until recent years, the exquisite artistry of these ritual objects was virtually unknown outside of ethnographic and anthropological circles. We are pleased to be able to bring these works to the Bay Area to share with the public."

The artwork, which is directly linked to rituals and ceremonies central to the life of the Amazon tribes, offers insights into the natural, historical, and cultural heritage of the Americas. The exhibition showcases an array of more than 150 pieces: ritual objects, including full body costumes, masks, feather headdresses, and body ornaments, as well as domestic and utilitarian pieces such as basketry, weapons, pottery, and textiles.

The exhibition highlights eight tribal groups in areas that range from the Atlantic coast of Brazil to the foothills of the Andes in Peru and Ecuador. Prior to European exploration in 1500, some 3 to 5 million people lived in the Amazon River basin. Today, fewer than 100,000 Amazonian tribal people survive in an area that covers 2.5 million square miles. While most of the peoples represented by artifacts in this exhibition are still in existence, the vast majority of the tribes of the Amazon have disappeared. The unique and fragile works in "Vanishing Worlds" reflect the threatened existence of their creators, as well as the crisis of the rainforest environment in which they were made.

“These pieces are an art form by themselves, but for the Amazon Indian, they also fulfill an extremely important function,” explained Dirk Van Tuerenhout, curator of anthropology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. “When they are done with an object, they discard it in the forest; this is how most of these pieces were collected. The Amazon Indians look at their heritage in a very utilitarian way. . . . These pieces are extremely rare. This puts the burden on us to make sure this collection is preserved and shared for many generations to come.”

The Houston Museum of Natural Science organized the exhibition, which premieres at Stanford then will travel to other U.S. venues, to be announced. A catalogue with more than 100 color reproductions accompanies the exhibition and is available in the Cantor Arts Center Bookshop. The exhibition and related programming at Stanford are made possible by the Phyllis Wattis Program Fund.

VISITOR INFORMATION: The Cantor Arts Center is open Wednesday–Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., Thursday until 8 p.m. Admission is free. Docents give free tours of the exhibition at Stanford on Thursdays at 12:15 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. No reservation is needed. The Center is located on the Stanford campus off Palm Drive, at Lomita Drive and Museum Way. Parking is free after 4 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends. Weekday pay parking is available in front of the Center and in the parking garage nearby. For information, call 650-723-4177.


Exhibition Curators
This exhibit was organized and curated by Associate Curator Adam Mekler and Curator of Anthropology Dirk Van Tuerenhout, Ph.D., both of the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Stanford Curators
The Cantor Arts Center curators responsible for the exhibitions' presentation at Stanford are
• Manuel Jordán Pérez, Ph.D., the Phyllis Wattis Curator for the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas
• Winfield Coleman, Curatorial Assistant, Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas

The Houston Museum of Natural Science
The Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) is one of the nation’s most-heavily attended museums. HMNS includes four floors of permanent exhibit halls, the Wortham IMAX® Theatre, Cockrell Butterfly Center, Burke Baker Planetarium, and George Observatory. HMNS hosts world-class and ever-changing touring exhibitions. The Houston Museum of Natural Science is located at One Hermann Circle Drive in the heart of the Museum District.