Coco Fusco
y Guillermo Gómez-Peña
Dos amerindios no descubiertos
en Buenos Aires

Fragments of the video The Couple in the Cage: Guatinaui Odyssy, 1993, directed and produced by Coco Fusco and Paula Heredia. The video, which documents the presentation of the performance at different institutions, can be viewed in its entirety in the Archive section of this website.

Two Undiscovered Amerindians in the Present

by Gabriela Rangel

In 1992, artists Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña staged Dos amerindios no descubiertos en Occidente (Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West). The performance’s explicit framework was cultural stereotypes. The authors’ aim was to jar the celebrations of the five hundredth anniversary of the “discovery” of America and to question the oversimplifications of the multicultural museological model championed in North America at the time. The performance consisted of the staged interactions of the Fusco–Gómez-Peña duo, dressed as Indians from a remote and immaculate island in the Gulf of Mexico. Enclosed in a golden cage, they had been torn away from the fictitious human group and culture to which they belonged for display at different institutions in the United States and Europe, the regions the piece visited. The presentation in Buenos Aires in August 1994 was the last stop on the performance’s tour and the only one in Latin America—in a manner of speaking, since the United States cannot be considered in isolation from Latin America: by the nineteen-nineties, major demographic changes had altered the United States’ foundational myth. I am speaking of new cultural variables due to a growing Spanish-speaking population and African-American community that, after Vietnam and the cultural wars, radically transformed contemporary culture and drove a hemisphere-wide civil rights agenda. Indeed, Coco Fusco asserted that the performance was conceived for a Caucasian audience used to “festishizing representations of Otherness.” [1]

Performers Fusco and Gómez-Peña made use of an unlikely but corrosive fable, a sort of flipside of the fables used in the primitivist textual production of the historical avant-gardes (figures like Tristan Tzara, Guillaume Apollinaire, Blaise Cendrars, and Fernand Léger). A satire produced in the dying days of what Eric Hobsbawm called the short century, Dos amerindios no descubiertos en Occidente followed the lost path of the human exhibitions that began to take place in royal courts, fairs, and museums after Christopher Columbus’s arrival in America, exhibitions that reached their height in the nineteenth century. Presented in an array of contexts, the performance also appealed to the persistence in the collective memory of a robust—indeed, indestructible—colonial imaginary grounded in the chronicles and fantastic cartographies of European travelers and illustrators who circulated in the Americas starting with Conquest. Though it was global in breadth from the fifteenth century onwards, that imaginary, with only a few exceptions, was never rigorous enough for science or historical debate. It was, rather, trapped in the terrain of fantasy and of ethnography at the service of an ideology of domination. Fusco pointed out that, regardless of location, that widespread representation had become reality for much of the public. Indeed, both she and her co-author were met by threats and sexual advances. [2]

The artists touched a nerve. They exposed the nightmares of reason held in nostalgia for a dominant culture when that culture occupies the place of another, supposedly weak culture without providing any possible equivalence or encounter with that Other culture—or, for that matter, the Other itself—that might poetically heighten the One’s imaginary. Before decolonial thought was formulated in the Caribbean, Victor Segalen, a French naval doctor in the East, doggedly explored the Other’s constituent aesthetic not as imperative of moral correction but as expansion of the world and heightened experience of the unknown. [3] Segalen’s Essay on Exoticism and his ethnographic novel Les Immémoriaux nourished Édouard Glissant’s Poetics of Relation, a text that, read today without revisionist spirit, re-signifies and explodes the dimensions of Pierre Menard as author the Quixote and of Jean Rhys as author of Jane Eyre. [4]

Dos amerindios no descubiertos en Occidente re-wrote a genealogy of the medium that Fusco called “intercultural performance,” a medium that, according to the specialists, began with the Dada Cabaret Voltaire. The crux of this piece was situating the history of performance in the wake of the colonial undertaking constructed in the bloody representation of otherness. Everywhere it was presented, the piece included a time line of cases of human representation as far back as 1493, when Columbus returned to the Spanish court with members of Arawak communities. Fusco and Gómez-Peña’s strategy was to cannibalize the European avant-garde with the language of its own suprareality without scorning mass culture, spurious ally of processes of hybridization in the peripheries, as Jesús Martín-Barbero and Néstor García Canclini so resoundingly showed.

