Body paint, feathers, and vcrs: aesthetics and authenticity in Amazonian activism



In this article I seek to motivate critical reflection on the centrality of exotic body images in defining cultural authenticity for Western audiences and to raise questions about the political implications of replicating these constructs in indigenous identity politics. Focusing on Amazonian Indian activism in Brazil, I examine how the rise of environmentalism and the spread of new communications technologies in the 1980s transformed Amazonian interethnic politics and the self-representations of native activists. Indigenous images constructed in relation to Western concepts of primitivism, exoticism, and authenticity proved to be strategically effective political tools, but there are contradictions and liabilities in using such symbolic constructs to pursue indigenous goals of self-determination.