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“El Otro Lado” (The Other Side): Border Art Histories of the MexiCali Biennial


This section will explain concepts surrounding the art exhibitions titled Cannibalism in the New World. Click here for more information about this guide.

General History of the Things of New Spain by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún: The Florentine Codex. Book IV: The Art of Divination. Image depicts ritual cannibalism, which often was practiced as part of the rite of human sacrifice. Prisoners were taken to the temple of Huitzilopochtli, killed, and their flesh consumed by the notables. By means of this practice, the strength of the individual was consumed and assumed by their captors. (Original resource at: Medicea Laurenziana Library, Florence. Part of the World Digital Library).

The Art of Anthropophagy

Cannibalism, the ingestion of human flesh, is both an act and metaphor that illustrates the power of the colonial image universe. The cannibalistic act captured the imagination of European colonizers in their first contact with New World inhabitants, from Mesoamerican Aztec to Brazilian Tupinambá cultures. Recent histories have shown that European colonizers largely exaggerated their accounts of New World cannibalism. It was not a common ritual of Indigenous groups in the Americas, as dominant accounts of the Conquest have made us believe. Rather, Europeans projected narratives and images of this form of violence onto inhabitants in order to justify colonization. Further, the consumption of the human body is often relegated to a ritual that reinforces hierarchies of power between oppressor and oppressed. Cannibalism has the potential to illustrate the dynamics between European colonization and Global South cultural production.

Cannibalism served as inspiration for the modernist art movement in 1920s Brazil. The Manifesto Antropófago, written by Oswald de Andrade in 1928, is a document written as a framework for Brazilian identity, incorporating the concept of cannibalism as a cultural nationalist theory. Historically, the concept of cannibalism had been used as a rationale for conquest by Europeans, and that sentiment was not lost on the founders of the antropófagia (cannibalist) movement. By recognizing the region’s Indigenous histories of cannibalism as a metaphor for consuming culture, the concept of anthropophagy becomes the centralizing theme of arts at the time by blending primitivism, exoticism, and modernism into something strictly Brazilian. By consuming the culture of European colonizers, Latin American creators can absorb ideals and then “regurgitate” them into hybrid cultural forms. Andrade’s most recognized quote from the Manifesto, “Tupi or not Tupi, that is the question,” is a brilliant example of this line of thinking. The Tupi people, who practiced cannibalistic rituals, are considered by many to be the base civilization of Brazil. In this line, Andrade extrapolates that the Indigenous culture is absorbing, or ingesting the culture of Western Europe via William Shakespeare, eschewing European post-colonial domination.

In the 1960s, Andrade’s Cannibalist Manifesto resurfaced as a beacon for the Tropicalia Movement of Neo-Concrete visual artists, musicians, poets, and writers. This movement emerged as a reaction against Brazil’s oppressive right-wing dictatorship at the time. In 1964, a US-backed Brazilian coup d’etat aggressively suppressed leftist student protesters, communist sympathizers, and the radical intelligentsia, who they deemed a threat to the military dictatorship. To counter government-enforced censorship, musicians such as Gilberto Gil and Os Mutantes began to create politically-charged songs, taking inspiration from other counterculture movements by fusing traditional Brazilian and African sounds with psychedelia. In addition, visual artists such as Helio Oiticica and Lygia Clark created avant-garde works that interrogated conceptual notions of Utopia and placed the viewer as a participant. Oiticica coined the term Tropicália for this movement and titled his 1967 installation, which consisted of sand, improvised structures, and caged parrots, representing the tropical oasis of Brazil through its favelas, or slums. Art historian Dr. Amy Pederson Converse stated the following about Oiticica, Brazilian Tropicalia, and its “anthropophagous tendencies”:

It was more than just a move towards a plural, open subjectivity and encompassed ideas of violence, appropriation, and a post-colonial Latin American artistic production burdened by the vocabularies of international contemporary art. The transformative possibilities of the experimental in art were predicated on changing our relationship with art and the world itself. 1

For further exploration


Anthropophagy at the Border

In 2013, the MexiCali Biennial found inspiration in the cannibal for its series of programs, titled Cannibalism in the New World, curated by Ed Gomez, Luis G. Hernandez, and Dr. Amy Pederson Converse. Artists exhibited works in California (US) and Baja California (MX) inspired by anthropophagy, and its extended concepts of hybridity and transculturation, as a concept for understanding the cultural dynamics of the contemporary border. Drawing a parallel between the process of cannibalization and the artistic practices of contemporary border artists, Curator Dr. Amy Pederson Converse wrote:

There is no need to draw a line between actual and symbolic anthropophagy; they are part of the same system of meaning. Through ingestion, digestion, and subsummation, the cannibal bridges the gap between political science and moral philosophy, nature and civilization, north and south, east and west, the self and the other.