Salvaging Fusco and Gómez-Peña’s “cage”—as it was known in the nineties—positions the past as a deferred present that today’s archive puts before us as so many unpaid debts. This performance that, according to witnesses, went by unnoticed and without much ado in Buenos Aires demonstrates multiple perspectives that update, cancel, or put off the validity of the colonial imaginary when crossed with identities both national and individual.



1. The Other History of Intercultural Performance was written in English and first published in The Drama Review in 1994. See Coco Fusco, La otra historia del performance intercultural, in D. Taylor / M. Ramos (eds.), Estudios avanzados de performance, Mexico, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2011, pp.311-342.

2. According to Guillermo Gómez-Peña, acid was thrown at his abdomen and legs during the performance. See Archive, review in Página 12 newspaper.

3. Victor Segalen, Voyages au pays du réel, oeuvres littéraires. Paris, Biblioteque Complexe, 1995. (Edition presentée et anotée par Michel Le Bris).

4. Édouard Glissant, Poética de la Relación. Buenos Aires, Universidad Nacional de Quilmes Editorial, 2017. (English title: Poetics of Relation)

Biting History and Critical Digestion: An Operation by Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña

by Sol Henaro

In the inevitably incomplete genealogy of Latin American action art, some works have left lasting impressions by perforating normativities with their critical operations. One of the most celebrated, Dos amerindios no descubiertos en Occidente [Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West] by Cuban-North American artist Coco Fusco (New York, 1960) and Mexican-Chicano artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña (Mexico City, 1955) was like none before it.

Action art (or performance) had struggled to gain recognition and visibility in art circuits. By the nineteen-nineties, however, it was blossoming. In 1992, in response to the events commemorating what was called, not without controversy, the five hundredth anniversary of the “discovery” of America, the Fusco–Gómez-Peña duo planned an unusual action: a three-dimensional body or “living diorama”[1] housed in a cage.  “Live specimens” (the artists) were enclosed along with an array of elements (chair, television set, portable computer, books, dumbbells, thread, voodoo dolls, food, and drink). Inside the cage, the artists interacted with one another and, through its bars, with the public. The operation was explicitly exoticizing, and hence lay bare the violence of interpretations of the “savage” bodies belonging to the “two undiscovered Amerindians” from the (fictitious) island of Guatinau origin (Guatinau being a possible “Spanglish” word for “what is now”).

The performance took place in the early nineties, specifically in 1992, just a few years after the signing of the Free Trade Agreement (1990) and a few years before the Zapatista Army of National Liberation was formed (1994)—two events that upset a number of reigning logics. In a turn perhaps jarring for performance insofar as conceived as unique, ephemeral, and unrepeatable act, Fusco and Gómez-Peña took their performance on tour to different venues and contexts. In a number of interviews, Fusco has described the short circuit in the reaction to this biting, critical action, a reaction that exposed the racism entrenched in both its viewers and the cultural agents at institutions—that despite their supposed concern with “multiculturalism.”

In the action, the artists made reference to a practice common in the modern world, namely the display of Indigenous peoples from various regions in zoos, museums, and “freak” shows. They underscored the ways the Other was written off during a period when postcolonial and cultural studies were proliferating, building a more and more critical and comprehensive perspective of both artistic production and its objects.

A work capable of breaking inertias to expose and formulate a problem is unquestionably an operation-agency that shakes up our artistic disciplines. Fusco and Gómez-Peña epitomized punk insofar as they bit into history and digested it critically. Let’s read the testimony of those who witnessed that work and hear their accounts of that now-distant action.



[1] See Gómez-Peña, Guillermo. Dioramas vivientes y agonizantes. El performance como una estrategia de antropología inversa. Hemispheric Institute Biblioteca de Video Digital. Instituto Hemisférico de Performance y Política, 1999, in (Last visited October 14, 2020).

Nora Hochbaum
Cultural manager.
She lives and works in Buenos Aires.

Since 2008, she has been the general director of the Parque de la Memoria in that city. From 1999 to 2006, she was the general director of the Centro Cultural Recoleta. During her tenure as chief curator of the Visual Arts division of the Fundación Banco Patricios (1994 to 1997), the performance “Dos amerindios no descubiertos en Buenos Aires” (Two Undiscovered Amerindians in Buenos Aires) took place. She was the curator at the Centro Wifredo Lam in Havana from 1984 to 1991.

