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Orinoco-Venezuela: indian life in the Amazon

The Fundación Cisneros expands the international tour of its renowned Colección Orinoco - a comprehensive collection of items made by indigenous peoples of the Southern Amazon Basin - with a major exhibition opening December 10, 2005, at the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The exhibition, titled Orinoco-Venezuela: Indian Life in the Amazon, includes approximately 200 objects from the Colección Orinoco. Frequently of a dazzling level of craftsmanship and originality, these reveal both how close the peoples who made them are to their natural surroundings, and the inextricable links between their material cultures and spiritual lives. UBS is principal sponsor of Orinoco-Venezuela: Indian Life in the Amazon. The exhibition remains on view at the Museum for approximately a year.

The Fundación Cisneros, founded by Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, her husband, Gustavo Cisneros, and her brother-in-law Ricardo Cisneros, in association with the Cisneros Group of Companies, uses exhibitions drawn from the Coleccion Orinoco to promote international appreciation of indigenous Amazonian cultures and their land. The origins of the Coleccion lie in a 1971 expedition to the region made by Patricia and Gustavo Cisneros, sparking both an enduring passion for the cultures and environment of the Venezuelan Amazon and several more such trips over the ensuing years.

Since 1999, more than 3 million people have experienced the Colección Orinoco at museums and other cultural organizations in Bonn (1999-2000), Hanover (2000), and Frankfurt (2001), Germany; Biarritz, France (2001); Geneva and Zurich, Switzerland (2003-2004); Prague, Czech Republic (2003-04); Tampere, Finland (2004-05); and Gothenburg, Sweden (2004-06).

Fundación Cisneros Chairman Patricia Phelps de Cisneros states, "The Fundación Cisneros is thrilled to be expanding access to the Colección Orinoco to the people of St. Petersburg. It is hoped that through exhibitions such as Orinoco-Venezuela: Indian Life in the Amazon, the complex, fascinating cultures of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin will become more widely known. We are grateful to the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography for recognizing the importance of increasing worldwide knowledge of these diverse cultures, which are so rapidly disappearing, and are pleased to be able to share the Colección Orinoco with Museum visitors in St. Petersburg."

Yuri K. Chistov, Director of the Peter the Great Museum, says, "This exhibition promises to be an eye-opening experience for our visitors. Russia is a multicultural country, with an extremely diverse population. Understanding and respect for different cultures is therefore a critical part of daily life in our country. The Museum hopes that Orinoco-Venezuela will enlighten our visitors to the culture and daily lives of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin. We are grateful to the Fundación Cisneros for enabling the Museum to present this important exhibition."


Orinoco-Venezuela: Indian Life in the Amazon will illuminate the daily lives and complex beliefs of the indigenous peoples of the Southern Amazon through the display of both objects related to daily life and those used in ritual and ceremony. Among the items on view will be boats, paddles, graters, pottery, textiles, and unique and intricately woven baskets, as well as such ceremonial objects as masks, feather decorations, and shamanic accessories. Also included will be stunning body adornments, such as armbands, necklaces, and earrings, and musical instruments, such as pipes, flutes, and rattles. In addition to opening a window onto peoples' lives, these varied items will testify to the high level of craftsmanship and artistry that imbues even the most quotidian of objects.

Orinoco-Venezuela: Indian Life in the Amazon will display the diverse items in clusters, so that viewers will be able to note, for example, the different forms and uses of basketry, or the variety of materials used in the many-and beautiful-feather decorations. Moreover, each group of objects is shown alongside or in front of large-scale photographs that show the items in use by the peoples who created them.

Daily life will be explored through a variety of objects. For example, the integral role that fishing plays in the lives of the peoples of the Orinoco will be shown through a display of boats, paddles, and fishing gear, installed in front of wall-sized photographs of men and boys paddling down the River, as well as aerial views that reveal the relationship of the Orinoco to the surrounding forest. Similarly, the importance of manioc and yucca is conveyed through a selection of graters and baskets, shown next to photographs of people going through the complex process of preparing the plants for consumption.

Ritual will be highlighted through such objects as masks, feather decorations, shaman seats, ceremonial staffs, and ritual weapons, as well as through a great diversity of body adornments, including armbands, necklaces, and earrings made of wood and seeds or from animal parts. Again, these will be displayed adjacent to photographs that show them in use.