Anthropophagy reveals hierarchies of power between dominant and dominated cultures, shaped by histories of colonization in the Americas. The dynamics between the two are magnified in the cultural dimensions of the borderlands, including its syncretic and hybridized religions, cultures, and ideologies. Anthropophagy is also a model for analyzing the aesthetic production of the borderlands. As Dr. Pederson Converse stated in the above quote, the process of blurring the line between actual and symbolic anthropophagy reveals the creative ways in which artists and cultural producers across California and Baja California have sublimated art and artistic practices from the cultural centers to the periphery. For this exhibition, artists engaged with questions of hybrid identities, consumption, appropriation, Catholicism, and surveillance in the U.S.-Mexico border. Works in painting, sculpture, performance and site-specific installations showcased the process of transforming and experimenting with multiple art forms.

Featured Artists

Tomad y Comed. 2013. "Marycarmen Arroyo Macias. Animal flesh adhered to a white wall. Installation at Steppling Art Gallery in Calexico, California for MexiCali Biennial: Cannibalism in the New World

Anthropophagy can be a cultural concept, a literal act of consumption, or it can be thought of in spiritual and conceptual terms. Artist Marycarmen Arroyo Macias examines the religious, political, and gendered features of Mexican identity. In particular, her work examines how Catholicism influenced these three elements and shaped contemporary Mexican culture on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. The multimedia artist lives and works in Mexicali, Mexico and works with organic materials, paint, natural dyes, and engages in socially oriented projects.

Arroyo Macias’ Tomad y Comed (2013) is an ephemeral artwork that bridges the material and conceptual bounds of art. The artwork is minimal in its aesthetic and amplifies text-based artistic strategies to intervene in Christian Biblical theology. The artwork consists of the following text written on the wall:

"Tomad y comed
todos de él, porque
este es mi cuerpo..."

(Take and eat
all of this, because
this is my body...)

The quote is from the eucharistic prayer recited by members of the Roman Catholic Church during mass. It signals the moment of transubstantiation in which bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. While the material elements of the bread and wine are unchanged, the believers call to a greater power converts substance into symbols of Christ. Believers then consume the body and blood of Christ during Communion.

For the MexiCali Biennial’s venues at the Vincent Price Art Museum (VPAM) and Vestíbulo de la UABC, Arroyo Macias created two iterations of the artwork utilizing different materials. At VPAM, the installation was created using pig’s blood painted upon the white walls of the gallery. The second iteration for Vestíbulo de la UABC in Mexicali saw the artist attach raw meat to the wall; the bits of flesh and fat assembling the contours of the letters in each word.

Tomad y Comed sheds light on the principle and practice of consuming the human body that is shared spiritually in Catholicism and historically by some Indigenous peoples, highlighting the similarities and differences between material and symbolic cannibalism. Further, Arroyo Macias’ artwork highlights the premise and parts of Andrade’s manifesto. “Anthropophagy. Absorption of the sacred enemy,” wrote Andrade. Tomad y Comed challenged viewers to consider the distinction between substance and concept, but to also contemplate transubstantiation as a strategy for transforming art at the borderlands, a region that illustrates the merging and consumption of overlapping cultures.

For further exploration on concepts related to the above project

The Library of Congress holds a good number of Mesoamerican codices. These documents, mostly written by Europeans, combine ethnographic research of Indigenous peoples as well as contain translations of Christian spiritual works, creating a unique hybrid resource. Here are some examples from the library's archives that are accessible online:

Red Flag/Bandera Roja. 2013. "Veronica Duarte. Elongated flag of Mexico pooling onto gallery floor. Exhibited at Vincent Price Art Museum in Monterey Park, California as part of MexiCali Biennial: Cannibalism in the New World.

Cannibalism can be a defining concept when navigating the complicated relationships between overlapping cultures that exist across borders. Veronica Duarte is an interdisciplinary artist living and working in Southern California. Her artwork is expressed through digital media, and sculptural installations, using archeology, design, and museographic strategies as tools to convey ideas about personal and cultural space. In her three-dimensional work, she has examined the concepts of hybridity, violence, and border politics in the form of a reinterpretation of the Mexican national flag.