Nora Hochbaum recalls both the process of producing the performance at the seat of the Fundación Banco Patricios and its enactment. That institution was, according to Hochbaum, an experimental venue that, along with the Centro Cultural Ricardo Rojas and the Parakultural, set out to provide an alternative to traditional Buenos Aires cultural institutions. She describes the event as bold and disruptive; it did not receive the media coverage it would receive today. She explains that the gallery guards—and their interactions with the performers—were crucial to the performance itself.

“The three-day performance was, I think, a major event at the time. Indeed, some twenty-six years later it is still remembered because of the truly novel tension it created between entertainment and performance; the passersby who decided to walk into the venue and interact with the two Amerindians found themselves in an utterly unknown situation.”

Sebastián Calfuqueo
Visual artist.
He lives and works in Santiago, Chile.

His work in an array of formats (installation, ceramics, performance, and video) uses Mapuche culture as tool of social, cultural, and political criticism. In all those media, he explores the cultural similarities and differences between Indigenous and Westernized forms of thought, as well as the stereotypes produced at their intersection. He also attempts to visibilize feminist issues and questions of sexual dissidence.

Sebastián Calfuqueo invites us to reconsider the imaginaries at play in Dos amerindios no descubiertos en Buenos Aires, particularly the ancient and recent history of Indigenous peoples and the racialization of bodies. For Calfuqueo, violence against diverse cultures—which he calls “inner colonialism”—is a fundamental mark of modern societies. On those grounds, he ties the performance to how the objects of other cultures are displayed in Western museums: they are aestheticized and divested of political and spiritual power.

“It is not only in Europe that Indigenous bodies are displayed as objects. That is the case in the Americas as well. At the Museo de La Plata in Argentina, for instance, the Mapuche population was displayed in a cage behind glass. Like bodies that didn’t matter, bodies only to be observed in that colonial dynamic, they were left to die in their own territory, their own place.”


Leandro Katz
Artist, poet, and filmmaker.
He lives and works in Buenos Aires.

The ambitious film and photographic-installation projects for which he has become known over the course of his long career deal with questions of language, historical research, anthropology, and the visual arts. His approach to Latin American cultural issues is singular. He has been on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts in New York, the Semiotics Program at Brown University, and William Paterson University. His work forms part of the Malba Collection.

Leandro Katz provides a description of Buenos Aires in the nineties. The city’s physical space, he recalls, was rife with protests defending human rights, as well as street theater and other artistic expressions. In that social context, he remembers that Coco Fusco engaged in rigorous theoretical research in tandem with her artistic production. Finally, Katz reflects on the use of sarcasm in art, which he deems a sophisticated resource that incites serious reactions—repudiation, among others—on the part of the audience.

“The piece makes use of irony and sarcasm on multiple layers: the reference to the cruelty of colonialism in the form of the colonial powers’ kidnapping Native individuals to display them in cages or chains before royal court or at fairs. And then there are the work’s many references to contemporary forms of slavery in the market system and consumerism.”

Roberto Amigo
Art historian.
He lives and works in Buenos Aires.

He is a professor and researcher at the Universidad de Buenos Aires School of Philosophy and Letters and at the Universidad Nacional General Sarmiento’s Institute of Human Development. He was the director of catalogue raisonné production and the chief curator at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. He has written numerous essays and curated numerous exhibitions, held at institutions in Argentina and abroad, on nineteenth, modern, and contemporary art from South America.

Roberto Amigo ties the performance to the local debates on the five hundredth anniversary of the “discovery” of the Americas, postcolonial theories, and hybrid cultures. He dwells on the idea of the “savage body” constructed by museums in the nineteenth century, specifically at the Exposición del Coloniaje, organized by politician and historian Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, held in Chile in 1873. That event displayed as cannibals Indigenous individuals from Tierra del Fuego.

“Because the work had been exhibited at natural history museums, its device sparked special interest. In those museums, it was like a diorama that came to life to question traditional exhibition devices—the illusion of creating a habitat where Native peoples and humanity’s remote past were seen as part of natural history.”

Archive 1 >
Theoretical framework

Coco Fusco is not only an interdisciplinary artist, but also an eminent performance theorist. She has studied the relationships between performance and politics, multiculturalism, and decoloniality. Books of her authorship include English Is Broken Here: Notes on Cultural Fusion in the Americas (1995), The Bodies that Were Not Ours and Other Writings (2001), A Field Guide for Female Interrogators (2008), and Dangerous Moves: Performance and Politics in Cuba (2015).