While the artifacts to be included in Orinoco-Venezuela: Indian Life in the Amazon are exceptionally diverse, they are all crafted from native vegetable and animal materials, including bird feathers, claws, beaks, skin, and animal teeth; plant fibers, bark, and pigment; wood; stones; cotton; and seeds. Throughout the exhibition, maps and descriptive texts in Russian and English will shed further light on the objects and the peoples from the twelve groups encompassed by the Colección Orinoco, as well as the natural environment in which their lives unfold. Orinoco-Venezuela: Indian Life in the Amazon is organized by the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, working with Lelia Delgado, Director and Chief Curator of the Colección Orinoco, and with Colección Orinoco Associate Curator Andres Ortega and Conservator Zuleima Jimenez, as well as Rafael Santana, Assistant to the Executive President, Fundación Cisneros. From the Peter the Great Museum, contributors to the exhibition included Museum Director Yuri K. Chistov, Deputy Directors Julia A. Kupina and Andrey A. Mel'nikov, Chief Curator Pavel I. Pogorelski, and Senior Coordinator in the Exhibition Department Nadezhda V. Maykova.

Colección Orinoco

While Amazonia was for many years considered an inhospitable and remote region of the globe, valued solely for the natural resources it offered, during the past several decades interest in the peoples native to the region has increased. Ironically, this interest has coincided with the steady disappearance of the people and their land, victims of a variety of factors, including cultural assimilation and the development of forestlands. The Colección Orinoco was assembled in order to preserve the rich art and artifacts of native Amazonian cultures. It is one of the most distinguished and comprehensive collections of its kind, and it forms the basis of a program of study and conservation administered by the Fundación Cisneros.

The Colección brings together some 2,000 objects created by twelve distinct ethnic groups. The De'aruwa (Piaroa), Ye'kuana, Yanomami, Hiwi (Guahibo), E'nepa (Panare), and Hodi live in the Orinoco River Basin, in southern Venezuela. The Wakuenai (Curripaco), Baniwa (Baniva), Bare, Puinave, Warekena, and Tsase (Piapoko) are from the Guayana and Black River Amazon Basin regions of Brazil and Colombia.

In November 2000, the Colección Orinoco was awarded the Leone d'Oro di San Marco, one of the most prestigious cultural prizes in Europe, in acknowledgment of the collection's exceptional artistic quality, historical importance, and educational value.

In addition to exhibitions, which are frequently accompanied by a publication, the Colección Orinoco is shared with others through an educational website. The highlights from the collection, as well as information about the indigenous populations it represents. It is available in Spanish, Portuguese, and English.

Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography

The Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, also known as the Kunstkamera, was founded in 1714 as the first museum in Russia. It began as Peter the Great's Cabinet of Curiosities, and in 1724 became part of the newly formed Academy of Sciences. For over 100 years, it functioned as an important public institution of scientific research that incorporated an art collection, library, scientific exhibitions, and archaeological displays. Thanks to donations by the Russian Imperial family and their sponsorship of several expeditions, the collection grew to great proportions. In 1836, the Kunstkamera was divided into several distinct museums, each devoted to its own area of science. Among these, the Ethnographic Museum-later the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography-served to educate visitors about the peoples and cultures of the world.

Today, the Museum holds one of the world's premier international collections of ethnographic and anthropologic objects, comprising of more than 1.8 million items, highlights of which include some of the extraordinary items gathered during expedition of G.I.Lanngsdorf to Amazonian Region in the mid. Of the XIX century. Permanent exhibitions include installations exploring the cultures of the peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Oceania.

The Fundación Cisneros

The Caracas-based Fundación Cisneros, dedicated to improving the daily lives of Latin Americans, initiates and supports a wide range of innovative programs, many of which leverage the media resources of the Cisneros Group of Companies to reach ever-greater audiences. Fundación Cisneros programs focus on education, culture, the environment, and community and humanitarian services, and on increasing global awareness of contemporary Latin America. Executive President of the Fundación Cisneros is Pedro R. Tinoco.

The public can experience the Colección Orinoco at
Other Fundación Cisneros Websites are: and

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