Duarte’s Red Flag/Bandera Roja (2013) interrogates the myopic nature of the United States’ view of narco-violence in Mexico. The work features the Mexican national flag hung from a gallery wall with a pole. Duarte has chosen to construct the flag so that the red portion of the tricolor extends to the floor, forming folds of fabric that resemble a pool of blood. Additionally, it appears that Duarte has separated the double-layered material of the flag so that it comes apart as it approaches the floor, perhaps denoting the dissolution of political and governmental power. In an alternate interpretation, the flag could be seen as sprouting from this implied pool of blood--perhaps alluding to the fact that the nation of Mexico has formed from--and in spite of--the violence of Europe and the United States’ colonialist exploits in Latin America.

While Duarte’s work centers large-scale political concerns, its message is explicitly focused on the body--the pooled fabric, reminiscent of a puddle of blood, at the bottom of the installation addresses both interpersonal conflict in Mexico and large-scale exploitation of the country on the part of the United States. The work seeks to visualize the two countries’ political and personal cannibalism caused by the corruption and violence of the drug trade.

Duarte’s work addresses the U.S.-Mexico border by insisting upon the two countries’  interdependence. Just as the red fabric of the tricolor spills over its traditional bounds, Duarte reminds us that happenings on one side of the border inevitably spill over onto the other. The work implicates Mexico for its role in continued conflict, but much more so, it questions the United States for its role in seeding, perpetuating, and largely shrouding the violence present in its neighboring country.

For Further Research

Full List of Participating Artists / Cannibalism in the New World

Marycarmen Arroyo Macias, Ana Baranda, Juan Bastardo, Sergio Bromberg, Helen Cahng, Matthew Carter, Carolyn Castano, Enrique Castrejon, Tony de los Reyes, Map Conception: Deborah Diehl & Arzu Arda Kosar, Dino Dinco and Rafa Esparza, Veronica Duarte, Roni Feldman, Kio Griffith and Carmina Escobar, Fidel Hernandez, Zoe Gruni, HELL-O : Michael Dee, Martin Durazo, Ichiro Irie, Daniel Lara, Candice Lin, Juan Luna-Avin, Matt MacFarland, Dominic Paul Miller, Flavia Monteiro, Nancy Popp, Peter Bo Rappmund, Christopher Reynolds, Cindy Santos Bravo.

Musical performance by Los Nuevos Maevans. MexiCali Biennial 2013: Cannibalism in the New World was curated by Ed Gomez, Luis G. Hernandez, and Amy Pederson Converse. Exhibitions were hosted by Vincent Price Art Museum in Los Angeles and Mexicali Rose Art Center and Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC) in Mexicali.

Examples of other artworks pertaining to the concept of Cultural Cannibalism:

Brazilian Modernist Poets in the PALABRA Archive

The PALABRA Archive is a collection of original audio recordings of 20th and 21st century Luso-Hispanic poets and writers reading from their works. With recorded authors from all over Latin America, the Iberian Peninsula, the Caribbean, and other regions with Hispanic and Portuguese heritage populations, this archive has to date close to 800 recordings, a portion of which are available for online streaming.


Visual images of savagery, especially cannibalism, were used as a tool for conquest by colonizing forces. Many of these tales were exaggerated but nonetheless influential in shaping the minds of Europeans overseas. Here are a few images of the act of Cannibalism in the Library of Congress archives.

Artful Flags

Flags are symbolic of national identity. Like Veronica Duarte’s artwork above, fellow artists have chosen to explore the strong symbolism and its relationship to place as well as identity, concepts that informed the Anthropophagy movement.


Transubstantiation is the spiritual transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

Brazilian Culture

Brazilian Culture is shaped by Indigenous peoples, Africans and Portuguese, identities reflected within the Cannibalist Manifesto. These combined influences can be seen in the arts, architecture, literature, and music. These concepts served as inspiration for the MB, through the lens of the border regions, an area geographically disconnected from Brazil but overlapping in certain cultural aspects.



  1. Pederson-Converse, Amy. MexiCali Biennial: Cannibalism in the New World, p. 2.
  2. Converse, MexiCali Biennial: Cannibalism in the New World, p. 2.