Her essay “The Other History of Intercultural Performance,” first published in The Drama Review in 1994, is now a fundamental text in the performance discipline. The essay makes frequent and explicit reference to Dos amerindios no descubiertos en Occidente [Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West]. On the artists’ intentions in that work, she writes, “We worked within disciplines that blur distinctions between the art object and the body (performance), between fantasy and reality (live spectacle), and between history and dramatic reenactment (the diorama). The performance was interactive, focusing less on what we did than how people interacted with us and interpreted our actions […], We chose not to announce the event through prior publicity or any other means, when it was possible to exert such control; we intended to create a surprise or ‘uncanny’ encounter, one in which audiences had to undergo their own process of reflection as to what they were seeing, aided only by written information and parodically didactic zoo guards.”

Photograph: Courtesy of Walker Art Center Archives,


Text by Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña in the pamphlet published in conjunction with the performance at Fundación Banco Patricios.

Performance art in the West did not begin with Dadaist “events.” Since the early days of the Conquest, “aboriginal samples” of people from Africa, Asia, and the Americas were brought to Europe for aesthetic contemplation, scientific analysis, and entertainment.

Those people were forced first to take the place that Europeans had already created for the savages of their own medieval mythology; later, with the emergence of scientific rationalism, the human specimens on display served as proof of the natural superiority of European civilization, of its ability to exert control over and extract knowledge from the "primitive” world, and ultimately of the genetic inferiority of non-European races.

Over the last five hundred years non-Western human beings have been exhibited in the taverns, theatres, gardens, museums, zoos, circuses, and world’s fairs of Europe, and the freak shows of the United States. The first impresario of this sort was Columbus, who brought several Arawaks to the Spanish Court, and left one on display for two years. While the quincentenary celebrations focus primarily on the European voyages to the Americas, it was actually these human exhibitions that enabled most Caucasians to "discover" the "other.”

In most cases, the human beings that were exhibited did not choose to be on display. More benign versions continue to take place these days in festivals and amusement parks with the partial consent of the "primitives." The contemporary tourist industries and cultural ministries of several countries around the world still perpetrate the illusion of authenticity to cater to the Western fascination with otherness. So do many artists.

In commemoration of 500 years of practices that inform contemporary multiculturalism in the West, we lived in a gilded cage in Columbus Plaza in Madrid for three days in May, 1992. We carried out the same performance in Covent Garden in London, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the University of California at Irvine, the Australian Museum in Sydney, and the Field Museum in Chicago. In each instance, we presented ourselves as aboriginal inhabitants of an island in the Gulf of Mexico that was overlooked by European explorers. We performed authentic and traditional tasks, such as writing on a laptop computer, watching television, sewing voodoo dolls, and doing exercise. Interested audience members could pay for authentic dances, stories, and polaroids of us posing with them.

More than half of our visitors thought we were real.

Archive 2 >
The Jailer’s Fable

Mexican artist and writer Pablo Helguera played the role of the "educator" when the performance was presented at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago in 1993. In this text, he recalls the instructions that Fusco and Gómez-Peña gave him, the general atmosphere at the performance, and the public’s range of reactions—silence, repudiation, anger. He believes that the work brought about "an exceptional moment of public reckoning with the racial, sexual, and cultural stereotypes" prevalent at the time.

In the image, Helguera is feeding Guillermo Gómez-Peña. Photograph: Courtesy of Pablo Helguera. Originally published in Mad Rhino magazine in 1993.


See: “The Jailer's Tale: A Personal Recounting of The Couple in the Cage,” in Immersive Life Practices, ed. Daniel Tucker (Chicago: School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 2014) 119-24

The summer of 1992 was probably the most defining moment of my artistic conscience, due to circumstances that I could not have anticipated. I was about to enter my senior year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I had come to Chicago from my native Mexico to pursue a kind of art that I felt needed to have a higher goal, influenced as I was by the public art ideas of muralism. At the time I was unaware of what was going on in contemporary art, and the encounter of the work Barbara Kruger, Andrés Serrano, and Jenny Holzer threw me into intellectual turmoil. I also had no idea of how to make sense of the culture wars I encountered in my early student years.  A volunteer exile, at first I found great joy in encountering the Mexican community in Pilsen, and this led to getting an internship in Education at the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum (now the National Museum of Mexican Art). The experience of working in that small community museum in Pilsen, in retrospect, had a profound importance in my life; I ended up pursuing museum education as a profession. But I was also forced to confront my own discomfort with cultural identity there: white, educated, middle-class chilango coming from a family of classical musicians in Mexico City. I was an anomaly even in my place of origin. Speaking proper Spanish was at times even seen with suspicion; I took offense to other’s questioning of my own cultural authenticity. I slowly became aware of the cultural complexities of immigration, which include the mythical re-imagination of the place of origin that can become so real it can even overpower the reality of the actual place.

