Rodrigo Petrella’s Mekaron comes to UJ

UJ Art Gallery proudly hosts an intriguing exhibition, entitled Mekaron, in collaboration with the Brazilian Embassy in South Africa by internationally acclaimed photographer Rodrigo Petrella from 13 to 27 February 2019.

Using a Rolleiflex in 6X6 format, Petrella takes photographs of body paintings, ritual scenes, masks and feather pieces and exposes them, mediated by his gaze. Mekaron is a collection of photographs depicting the Kayapó tribe from the Amazonas state Pará. The Kayapó word ‘mekaron’ can be used to describe a photograph as an incorporeal image or even a spirit. It is also the name given to a ritual mask of straw that when seen from a distance almost looks human with body, limbs and head, but bares no face or visible identity.

Based in Brazil, Petrella has dedicated his time and art to photographing and documenting the indigenous communities in the Amazon in partnership with the Coordination of Indigenous Organisations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB). To date his work has featured various indigenous groups in the states of Amazonas (Parintintin, Tenharin, Pirahã and Mura), Rondônia (Gavião, Cinta Larga and Suruí), Acre (Ashaninka, Kaxinawá, Kulina Mandijá and Shanenawa), Mato Grosso (Nambikwara do Campo, Mamaindê, Enawene-nawê, Pareci, Erikbaktsa and Kuikuro) and Pará (Kayapó)

“It is important to keep in mind that the work is not intended to establish the true taxonomy of the Mekaron, Kayapó or anything else of that kind. It is representative of that time and place, partial, a cut made with some individuals of a small village, at a given moment, within the wide cultural universe of this people,” states Petrella.

Mekaron is a meeting between “the vision of the photographer” and “the defiant or intimate look of the subject, who stopped to pose or was already immobilised by the camera”. The balance between photographer and the “silent, smiling, haughty, slightly suspicious” gaze of those who face the photographer defines the different positions – “a crossing of glances”.

“It is not a question of creating controversy, much less of polarizing sufficiently controversial and polarized issues, but rather of thinking about how we can create approaches capable of establishing less codified, less hierarchical relations, and bringing questions of a different order and with greater power of comprehension,” continues Petrella.

Mekaron is showing at the UJ Art Gallery as follows:

OPENING: Wednesday 13 February at 18:30 for 19:00

WALKABOUT: 16 February 10:00 and 20 February at 13:00

GALLERY HOURS: Mon–Fri: 09h00–16h00 (Closed weekends and public holidays)

LOCATION: University of Johannesburg’s Kingsway Campus, corner Kingsway and University roads, Auckland Park

CONTACT: UJ Art Gallery: 011 559 2099 via telephone or e-mail


About UJ Arts & Culture

UJ Arts & Culture, a division of the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture (FADA) produces and presents world-class student and professional arts programmes aligned to the UJ vision of an international university of choice, anchored in Africa, dynamically shaping the future. A robust range of arts platforms are offered on all four UJ campuses for students, staff, alumni and the general public to experience and engage with emerging and established Pan-African and international artists drawn from the full spectrum of the arts.

In addition to UJ Arts & Culture, FADA ( offers programmes in eight creative disciplines, in Art, Design and Architecture, as well as playing home to the NRF SARChI Chair in South African Art & Visual Culture, and the Visual Identities in Art & Design Research Centre. The Faculty has a strong focus on sustainability and relevance, and engages actively with the dynamism, creativity and diversity of Johannesburg in imagining new approaches to art and design education.