In her paintings, Sandra Gamarra Heshiki examines the pictorial traditions and museum conventions of the Global North and demonstrates how their dominance since the days of colonialism has gone hand in hand with the devaluation and extinction of the Indigenous cultures of the Global South. She copies and appropriates historical artworks to highlight their role in the construction of memory and cultural identity.
In her 2018 exhibition Indian Red in Madrid, the artist presented two fictitious museum rooms. One displayed a series of works which quoted classic genres of European painting tradition such as the portrait, still life and landscape; the other presented ten vitrines containing small paintings depicting anthropomorphic ceramics made by Indigenous peoples in the Andes. The vitrines in The Museum of Ostracism series, in which ceramics from the Inca and pre-Inca periods appear to be floating in air, are based on the display strategies familiar from ethnological museums. Arranged neatly in a row and presented behind glass, the artefacts cite objects from various Spanish museums which made their way there in the form of donations but also as looted goods. When walking around the vitrines, it becomes evident that the apparently three-dimensional objects are actually two-dimensional paintings on acrylic glass. The back of each image is inscribed with words that have been used as derogatory terms for the Indigenous peoples of South America. These objects of pre-Columbian culture are not only presented here in isolation and detached from their original function; they also become signifiers of a genealogy of prejudices stretching from the Spanish colonial period to the present day.