It was in the context of those experiences that I was approached to be part of a performance project in 1993 by Encarnación Teruel, my internship supervisor, along with Gissel Mercier. Encarnación, who later became a mentor and a friend, was a fascinating person to me: dressed in black, with long black hair, dark Mayan features, skull rings and earrings, a mixture of a heavy-metal rocker and a pre-Columbian deity. A native Chicagoan with parents from San Luis Potosí, he was a performance artist in the 1970s and 1980s, and an experienced exhibition designer transitioning toward a more curatorial role as the museum’s Performing Arts Director. [1]  Learning that I had become interested in performance art, Teruel pulled me aside one day and asked me whether I would like to participate in a performance project with Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Coco Fusco for their exhibition The Year of the White Bear, a critical look at the Eurocentric celebrations of the Quincentennial of the “discovery” of the Americas. In conjunction with the show the museum, they would stage a performance at the Field Museum of Natural History—Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West. [2]

Also known as The Couple in the Cage, [3] the artists would exhibit themselves in a 12-x-12-foot cage, dressed in ambiguous but illustrative costumes that made them look like natives from some primitive land, with spurious signage and labels explaining that this was an exhibit of two recently discovered natives of the island of Guatinau, an untouched land by Western civilization off the coast of Mexico. For Gómez-Peña and Fusco it was important to present a suggestive but indeterminate context so that viewers would have to be confronted with their own decisions—and prejudices—as to what they were looking at. Doing the piece at an art museum would immediately disarm the work, revealing it as performance art, so they sought a more ambitious context—a true museum of natural science. It amazed me that the authorities at the Field were progressive enough to allow this intervention on their premises. [5] Teruel, in charge of organizing the Chicago presentation of the cage piece, was to find two performance artists willing to act as museum staff for the work. I immediately accepted, not quite knowing at the time what it would exactly entail. Also hired was Chicago performance artist and writer Paula Killen. We were given Field Museum guard suits—an ugly mustard color—and met with the artists at the museum to be coached.

Gómez-Peña and Fusco were a striking couple—equally articulate, attractive, and with seemingly complete assurance about themselves and their bodies that were to be so exposed in the piece. We were given a verbal script of things that we could say or not to the visitors, as well as phrases that we could use when we felt cornered. In essence, to the visitors we would represent the institution, explaining to them the perverse rationale for two human beings to be exhibited in cages (“for educational purposes,” as I recall). But my main recollection was Guillermo’s warnings that this would be a difficult emotional experience; he asked us to be prepared for it. Guillermo also thought it was interesting I was a “white Mexican,” and asked me to reflect on what that meant: to be the jailor of your own kind.

The Couple in the Cage was presented on January 16 and 17, 1993. The golden-painted cage was placed right in the center of the main atrium of the Field, impossible to miss. The vast weekend audience was immediately attracted to the work, and we had dozens of viewers all day. A review by performance artist Carmela Rago in the Chicago Reader provides a good description of the upheaval and disruption this created at the museum:

"Many people were first drawn to the installation performance by the mariachi music, Latin rap, and overlapping melodies of rock and salsa--incongruous enough in the Field Museum. At the sight of the people in the cage, visitors often stood mesmerized, then slack-jawed. Reactions ranged from shocked disbelief to sadness, from indifference to anger. Some viewers embarked on a sort of ritual, circling the cage, standing back, coming up close, reading the plaques, then asking questions. The passing, shifting crowd showed the melding of many cultures: the museum cleaning crew, a gaggle of teenage girls with big hair and distressed jeans, parents with small children, artists, writers, television crews, foreign tourists. They were as much a part of the performance as the two artists. The "docents"…continually spoke to the audience and seemed to encourage questions and analysis, though they followed a script Gomez-Pena and Fusco had prepared. The audience spoke to each other as well as to the docents, and watched other visitors for their reactions and questions." [5]

