Detail of Shitikari showing a grid of squares with dotted pattern

Shitikari: expanding collections at the Museum

Sheroanawë Hakihiiwë Shitikari

In 2019, the British Museum acquired Yanomami-Venezuelan artist Sheroanawë Hakihiiwë's 'Shitikari', an extraordinary example of Latin American indigenous art.

This artwork represents global art trends and challenges traditional representations of Latin America.

The acquisition was made possible through the Santo Domingo Centre of Excellence for Latin American Research, which was founded in 2019 to foster closer research collaboration and cultural understanding between Latin America and the UK.



This printed textile on fine cotton, measures an expansive 3m x 2m. Created by a contemporary Yanomami-Venezuelan artist, Shitikari represents the complex Yanomami cosmology and worldview. The Yanomami community, located in southern Venezuela, believe that the totality of the multi-layered cosmos – hetu misi – is held within the abdomen of a giant primordial boa. Misi, or abdominal wall, is the membrane that sets the limits of the cosmos, and the sky is merely one more dimension within the abdomen.

María Mercedes Martínez Milantchí, Project Coordinator at SD CELAR describes the work and how it can be perceived from different distances: 'As you approach, you can see beyond the translucent fabric and observe through a blurred and foggy lens what lies behind. It seems as if the starscape is overwhelmed by drifting clouds.

'From afar, the composition appears abstract and ordered. The repetitive gridded pattern contains somewhat equidistant points. On closer inspection, the dots lose their predicted pattern and the gridded backdrop transforms into overlapping, non-contiguous squares.

'It feels as if this luminous, and perhaps even unstable sky and layer in the cosmos is still undergoing aspects of formation. The slight off-centering of the grid and the ordered but also unordered stars remain in an ever-transforming flux.'


Why Shitikari?

This object is one of many examples of what the Santo Domingo Centre of Excellence believes is important to be represented in the British Museum's collections. Different communities consider different ideas about the meaning and representation of the stars. It varies perhaps from other themes usually tackled in museums, since stars are not tied to a particular space or landscape, while being intimately tied to daily life.

Since nobody can own the stars or the cosmos, this acquisition puts critical stress on the idea that spaces and objects are owned – a contentious issue in anthropology museums today. Stars are not tangible but universal, and yet they have been appropriated by many communities across the globe. This diversity in perspectives on a universal but also not fully comprehended theme is one of the main drivers behind this acquisition.

Santo Domingo Centre of Latin American Research (SD CELAR)

SD CELAR experiments with the ways that museum research is conducted and how Latin America is represented in museums. The centre supports cultural heritage initiatives that are developed in Latin America and aims to create a network of communities that are interested in heritage and material culture of the region.

It gives Latin American collections greater visibility and seeks to broaden the audiences who typically engage with Latin American contemporary and archaeological materials. In its first year, the centre supported numerous projects in Latin America, and two major projects in London, relating to the rubber boom collections of the early 1900s and the Peruvian embroidery collections from devil dances (diablada) collected in the 1980s. 

These collaborations in Latin America occasionally result in expanding the collections, such as the acquisition of Shitikari.

Perceptions of Indigenous art

The Centre promotes the political acquisition of objects. As Venezuela undergoes political and economic turmoil, it's more important than ever to integrate individual worldviews into the global conversation. As well as supporting artists across Latin America, it's also vital to create opportunities to communicate the important message behind such works.

Another motivation is to bring art like Sheroanawë's to an audience who might otherwise see Indigenous art as crafts and folkloric pieces. The piece subverts assumptions that Indigenous artists don't engage in global art movements, obviating the breadth and wealth of extraordinary Latin American art being produced today.

This acquisition intends to disrupt expectations and showcase one of the brilliant abstract expressionists, Sheroanawë Hakihiiwë, to the British Museum's audience, demonstrating, as well, how art trends are negotiated globally.

Further reading