Even though Gómez Peña and Fusco were creating all sorts of ludicrous poses and actions—wearing S&M items, holding a boom box on their shoulder, watching TV, enacting pretend rituals—this was not enough for a vast majority of the public to doubt the authenticity of the exhibit. (Additionally there were plenty artists and Gómez-Peña fans in the audience throughout the weekend, who had specifically come to the Field to witness what they knew was a performance piece.)  As for us, the docents, we were strictly instructed never to break character, no matter what the pressure we felt. We never did. We offered certain services: for a dollar, visitors could take a polaroid of themselves with the natives; probably the most humiliating and ridiculous was we would occasionally feed bananas to these male and female specimen, as we  would refer to them, making parallels to animals in a zoo. The job was physically demanding, but it didn’t compare to the emotional investment; Guillermo was right. Every few minutes angry visitors would confront us, some enraged, in total disbelief that the Field Museum was capable to incarcerate two human beings. Because we were the frontline and, in fact, the only institutional interlocutors, we were on the receiving end of visitors’ indignation. Some people looked at the natives in silence for long periods of time and with great sadness, as if in a poignant recognition of their common humanity. Several were in tears. Even more disturbing were those who seemed perfectly at ease with the display—mainly young and middle-aged white men—who exhibited inexplicable indifference to outright racism and crassness (asking us as to whether and when the couple had sex, when they would go to the bathroom, or whether they could see the breasts of the female. I remember taking short breaks in a hidden specimen room nearby that served as our makeshift green room, falling vanquished onto a chair, almost breaking into tears myself. At the same time, the project was incredibly invigorating. Visitors and other participants would animatedly debate issues raised.

At some point, while in the green room at the end of the day, with Guillermo and Coco there, someone brought up the ethical question of not telling visitors the truth about the piece. Gomez-Peña responded along these lines: it depends what you mean by the truth. The truth is that human beings have been put in public display for centuries, and the project laid this bare as well as any institutional critique project of the period, revealing the way an institutional context bestows credibility on an idea, as insulting it might can, and the complicit way in which we as a society go along with offensive notions when they are institutionalized.

Now, more than twenty years later, this work continues to have relevance for me—and us. Yet it seems to me these are not always fully articulated when The Couple in the Cage is discussed. It is usually discussed within the history of activist art and identity politics in the US. Certainly, it created an exceptional moment of public confrontation with racial, sexual, and cultural stereotypes; it was without a shaming or intimidating tone, of some works of the period that pushed audiences away instead of encouraging discussion. This was thanks to two key components of this work. One was its hidden fiction that caused audiences to engage in unmasking the story and debating its ethics. By doing so, they unsuspectingly entered a larger ethical discussion on how a Western-centered societies resolve their conflict with otherness. The other weapon the piece wielded was its humor, the sheer absurdity of the costumes and language constructions, for which Gómez-Peña became known, which allowed us to laugh at ourselves as much as forced us to confront our dark prejudices and fears.



1. In the history of Chicago’s performance and alternative arts, Teruel should be given credit for creating important synergies amongst Chicago’s art organizations, for spreading the awareness of public and performance art, and for paving the way for seminal art projects that were at the forefront of political, cultural and social debates inside and outside of the art world. One of those key contributions were the voices of Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Coco Fusco.

2. The Year of the White Bear project was accompanied by a series of performances at Randolph Street Gallery and a residency at Experimental Sound Studio.

3. This is also the title of the documentary Fusco would later produce. Later that year this piece was included in the infamous 1993 Whitney Biennial.

4. Part of the reason this was possible, as I recall, was the presence of Maureen Ranson, an anthropologist from Mexico City who then worked in the Education Department at the Field Museum and who became our main liaison and interlocutor.

5. Carmela Rago, “Specimens from the New World,” Chicago Reader, January 1993.

Archive 3 >
Presentation in Buenos Aires
Fundación Banco Patricios
August 1994

From August 9 to 11, 1994, Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña presented the performance at Fundación Banco Patricios in Buenos Aires under the name Dos amerindios no descubiertos en Buenos Aires [Two Undiscovered Amerindians in Buenos Aires]. The foundation’s seat was a building on Callao Avenue in a busy section of the city. The cage was placed by the building’s large front window so that passersby could see it from the sidewalk. The audience, then, consisted not of specialists, but of unsuspecting pedestrians who did not know that Fusco and Gómez-Peña were engaged in a contemporary art action.


Centro de Estudios Espigas Collection – Fundación Espigas.


In addition to texts by Fusco and Gómez-Peña, the pamphlet published on the occasion of the exhibition featured on its back cover a detailed timeline: the artists had put together a list of events throughout history when human beings were put on display in Europe. They showed the different ways colonized peoples had been represented on that continent.


The performance did not get a lot of attention from the Argentine press when it took place—just a few mentions on calendars of cultural events in graphic media.

Cultural critic Daniel Molina explains, “From 1990 to 1995, contemporary art drew little media attention. We don’t remember that, because it changed so dramatically at the end of the century: by the year 2000, art was a fashionable topic in the local media. If anything was published about this performance, it was as an aside written not by people in the art world, but from the realm of anthropology. This performance was among the most provocative actions ever held at the foundation.”

Archive 4 >
Performance Tour

In 1992 and 1993, before coming to Buenos Aires, Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña took their performance to eight institutions in the United States, Europe, and Australia under the title Dos amerindios no descubiertos en Occidente [Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West]. The first stop was the Plaza de Colón in Madrid, as part of the celebrations of the five hundredth anniversary of the “discovery” of America. It went on to other public spaces, museums of natural science, and art centers in different countries. The specific characteristics of each location informed the public reception of the work.


In 1993, Coco Fusco and Paula Heredia released this video entitled The Couple in the Cage: Guatinaui Odyssey, showing the various presentations of the performance and the public’s reactions to it. Courtesy of Video Data Bank,, School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

University of California Art Gallery
Irvine, 1992

Bienal Edge 92
Plaza Colón, Madrid, 1992

Bienal Edge 92
Covent Garden, Londres, 1992

Walker Art Center
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, 1992

Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History
Washington DC, 1992

Boundary Rider: 9th Biennale of Sydney
Australian Museum of Natural History, 1992/93

The Field Museum of Natural History
Chicago, 1993

33rd Whitney Biennial
Museo Whitney de Nueva York, 1993

Fundación Banco Patricios
Buenos Aires, 1994



“El performance de la Conquista”, Generación 24, Nueva época, May 1992. Fondo Cesar Martínez, Centro de Documentación Arkheia, MUAC (DiGAV-UNAM).

Archive 5 >
Walker Art Center

The performance in the Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis on September 12, 1992 was part of an exhibition entitled Guillermo Gómez Peña and Coco Fusco: The Year of the White Bear. In the show, the artists brought together colonial, nineteenth-century, and contemporary art; the show had a soundtrack—a collage of poems and music in English, Spanish, and Indigenous languages. The exhibition-project included other performances, a radio program developed with local artists, public-television ads, activities with artists-in-residence at the Walker, and two multimedia installations. The first, The Tomb, was a projection in which a sculptural image of the corpse of a colonizer mutates to turn into the corpse of a native. The second, The Observatory, was an audiovisual collage of Indigenous, European, and North American images in the form of a Mayan astronomy observatory.

Photograph: Courtesy of Walker Art Center Archives,


The Year of the White Bear
Walker Art Center, Mineápolis, 1992.


At the Walker Art Center, Fusco and Gómez-Peña brought together colonial, nineteenth-century, and contemporary art; the soundtrack for the show was a collage of poems in English, Spanish, and Indigenous languages, as well as a selection of European and American music.

Photographs: Courtesy of Walker Art Center Archives,


Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West was presented in the gardens on the premises of the Walker Art Center.

Photographs: Courtesy of Walker Art Center Archives,

Archive 6 >
Exhibitions of Human Beings

For centuries, inhabitants of distant regions were forcibly shipped for display as trophies in European royal courts. They were placed in cabinets of curiosities with collections of objects from around the world designed to show the power of nobles and the wealthy. Cases include members of the Tupi community taken by Hernán Cortés from the Americas to France, where they were presented to the king in 1550; a group of “savages” presented at the court of King William V of Bavaria in around 1580; and, in the seventeenth century, African natives forced by Frederick II, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel to inhabit a village near Kassel so that their habits could be observed. In the late nineteenth century with the industrial revolution, displays of this sort were resuscitated as part of a new imperialist fervor. World fairs in large cities were a space to display the latest technological advances alongside the ethnographic “curiosities” of non-European peoples. In the United States, meanwhile, circuses, fairs, and carnivals furthered fascination with the “exotic.”

In “The Other History of Intercultural Performance,” Coco Fusco writes, “The original ethnographic exhibitions often presented people in a simulation of their ‘natural’ habitat, rendered either as an indoor diorama, or as an outdoor re-creation. Eyewitness accounts frequently note that the human beings on display were forced to dress in the European notion of their traditional ‘primitive’ garb, and to perform repetitive, seemingly ritual tasks. At times, nonwhites were displayed together with flora and fauna from their regions, and artifacts, which were often fakes.  […]  In the 19th and early 20th centuries, many of them were presented so as to confirm Social Darwinist ideas of the existence of a racial hierarchy.”

The images in this section were selected pursuant to Roberto Amigo’s suggestions. See his testimony in the Rumor section for an explanation of the context in which they were produced.


Album featuring 298 photographs representing the peoples of the five continents. Date unknown. Source: / Bibliothèque Nationale de France.


Paris, date unknown. Source: / Bibliothèque Nationale de France.


"The black continent." Geneva, 1896. Source: / Bibliothèque Nationale de France.


Bancel, Bruno et. al. “Human Zoos : The greatest exotic shows in the West”, en Blanchard P., Bancel N., Boetsch G., Deroo E., Lemaire S., Forsdick C., (eds.). Human Zoos. Science and spectacle in the age of colonial empires, Liverpool University Press, pp. 1-49, 2008.

Blanchard, Pascal. “La Représentation de l’indigène Dans Les Affiches de Propagande Coloniale: Entre Concept Républicain, Fiction Phobique et Discours Racialisant.” Hermès, no. 30 (2001): 149.

Fusco, Coco. “La otra historia del performance intercultural”, en Taylor, Diana, y Fuentes, Marcela (eds.). Estudios avanzados de performance. México D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2011.

Penhos, Marta. "Frente y perfil. Una indagación acerca de la fotografía en las prácticas antropológicas y criminológicas en Argentina a fines del siglo XIX y principios del XX", en Arte y Antropología en la Argentina. Buenos Aires: Fundación Espigas, 2006.

Podgorny, Irina, y Lopes, María. El desierto en una vitrina: museos e historia natural en la Argentina, 1810-1890. Mexico, DF: LIMUSA, Grupo Noriega Ed, 2008.

Roussel, Raymond. Impresiones de África. Buenos Aires: Mansalva, 2014.

Tran, Van Troi. “L’éphémère Dans l’éphémère: La Domestication Des Colonies à l’Exposition Universelle de 1889.” Ethnologies 29, no. 1–2 (September 8, 2008): 143–69.

Archive 7 >
Exhibition and study
of native peoples
at the Museo de la Plata

When, in 1884, Francisco “Perito” Moreno founded the Museo de la Plata, he had a personal collection of over one thousand human skulls, most of them of Native peoples from the Argentine provinces of Buenos Aires and Chubut. Much of that collection was exhibited at the museum in order to create an inventory of human diversity.

Perito Moreno studied Indians from an ethnographic perspective. For that reason, in 1886, he requested that the national government turn over to him Tehuelche Chiefs Foyel and Inakayal and their families, all of whom had been captured during the Desert Campaign that seized vast stretches of lands from Native peoples. The chiefs and their families held captive in the Tigre barracks would be transferred to the Museo de La Plata supposedly for the sake of scientific study.

Some of those individuals lived in the museum until the time of their death; they worked on building maintenance or engaged in their communities’ age-old weaving practices. The scientists treated them like objects of study, photographing them as part of their research on Native peoples. After death, their skeletons, brains, scalps, ears, and death masks were inventoried and put on display at the museum for a number of decades.

Since 2006, the Grupo Universitario de Investigación en Antropología Social (GUIAS, a social anthropology research collective) has identified their remains and returned them to their peoples. It organized a show entitled Prisioneros de la ciencia featuring the photographs taken by researchers from the Museo de La Plata of survivors of the late-nineteenth-century military expeditions. Exhibiting those photographs contributed to showing other ways that Native people’s rights were violated and to reconstructing their personal and collective histories.

We would like to thank GUIAS members: Marco Bufano Fernández, Fernando Miguel Pepe Tessaro, and Karina Oldani for their help with this project.

Group of Tehuelches, among them Chiefs Inacayal and Foyel, photographed in the Tigre barracks where they were imprisoned after their capture in the Desert Campaign, 1884.

Museo de La Plata: Physical Anthropology gallery. Until 2006, human skeletons were on display.

Margarita Foyel. Starting in 1884, she was held captive at the Museo de La Plata. She spent the last three years of her life as a living piece on display for visitors. When she died at the age of thirty-three, her bones were placed in the exhibition gallery.

Chief Inakayal.

Daughter of Chief Inakayal.

Maish Kensis.

Wives of Chiefs Inakayal and Foyel; wife of Ariancu; Margarita Foyel; Tafá and children.